Why?

Why a new business now?  Why this type of business?  Why start a blog about it?

So many questions. And that’s just what I asked myself!

In the last two years, the construction industry in Bermuda has been turned upside down.  In 2008 the value of construction work put in place exceeded $450 million.  In 2011 it was less than $150 million.  There are so many expletives I want to use to describe the fallout from this, I can’t even chose one!  I’ve watched the value and turnover of my other business, Greymane Contracting Ltd., wither away into nothing.  The actual number of firms in the industry remains fairly stable according to the Department of Statistics Employment Survey, meaning that the same 600 plus firms are fighting over 33% of the work they had before.  It has been a bloodbath as everyone has cut margins to secure work.  Trust me when I say this – there is no profit in construction at the moment.

It has been this desperate, seemingly unending period of stagnation that has prompted me to put my thinking cap on and come up with some creative solutions to diversify myself.  Because I cannot continue under the circumstances.  I just cannot afford it, and cannot afford to do nothing.

I’ve always been involved in industry wide initiatives, whether as President of the Construction Association of Bermuda or the many subcommittees and boards that were associated with this role, or more recently through operating different businesses.  But I took on a role this year as a member of the Government Board of Immigration that really opened my eyes to a ‘problem’ that needed a solution.  A gap that needed filling.

I’ve always known about dysfunction in the local labour market.  Few are formally trained, and skillsets are wide and varied.  Up until 2008, labour certainly was in the ascendancy, as jobs were plentiful.  Any layoffs were temporary; you could walk down the street and be hired that same day.  But overabundance can breed complacency.  The Government didn’t really address regulation.  Firms didn’t bother with formal training. Historically the industry was very much ‘learn on the job’.  But as technologies evolved, formal training became more necessary.

Today, despite the fact that the local construction industry lost almost 40% of its jobs since 2008, we still require almost 500 expat construction workers to meet our skills gap (at the end of 2012).

I got to go ‘behind the curtain’ while on the Immigration Board to see this play out.  But there were no surprises for me.  I had been living it every day.

What was really insightful however was to see was how other industries were performing.  I got to see how staffing companies and HR consultancies were servicing other industries like IT, corporate administration and the like, and how much more organized and how sophisticated those industries were at identifying the skills required and ensuring they were available.

The firms that are servicing the construction industry are good at what they do, but what they do is accounting, HR consulting, and immigration processing.  No one had any real experience in the industry, no one really knows how to properly assess a candidate’s skills, no one really understands employers requirements.

But I do.

And so, Workforce Ltd. was born.

It has been created to fill that gap.  In addition to proper recruitment and assessment, it will fill another large gap by offering ‘contingent’ or temporary workers.  Obviously, this is not a new idea; temp agencies are ubiquitous in the corporate admin and healthcare industries, but no one is doing it properly in the construction industry.

Workforce will also attempt to tie up some very loose ends with regards to training.  There are currently formal schemes at the Bermuda College in seven different trades that can be done on a full time or part time (while employed) basis.  There are also formal regulations in place that regulate formal apprenticeship training and facilitate fully sponsored training programs (i.e. the Government pays for the College courses).

People newly enrolled in these training programs for September 2013 = zero.

People here on work permits = 485.

I have some ideas how to change those stats and Workforce will be at the forefront of that.

And so, in an attempt to construct an on line presence for Workforce, I have started this blog to post background, highlight legislation and regulation, and to generally be a source for construction professionals in Bermuda.

I hope I can keep it up.

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About workforcebda

Alex owns and operates Workforce Ltd., a Bermuda-based staffing company for the construction industry.
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