KIRYANDONGO — Over 100 meters underground, below River Nile, Martin Wandile, 25, operates a crane as a Chinese contractor enters the final stage of completing the construction of a mega hydro power plant in the midwestern district of Kiryandongo.
Wandile is among the thousands of Ugandan youths who have gained skills from Chinese contractors who have engaged in several projects in the East African country ranging from road and energy infrastructure development to medical aid.
Wandile is a qualified electrician after he earned a certificate from a vocational school in the capital Kampala about 260 km south of Kiryandongo.
A friend shared with him about a possible job opportunity here at the construction site of the 600 megawatts Karuma Hydro Power project. Sinohydro Corporation, the Chinese contractor, offered him a job, just like the over 6,000 Ugandan youths who have worked at the site at different stages.
Although Wandile entered as an electrician, his Chinese supervisors encouraged him to diversify. Two and a half years on, Wandile has gained skills in operating a crane in the power house, a key section of the power project which is underground, the first of its kind in east and central Africa, according to experts.
“I need knowledge, even up to now I still want to learn new things. Them (Chinese) coming to Africa, they are trying to skill us, all we can do is just be open to learn new things,” Wandile told Xinhua in a recent visit to the site.
Like Wandile, Andrew Kamagara, a civil engineer at the Karuma power plant project sings praises of his Chinese supervisors.
Far from what he learnt at university three years ago, Kamagara said Chinese engineers have given him a new experience about design especially for big projects like power plant construction.
“I have gained a lot of skills majorly like knowledge in complex design for underground structures which we were not taught in school. In school we were taught how to design small projects like buildings, roads,” Kamagara said, noting that he has also learnt to execute each task on time.
“I can be able to implement what I have been taught. If we come together as a group like from different departments, I know we can be able to execute what we have been taught,” he added, noting that his dream is to start civil engineering company.
Guo Dajun, chief engineer at the Karuma project told Xinhua that once a local is identified to have the basic skills, he or she is taken on and undergoes different job trainings.
Guo said every month, employees are taken on for quality assurance training.
Uganda has a bulging youth population. According to World Bank, some 75 percent of the population is below the age of 30, with the country having one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Africa.
The youth bulge and high levels of unemployment call for urgent actions and innovative solutions, according to experts.
Chinese companies operating in Uganda have been transferring work skills to the local employees, who then can use the skills to better their lives after the Chinese are long gone.
Through job training, especially in the infrastructure development projects, over 80,000 local employees have gained skills, not only in construction but also in middle and top management levels, according to figures by the Chinese embassy.
Annually, there is a national competition where local employees working in Chinese construction companies exhibit their skills. Last year the competition centered on welding, carpentry, electrical and bundling.
Apart from on job training, China in January this year handed over an industrial skills training and production center to Uganda.
The 30-million-U.S. dollar facility is critical in fast-tracking Uganda’s industrialization process because it will not only provide skills to locals but also manufacture mechanical parts using modern technology, according to the Ugandan government.
At the launch, the Chinese embassy described the facility as a college and factory. The facility, located about 20 km east of Kampala, has five manufacturing workshops and an electronic, electrical and mechanical processing training building.