Milford Williams, Gleaner Writer
Omar Spence, safety and quality control manager at Bouygues
French company Bouygues Travaux Publics' presence in Jamaica as contractors of Highway 2000 has resulted in the transfer of technology and expertise to the local labour force.
"We are very satisfied with the performance of the Jamaicans and that is why we were confident in handing them some key managerial posts once held by expatriates," says Jean Noel Foulard, branch and project director for Highway 2000.
Omar Spence is one of more than 700 local staff employed to the Highway 2000 project. After starting out as a quality assurance engineer, he has been upgraded to the post of quality safety and environment manager. Bouygues' method of hands-on-training and transfer of knowledge and expertise has resulted in Spence and many others gaining invaluable knowledge and skills that make their résumés even more impressive.
"The experience gained from working with Bouygues has attracted the interest of other construction companies who would like to implement the same sort of strategies that we use," relates Spence.
Life changed for the better
Mr. Spence, a University of Technology (UTech) graduate with a degree in structural engineering, started out as a lab technician at Jentech engineering firm. He worked with a wide array of building materials gathering expertise on their competence and usage. He then moved to Premix Ltd. and that experience gave him in-depth knowledge about concrete. Now the experience at Bouygues, he testifies, has changed his life, establishing him among the best in his field. All staff training is done according to international accreditation making them even more marketable.
Spence notes that local and international companies with an interest in the system Bouygues uses have expressed interest in recruiting him and his colleagues. That was evident earlier this year when news broke that Bouygues was planning to pull out of Jamaica.
The Highway 2000 Project that Bouygues undertook has received high marks from motorists and is seen as a model for other local roadwork contractors to follow. "It is a beauty, They have done an excellent job. I hope this is how the local contractors will begin to build our roads," says motorist Omar Johnson.
Ongoing training process
But what contributes to this quality from Bouygues is the decision to use an ongoing training process that includes training
before starting new projects and with follow-up sessions to ensure competence. According to Jean Noel Foulard, project director for Bouygues in Jamaica, it was the company's intention to first train and then transfer positions to local staff. This training, he explains, is an ongoing process that all staff must go through before embarking on any project. He adds that this training helps the company to maintain the high standard it is associated with as one of the world's major construction conglomerate.
The first step in the series of training is the basic safety and environment induction that all entrants must do. Next, technical staff, foreman supervisor, monthly paid staff and high-level operators undergo a quality management system training, which is based on ISO 9001 standards. This is followed by environment management system training, based on ISO 14001 and finally the safety induction training based on occupation health and safety application (OHSA).
The Jamaican staff eventually took over key responsibilities from the expatriate staff. British nationals dealt with the technical aspect, Canadians handled quarrying and plant, the French managed civil works, and the South Africans dealt with earth works. There were also nationals from Egypt, Lebanon and U.S.A. Despite the cultural mix, the project was done to meet mainly British specifications like that of most local projects.
"There were no cultural barriers between the 20 different nationalities that worked as a team with open communication channel between all project levels and management. This created a sense of responsibility for each of the project members, especially the Jamaicans who proved to be competent and eager to experience the challenges," Foulard tell The Sunday Gleaner. There were 70 expatriates at the beginning and that number has been reduced to 25. He attributes this transfer to the zeal showed by the local staff right throughout the project.
English was used as the sole language and this helped to minimise cultural and communication barriers. Where there were uncertainties, language lessons were given to improve competency.
Managerial positions transferred
to local staff :
-Quality, safety and environment
-Asphalt plant operation
Local staff who took over expatriate roles were given the opportunity to improve their skills and knowledge by attending sessions with senior staff at the head office in France. "I was sent to France on two occasions and the experience helped me to deal better with senior management and still communicate effectively with subordinates," reports Omar Spence. At seminars, different personnel around the world meet to discuss problems and how to address them.
New problem solving methods
"In the beginning, it was a little difficult. Workers were beginning to see you in a different role so you have to make the transition yourself by being confident," recounts Spence. He has learned new problem solving methods from the experience with the objective to at least offer a solution first before reporting to senior management. This he says has changed the way he deals with issues even from a personal point of view.
Minimising accidents and maintaining high safety standards is a strict policy from Bouygues. Risk assessment was done for each job along with safety and environmental evaluation. These assignments came under Spence's management who delegated duties through the safety officers who then ensured safety compliance.
An even more difficult test came when Spence had to oversee duties during construction of the Portmore leg of the Highway 200 project. There was the hazard of working adjacent to a traffic flow of over 40, 000 vehicles daily. In addition, they had to observe strict environmental regulations by maintaining the fragile mangrove plants while working with water logged soils. In fact, the Health and Safety report as of June 2006 showed only one major accident for the over 4.6 million hours worked, a testimonial for Spence's competence. "This is an excellent record," remarks Ayman Baradie, technical department manager.
"The technical team gave a lot of support and advice, and management was always ready to make time for discussions," Spence states. He has learned how to interpret information at a different level and how to look ahead to pick up potential hazards. "The job requires you to listen first and then act." He adds that you have to listen to everyone to identify pitfalls and to make better implementation
Spence is very proud to be a part the Highway 200 project, which he believes represents a true engineering genius in recent local history. He cannot not say much about life after Bouygues but notes that the experience gained would take him a long way. It has equipped them to work at very high standards in a global workforce. "Many companies have expressed confidence in us. We all value the experience here and working for Bouygues has lifted my construction career beyond my expectation."