Purpose: A growing recognition that human capital is a more critical factor than physical capital in wealth creation has led to the drive for individuals, organisations, industries and societies to become knowledge producing entities. Africa’s growing population, high rate of urbanisation and demand for sustainable infrastructure development have highlighted the need for human capacity development (HCD). However, studies indicate that the supply systems for learning which African construction organisations rely on are weak and immature generating wide spread reports of skills shortages, skills mismatches, skill deficiencies and concomitant high unemployment. This paper forms the prologue in a wider research aimed at developing a workforce capability optimising model for construction firms and the purpose of this paper is to review literature relating to HCD to highlight needs and to explore the applicability of emerging workforce development (WD) approaches in project-based construction workplaces. Design/methodology/approach: Literature review, limited to peer reviewed academic publications in English from 2000 to 2016. Findings: Much of the literature reviewed focus on educational aspects and consequently basic entry skills into the construction workforce. Workplace learning (WL), though acknowledged, is not given much attention. However, life-long learning, WL and self-directed learning have taken on greater significance because of the transient nature of knowledge in the Knowledge Age. WD practices of construction firms in Africa range from non-existent to average particularly at intermediate skills levels. Originality/value: The paper makes a case for improved WD systems applicable to the African construction workplace and introduces elements of a proposed capability optimising framework that supports sustained effective learning environments and learners. Significantly, the model will incorporate HCD for intermediate skills and learning at the project level of the organisation.