From hiding their faces to now taking the lead: CDCL Workers

The standard setter in terms of involving Bhutanese in Construction is the Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) which took the first major steps in this field.

CDCL now has absorbed a good number of Bhutanese laborers who are VTI graduates and a few uneducated ones at construction sites.

CDCL CEO, Phuntsho Gyeltshen, said that CDCL has always aimed at engaging and employing Bhutanese workers. There are 19 on-going projects being carried out by Bhutanese laborers with just a few specialized foreign laborers.

CDCL carries out constructions works on bridges, roads, hydropower, infrastructure, transmission line construction and project management.

“We are trying to encourage the young people to be part of the blue-collar sector. During COVID-19 situation, we have been employing our own Bhutanese with the given requirement of agencies,” he added.

He said people rejected the blue-collar jobs in the beginning due to the social stigma attached to it.

CDCL found it challenging to change such a mindset at first, but the situation is different now.

He said workers at construction sites used to hide and cover their faces some seven to eight years ago. But that is a thing of the past because Bhutanese workers are now proud and happy with what they are doing, he said.

He added, “It is actually wrong (such mindset) as they are doing it and they have the potential and they are the ones leading the construction sites.”

“Creating an enabling environment is a must, providing them the facilities and paying them well encourages the people to take up the blue-collar jobs,” he said.

CDCL is focusing more on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) to ensure camp facility, insurance scheme, safety gears, lunch are all provided, and workers are paid as per their skills.

According to CDCL, their profit margin is slim because of the competition in the market, whereby CDCL cannot quote too high while bidding, and also many incentives are given to the laborers.

“However, we have been receiving a good support from DHI and government as we are somehow resolving the issue of unemployment. Moreover, with experience, they (laborers) will have the chance to be a sub-contractor or start their own private business.”

An analyst with CDCL, Dorji Tshering, said, “We have a set of team that has totally become homegrown in bridge construction. The modern construction happened way back, four to five decades, but none of the Bhutanese could specialize into certain areas, like in tiling, plastering and in finishing.”

Thereby, CDCL now gets a few of the skilled foreign laborers who serve as mentors to Bhutanese laborers who are mainly VTI graduates. Once the Bhutanese laborers get the required skill set then the skilled foreign workers are sent back.

As a result, there are now two teams with the skills on accelerated accredit cement (AAC) and plastering. Therefore, CDCL has set a target to form two specialized teams every year as there is a high demand for skilled laborers. This year CDCL plans on having two teams specialize in plumbing and masonry.   There are also a few Bhutanese operators trained to handle drill jumbo machine used in hydropower projects.

“We give them the opportunity and guide them. This way, we excel and we can attract many young people. We are encouraging VTI graduates to take advantage of the opportunity and specialize themselves,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said that due to COVID-19 pandemic, they have been receiving quite a  number of people who have lost their jobs as ready laborers. Though they cannot employ them right away, they are kept on standby to be employed as and when the requirement comes in.

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