Pathways for Lae youths

Weekender
COVER STORY

A small building company is helping young men do something worthwhile and learn skills they would otherwise not have the opportunity to attain.

By KEVIN E DAYONGA
CONSTRUCTION accounts for almost 9 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s GDP (2007).
The Government is taking the lead in stimulating construction in the country, with an emphasis on industrial development.
It provides employment opportunities for a considerable number of Papua New Guinean men and women with companies, drawing their workforce from communities close to project sites.
Many Papua New Guineans will at some point in their lives find casual employment in the construction industry. However in this industry, most employment opportunities are short-term and very build a career in construction.
In the industrial hub of our country, a young Papua New Guinean has taken a bold step to venture into this vast, technical yet challenging industry. Adam Steven Orong hails from New Ireland and Madang parentage, was brought up in Lae and is an adamant, strong-willed young man that has beaten the odds to venture into the world of construction.
“I grew up in a family that valued dreams, hard work and success. I always wanted to work for myself ever since I was little. I have been raised in a family where we were taught that nothing comes easy or free.’’
Having dual diplomas in architecture and building engineering from the National Polytech Institute, Orong is a role model among his peers in Lae city. Straight after college, he was employed with PNG Power Limited as part of its technical team.
He said the employment package was very good and he enjoyed all the perks and privileges but felt that this wasn’t the right avenue for him to maximise his potential.
“I felt there was more to the world than what I was doing, there was more to discover and more to learn. I wanted to step out from my comfort zone and find my way in this world. If I was still employed, I won’t be able to maximise my potential. I will be doing the same stuff repeatedly.
“Naturally I’m a risk taker, I like to take risks. So, starting this company was a risk, I’d say. I didn’t have any experience in an architectural firm or worked as a building engineer.’’
He started Heima Builders, a name derived from his daughters’ names, Heidi and Magdalene. The SME specialises in architectural, building, maintenance, electrical and civil engineering services. He didn’t set it up to make a name for himself, nor make money to advance his life aspirations but provide an avenue for his peers, those that don’t have the opportunity or are wondering the streets of Lae, the very ones society has branded as ‘raskols’ or criminals.
“I saw the need and had pity on how they were living their lives. They are into doing drugs, stealing, and doing a lot of illicit activities. This is because they didn’t have that opportunity to go to school due to various obvious reasons and the number keeps rising.
“So, what do I do as a young educated Papua New Guinean living among them? I had to ask myself this question from time to time. It kept on bothering me, so with peace in my heart, I left work and registered Heima Builders. I had to create that opportunity and pathway for these very people society is branding.
“I want everyone around me to have an equal level of wealth. At least, have something to put on their table every evening and won’t have that urge to snatch a mother’s bag or steal. This, in a way we are helping curb law and order among other social issues and creating that space for job employment.’’
Currently Heima Builders employs less than 30 boys from different trade backgrounds and giving them hands experience on a short term contract basis. And the number keeps growing.
“If you’ve been through hell and touched heaven, obviously you won’t want to go back there and risk your life doing petty crimes. They are happy and are passionate about learning new things.
“Persistence is everything, you keep on pushing and pushing until the door is open for you. After persistence there’s commitment, dedication and all these other traits will unfold. A lot of people always start something but you have to have this drive to maintain it and capital is always the common denominator.’’
Orong has been doing a lot of market research on the SME landscape in Lae and as unconsciously employing the school of thought to verify, position and keep afloat in the buoyant landscape.
He added that competition was good but things have never been easy in this industry. External and internal factors are constantly changing the course of the industry, and with the bigger businesses taking over, SMEs like Heima are creatively handling the situation to keep afloat. They have devised a plan to work together with other Papua New Guinean businesses especially those in Lae to work together to maintain their presence in the industry.
“I do my research, check the market and see how SMEs are striving. In fact from my own observation, I have seen a lot of them struggle. I’m one of them. The major problem is lack of capital and it’s sad to see that a lot of people don’t continue their dreams. They may have the knowledge and power to create but finance surpasses all these issues and if they are financially literate that would be a bonus to help them manage the affairs of their start-ups well.’’
Many companies seem to want to check off the training initiative from their list and convince themselves that they are making a commitment to their people. For an SME like Heima, it is different. It has created an avenue for these young people to add value, make an impact and find meaning in what they do. They also want to learn, improve and advance through an organisation and understand available career advancement opportunities.
“I live among these young men, so what do I do to help my peers? I can’t keep all this knowledge to myself. We can’t rely on our government or business houses for employment. We as individuals need to contribute in nation building.
“For Heima, it doesn’t matter what qualifications they have or the level of education. So long as they have the heart to learn and be willing to sacrifice, I’m more than willing and able to assist them provide pathways to develop their skills.
“I want everyone around me to be on that equal level of wealth. At least there is something for them, they feel empowered, get them off the usual petty crime statistics they contribute daily to and ignite that passion in them to learn. Channel that negative vibe into a positive one.
“This would assist in changing perceptions of what community thinks of these young men or anyone for that matter. So, in a way we are contributing to the general wellbeing of our communities.’’
The youths employed on contract basis continue to produce quality service under the watchful eyes and direction of Orong.
They have gone into building modular container homes and portable offices interested individuals or organisations.
“These modular homes and offices are portable and can be shipped to any location in the country. It comes in two sizes 20ft and 40ft, can be used as outdoor bedsitters, dongas for construction workers or miners or can be used as a mobile clinics. They are fully kitted for any rugged terrain,’’ says Orong.
While SMEs like Heima continue to strive and provide opportunities for young Papua New Guineans living in Lae, Orong says the future is bright should there be proper structured systems put in place for struggling small business enterprises.

  • Kevin Dayonga is a freelance journalist.

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