Colombia: Safe, healthy, and sustainable construction in poor neighbourhoods (Construya)

Three quarters of all Colombians reside in cities, many in densely populated and illegally constructed poor neighbourhoods. Many residents have built their homes on their own steam, with little money or experience and without official approvals. The living spaces are often precarious, construction quality is lacking, and the homes are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes or landslides. According to estimates, roughly 10 million people across the country live in poorly built homes. Swisscontact aims to raise the level of performance of the informal construction market in Colombia by introducing technical solutions and promoting good construction practices, high quality and locally adapted training for construction workers, and raising awareness among homeowners to ensure they demand higher quality construction practices for their homes.
Bogotá, Colombia
Bucaramanga, Colombia
Cali, Colombia
Project duration
2019 - 2021

The project

The project includes a skills development program in the informal construction sector in Colombia. The project was launched in April 2011 with financial support from the Hilti Foundation and between 2011 and 2018, more than 25,000 construction workers and more than 6,000 homeowners received training. An impact study carried out in 2018 concludes that trained construction workers were able to increase their income by 1,332 Swiss francs (CHF) per year and in 60% of cases they have built safer houses than unskilled workers. At the end of 2018, the training courses were so deeply rooted in the national vocational training institution SENA and in the other two main private partners, Homecenter and Cemex, that they were able to implement the courses independently.

In this final phase of the project, 2019-2020, we are supporting established partners, who are already familiar with these training methods so that they can independently train 6,200 construction workers and 80 new trainers across the country. Swisscontact aims to demonstrate the following elements of systemic change to achieve the desired impact:

  • Scalability: Sustained high performance of construction workers trained in courses provided by existing core partners (SENA, Homecenter, Cemex) and by four new private partners.
  • Behaviour: Construction workers overcome their bad practices, owners closely examine their own homes, trainers understand how to collaborate with informal workers, and companies integrate training into their business strategies.

At the same time, we are supporting four new partners so that they can learn more about the training methods and about coordination with SENA and train 2,000 construction workers (800 of whom are also entrepreneurs) in the cities of Bogotá, Cali and Bucaramanga. The goal is for private and public partners to integrate the courses into their clients' strategies by 2020 and then continue to deliver them independently.

Thanks to the training courses, at least 10,000 homeowners know that they must take structural measures to reduce the vulnerability of their homes to in order to face extreme weather events and earthquakes, and also to improve the use of natural light and have a good ventilation.



  • 17 333 construction workers were trained in good construction practices (12 485 by existing and 4 848 by new partners).
  • 15 training modules were virtualised and handed over to our partners to train construction workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • 250 humanitarian aid kits were distributed in 2020 to construction workers and their families most affected by the pandemic.
  • 547 trained workers increased their income by CHF 513 in 2019 and another 258 workers increased their income despite the pandemic by CHF 157 in 2020.
  • 297 116 homeowners sensitised (5 116 of them through training courses)
  • 19 606 residents live in safer and more sustainable homes.

Financing partners

This project is financed by Hilti Foundation, among other donors. As part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, it is co-financed by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA).


Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia
Initial vocational education and training, Labour market insertion, Upskilling and reskilling
Digital tools used in skills development projects in Latin America
In Latin America, Swisscontact has been supporting the development of digital solutions in its skills development projects to facilitate access to training and job opportunities. Youth living in poor rural areas of Guatemala are offered vocational guidance through a web portal. Applications developed in Bolivia support young people and technical professionals in finding suitable training or employment opportunities. In Colombia, the training offer that improves construction practices in informal housing was extended by a virtual platform in 2020. 
Upskilling and reskilling, Labour market insertion
Virtual training in the construction sector is here to stay    
2020 was a challenging year for virtual training, especially for the practice-oriented construction sector. Through the Construya project, Swisscontact had developed a training offer for construction builders on safe building practices with public and private partners, which was upgraded to a virtual platform in mid-2020.
Upskilling and reskilling
Persistence and passion: the pathway to learning 
“Teaching the people who need it most is one of the greatest achievements in my life. At last, I am doing the job I am passionate about.” These are the words of Nevardo Hernandez Babativa, instructor of the National Learning Service (SENA), who is renowned for his dedication and commitment as a teacher of construction workers in informal neighbourhoods.