THE construction industry was facing an estimated R580bn worth of work in the coming five years, Murray & Roberts executive Andrew Skudder said on Friday.

This made the skills shortage in the sector pressing, Skudder said at the launch of the CIDA City Campus Mastery Academy of Construction (Macc) in Johannesburg.

SA has a massive shortage of construction sector skills, from engineers to artisans, and there is a training crisis in the industry. One recruitment firm reports that 88% of engineering graduates drop out before graduating, and there is a near halt in artisan training.

Murray & Roberts and Barloworld are the major investors in the Macc, each having contributed R1m to its establishment this year.

Thirty students have completed its one-year course, which gives them practical training in brick making, bricklaying, tiling, painting, roofing, ceilings, dry walling and earth moving.

CIDA City Campus group CEO Dr Taddy Blecher said those who completed the year-long course moved on to study the three-year Bachelor of Business Administration degree programme, and there was an opportunity for students, through the Branson School of Entrepreneurship at CIDA, to start their own businesses with seed money from the school and 18 months of mentorship from professionals in the industry.

Skudder said construction and engineering group Murray & Roberts, which serves markets primarily in subSaharan Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Australasia, was attracted to the Macc construction qualification because it blended business education and practical construction training.

"It wasn't a difficult choice for us to partner with CIDA (City Campus)," said Skudder.

The fact that CIDA City Campus, as SA's first low-cost tertiary education institution, was aimed at educating disadvantaged youths, also attracted the construction giant, he said.

Murray & Roberts has committed to supporting the academy on a continuing basis though its Letsema Sizwe Trust, established as part of the company's broad-based black economic empowerment ownership transaction.

Barloworld chairman Dumisa Ntsebeza said the partnership of Murray & Roberts, Barloworld and CIDA City Campus should be celebrated because it offered the chance to change SA's reality and make the demographics of the construction industry more representative of SA as a whole.

Businessman and African National Congress heavyweight Cyril Ramaphosa had said recently that "the one thing he could not forgive the old order for was how the old order had denied black people education as a matter of policy and how that had deprived SA of skills", Ntsebeza said.