Continues training of Liberian technicians in lower Montserrado County
Shangyou Wood Industrial Development Company’s rubber processing plant is preparing to export its first 100 forty-foot containers of rubber wood, while the company draws closer to the completion of the first three-month intensive training for over 200 Liberian technicians, a release has said.
The company, which is based in Lower Montserrado County, began operating its world class rubber wood processing plant in July this year.
According to the release, it has employed almost 300 Liberians, including 69 women. Fifty-eight of the workers are assigned in Firestone, where most of the logging of rubber trees takes place, and transported to the plant.
As the company goes through all the relevant government ministries and agencies to obtain the Export Permit Declaration to ship the first consignment, training of its workers is progressing without any major hindrance.
The firm, which has a 40 year concession agreement with the Liberian government, has a target of processing and exporting around 3,000 cubic meters of rubber wood per month. This will accumulate huge returns to Liberia in taxes and create additional jobs for locals.
Shangyou currently has a US$20 million investment in Liberia, and has a long term plan of expanding its operations to turn the country into the regional hub of furniture and rubber wood products.
Lack of Skilled Workers
Meanwhile, the company faces a challenge in reaching its full production capacity due to the lack of skilled manpower to run the several modern machines, and equipment available at its factory.
“Once we opened the factory, we planned to give three months for us to train the workers so that they can be qualified to use the machines, because this is a very technical job,” said Luo Quanzhang, Manager of the Shangyou Wood.
He added that the company accrued huge waste in the first two months. “It is now much better than the beginning; workers are now learning well, but we need to put more pressure on our workers so that they can learn, learn and learn.”
There are not many skilled technicians available in the country, added Nyema Bruce, Operations Manager – the Liberian who manages all the company’s activities.
“Anybody can use a saw mill but not anybody can use the machines we have efficiently,” Bruce said.
Many of the trained technicians were former employees of Firestone, who worked at the plantation’s rubber wood processing factory. The factory has since shutdown due to what was reported to be a poor business climate.
Now, Shangyou Wood is using the expertise of these Liberians along with 10 Chinese technicians to build the skills of over 200 of its employees.
“After these first batch of people have been trained, we will weed out the best ones from the not so good ones, then the good ones will supervise and train the others,” Mr. Luo said.
“We will not let go the others who are not so good because we have invested a lot in them, so they will continue to work here until they become efficient. You cannot spend a lot of money to train someone who is almost good and not very good and then you let that person go. You should spend more time on him.”
He also denied allegations in a recent news report that the company does not pay overtime to workers or provide safety gears during working hours.
Female Employees ‘Are Good’
The Manager of Shangyou Wood has special praises for female workers of the factory for being “very careful and good” on the job, “because women are more careful than men, so we hired them, and they are working very well,” he said.
“They do not do very heavy duty jobs; they take on jobs that require careful handling of the wood, and arranging of the wood and they are doing it very good. We will continue to work with them and build their skills.”
‘The Made in Liberia’ Goal
For its long term plan, Shangyou Wood is looking to setup a Special Economic Zone for rubber wood furniture in the country. With its wood processing plant, the firm says, the next step will involve value addition by producing furniture for export, and then it will move into the establishment of an SEZ for production of massive high quality furniture for export.
“According to our plans, we want to build four or five rubber wood factories in Liberia,” Luo said.
“If we only process the timber here and export, it costs us a lot but, if the furniture is produced here and exported to America, China, Europe and the Middle East, we will make more profits.”
The SEZ, the company says, will be the go-to place for rubber wood furniture in the West African region considering that Liberia is neatly situated and has huge rubber wood capacity. If the firm’s production capacity is fully realized, it would provide employment for 5,000 Liberians, the company announced during the opening of the factory in July.
Open to Community Development
Meanwhile, the Mr. Luo has assured that the company is open to working with the communities through its corporate social programs. Before the plant opened in July, the company had already paid US$15,000 to community leaders as part of its corporate social responsibility.
“This company is here for over 40 years; we are here to stay and work with the community so that we provide jobs and opportunities for the people here so that they can live happy,” Luo said.
“We are not just a company that is here to process and export rubber wood out of Liberia; we want to also help contribute to the skills development of Liberians who are willing to be trained technicians.”