Job opportunities for many with fibre cable installation

A worker digs a trench for fibre cables to be placed in Beacon Bay.
A worker digs a trench for fibre cables to be placed in Beacon Bay.

Louanjo, a Pretoria-based  fibre cable installation company, indirectly employs 540 people in East London.

Despite fibre being a Fourth Industrial Revolution product, the only qualification for the job is a strong back, ability to use a pick and shovel, and the understanding that the job is not permanent.

Louis Joubert, a shareholder in Louanjo, said cable laying was contract work, moving from city to city, but his rule was that only residents of the city in which Louanjo was contracted would be employed. That included the subcontractors who directly employed the workers.

“Cable laying contracts can last for a long time. This one [in Beacon Bay] will go on into 2020. Then we move on, but we do leave our skills transfer and training behind.”

He said that the “pick and shovel” work was essential because of the various pipes and cables running in road verges. Machines could destroy them while careful digging, though time-consuming, cut damage to almost zero.

Kuhle Giyose, a marketing graduate from the former Border Technikon, has a team of 30 people. He is one of 18 Louanjo subcontractors working on the fibre project.

“I graduated in 2005, and then worked in construction, civils and building in East London, my hometown. A year ago a colleague told me about the fibre job, and that it was a good opportunity. Now I can assist in putting food on the table for probably well over a hundred people, taking into account the extended families.”

He said that while he realised the contract was not a job for life, it has enabled him to build a great team.

“I recruited from the townships, mainly through word of mouth. People were grateful for the opportunity. My guys and I work well together, we are a strong unit. When the East London leg finishes I will be left with several choices, but getting back into my previous profession is the likely route. And I hope to take many of my team with me.”

Joubert’s head office in Pretoria has eight administration staff and two project managers. The company is paid by the installed metre.

“I wanted to be a lawyer but funds did not allow study. I started a roofing construction company but when I heard about fibre, it was almost a calling. Not many small companies can employ 540 people and job creation fits in well with my religious beliefs.

“Initially I worked for one of the data owners, but soon realised I could create a business model where people like Kuhle could establish their own businesses after I had moved on.”

Joubert said the biggest expense, aside from wages, were drilling machines, each costing well over R1m, which can cut holes under highways, and barricade cloth, also known as shade cloth.

“East Londoners can’t miss the bright orange and other colours, but right now it is so scarce I have to import from around the world, but mainly China. The cloth helps us keep the verges tidy, and the residents happy, which is an important part of the job.”

He said he could not predict the horizon of the fibre layout.

“In Johannesburg and Gauteng it started in 2002. Since then it has expanded to several cities, and East London is by no means the last. I have already got another town lined up, but this is a fiercely contested business so I can’t reveal where.

“However there are a few things that give me confidence in the future. First, I have already worked in Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique, and there are more upcoming opportunities there. The second is Rain, the 5G [fifth generation of cellular network technology] data company, which has been launched, and the roll- out needs companies like ours.”