Building Internal Capacity For Infrastructure
As part of Bechtel’s commitment to contribute 100 ideas to support the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we discuss Gabon’s Project Management Organization to implement its National Infrastructure plan.
Diversifying the economy, advancing the skills of the Gabonese people, and promoting long-term sustainable growth was the overarching vision of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo upon his election in 2009. Central to his idea was a comprehensive national infrastructure plan that goes beyond building highways and bridges; it connects people and communities; expands access to clean water, jobs, reliable power, and health services; and facilitates regional trade and commerce.
President Bongo’s idea to transform the country came with a constraint: human capacity. At the time, the Gabonese lacked the knowledge, skill, and procedures to deliver large-scale infrastructure projects.
In 2012, the government of Gabon and Bechtel devised a $25 billion National Infrastructure Master Plan (NIMP) and established Agence Nationale des Grands Travaux d’Infrastructures (ANGTI), a unique public-private project management organization (PMO) to oversee the delivery of the NIMP.
The ANGTI (previously known as ANGT) served as the PMO to teach the Gabonese workforce. The model used skilled foreign laborers to educate the local laborers.
Foreign investors are often accustomed to utilizing their own laborers on projects, but the NIMP was specifically designed to educate and employ the Gabonese, resulting in long-term success. Classes and trainings were implemented to build a localized foundation of management, both within the Agency and the contractor base, thus creating a sustainable workforce equipped with international standards in Gabon.
The transfer of knowledge from ANGTI to the Gabonese unfolded through classroom settings and on-site training. Topics including excavations, barricade installation, lifting operations, ladder safety, site preparedness, and scaffolding were among other courses to build the future of Gabon’s construction workforce. Bechtel’s infrastructure sustainable development manager, Catherine McKalip-Thompson, helped train and mentor a handful of young engineers and specialists in Gabon.
“We taught them our methods of business, and they taught us about Gabon,” said McKalip-Thompson. “Together we taught each other how to be significantly more effective in planning and delivering infrastructure projects in the environment of Gabon. By aligning our expertise to meet their goals, we found solutions and compromises that worked for Gabon.”
President Bongo requested a strong emphasis on ethics, procedures, skills, and disciplines to be transferred from Bechtel professionals to locals. A comparable focus on ethics to provide integrity for all stakeholders on project is also an essential part of PMOs in Latin America, where corruption is prevalent and becoming the number one challenge for governments. Bechtel’s expropriation manager Vincent Nougarede recalls, “The ethics awareness workshops conducted with my local counterpart presented opportunities for passionate debates and discussions embracing the importance and the relevance of ethical behaviors at work, and in one’s personal life.”
Ethics, and the promotion of a professional work environment, are topics in which joint efforts—between Bechtel staff and local workforce—have developed through the years. An ANGTI “Code of Conduct” based on the Bechtel Code of Conduct, with adaptation to the local context in terms of legal framework and local habits and traditions, was prepared and distributed to all local employees. Every newcomer to the ANGTI attended an ethics awareness workshop and received a hard copy of the Code of Conduct. As in the Bechtel world, annual ethics awareness workshops have been organized for Bechtel and Gabonese staff, with locally tailored video training emphasizing topics and issues frequently encountered in the Gabon working context.
Creating a sustainable workforce was essential to the NIMP’s success, which unfolded as Gabonese gained skilled work with local contractors. Gabon’s talent and wealth have been contained within its country as locals are now the workforce delivering quality projects using Bechtel’s methods stressing safety, ethics, and skills. Workers unrelated to the NIMP are inevitably benefitting from practices that master plan workers have adopted. The plan ultimately produced a sustainable work structure and permits economic growth to support progress toward delivering the necessary infrastructure in Gabon.
Today, about 40 contractors have completed over 200 courses on safety and quality, and over 300 staff members have received around 25 courses in Gabon. The ANGTI has also hosted several interns in engineering, construction, and sustainability. In addition, more than 9,000 Gabonese have been employed delivering the infrastructure projects since 2012.
The success of Gabon’s infrastructure plan now serves as the prototype for PMOs currently in Saudi Arabia and Latin America.
Importance of transportation reform has also been the primary focus of PMOs in Latin America— particularly in Peru, and exploring other countries like Colombia, Chile, and Guyana, among others. Gabon’s NIMP, the most complete PMO to date, serves as the foundational plan for educating governments on the beneficial impact a PMO can have on a country’s infrastructure. Peru’s plan prioritizes around 100 to 140 projects. Benefits of PMOs include quality, cost and schedule, integrity, and legacy of workers. Schedule is an especially strong characteristic of this model, as timing has been demonstrated to take one-third the duration of a non-PMO. With slight alterations, the PMO model will continue to serve countries seeking an upskilled workforce for its infrastructure.