AfricaLive: What inspired you to start your company and how are you positioning yourself for the future?
Saad Charkioui: Back in May 2013, I started Valotech as the sole shareholder and managing director. I saw an opportunity in the building and construction market that I wanted to take advantage of. It was clear to me that people in the high-end market were struggling to find top professionals that could work differently. Our first few clients were people who wanted very high-end construction quality in terms of comfort, insulation, waterproof capability, high-end surfaces and tailor-made slabs.
Our offering was that clients would have big spaces between columns, maximum height under the roof, no clashing between beams and HVAC as well as very efficient construction planning. We soon transitioned from building commercial structures such as malls and went into business development. We partnered with an Egyptian company known as Acrow and now offer construction management services as well as contracting services.
We also distribute Acrow formwork material and scaffolding. We still have a lot of room for development in terms of enhancing safety and efficiency in construction. The next step for us is to offer development in offsite building. We plan to have these capabilities fully developed in the next five to ten years. We have done good deals to represent Acrow well here in Morocco as well as in West Africa, making inroads in places like Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.
AfricaLive: Innovation is obviously going to be key to the development of the industry. What is the role of companies such as yours in fostering innovation and scaling it up across Africa?
Saad Charkioui: If you do your homework around the continent, you will soon realise that 70 per cent of contractors are working with timber beams and planks. Safety standards, therefore, become very low, the cost of construction increases and people only think about the amortisation of the costs of timber at the end of the project. People don’t think about investing in new construction solutions as an investment for future projects.
Modern formwork helps us improve our health and safety standards, construction efficiency and quality also improve as well as skills development. To scale up modern construction practises and technologies, we must do expansive harmonisation of our building specifications. Our continent must have standards when it comes to all our structural works.
If we can’t have one set of standards for the entire continent, we must have standards per region. Have one set of standards will enable us to benefit from economies of scale and developers like ourselves will also know what to expect from clients. When we have uniform standards per region or the entire continent, everything else will fall into place.
AfricaLive: With African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement set to be launched early next year, what opportunities are you anticipating and what partnerships will you be looking for?
Saad Charkioui: We want to make contact with the large contractors that export their services from Morocco to West Africa. Big contractors with a large footprint will appreciate our services in terms of helping them cover more ground. We are also looking to influence big project owners in French-speaking areas that have not been ventured into extensively. Here we will be looking to offer expertise in terms of the structural works and not the finishing.
AfricaLive: What would be the role of the construction and engineering sector when it comes to de-risking Africa in the eyes of investors?
Saad Charkioui: As far as i know, we are yet to establish authorities that we can go before to settle problems in the industry. We must ensure that we establish strong authorities that solve matters as they arise so that all players in the sector can feel safe as they work. As things stand, parties state in the contract what authorities of their choice should be approached in case of issues.
The other option is to set advance payment stipulations to ensure that things run smoothly. The establishment of institutions of arbitration independent of governments will help us establish trust. We need to start producing our own formworks in Africa and stop importing everything. Industry players like ourselves can influence financers to come and invest in an industry that is growing and that has a lot of potential.
AfricaLive: What would a truly sustainable future for African construction and infrastructure development look like to you?
Saad Charkioui: A sustainable future for us would be to start doing things a bit differently. We must move away from the methods of construction we are deploying at the moment. Our methods today are mostly onsite use of steel and also use of concrete which is very polluting. In the medium term, we must embrace offsite construction methods. We must look at proper water treatment, investment in solar energy, and also wind energy. We will improve our industry if we can reduce the costs through manufacturing while also doing away with old methods of construction.
We will never be able to fill the infrastructure gaps in our continent with the construction methods we are using today because the cost is too high and also because construction takes too much time. At some point, decision-makers must realise that we cannot solve ancient problems with ancient solutions. If industry leaders don’t make the call soon enough, demographic pressure will force things, and soon Africa will follow in the footsteps of the US and other developed jurisdictions.
Training must also be part of our sustainability agenda. We recently signed a contract with the Moroccan training authority for construction technicians known as OFPPT. The agreement will see us offer training for formwork and scaffolding engineering, which will start the Mohammadia School of Construction and Public Works. We must see to it that the next generation of engineers has the proper training to see us into the future.
AfricaLive: What message would you like to communicate about the future of your industry and country?
Saad Charkioui: Morocco offers competent professionals that can offer proper advice on the continent. Global leaders and decision-makers can gain a lot of insight from us. I also urge African decision-makers to come around the table and harmonise standards. If all goes well, I see us becoming a major influence in formworks and scaffolding engineering.