The proper early career development of engineering professionals is key to them achieving their potential and making a significant contribution to their career development and to society. There are many challenges facing the recent graduate in their early work environment, not least of which is finding gainful employment to begin with. On the fifth and final day of Electra Mining Africa 2020 Connect the panel discussion featured a number of engineering professionals who shared their experiences of early career development and to offer insight, guidance and support to those at this critical stage of their careers.
According to Portia Moketla, senior product engineer at Komatsu Mining Corporation, the initial workplace after leaving university often doesn’t live up to expectations and that is something students entering the workplace should be prepared for. “The workplace is a completely different environment to what you become accustomed to as a student. In the workplace, engineers need to be multi-skilled and be able to work in a team,” says Moketla.
Sy Gourrah, business development executive/president at ACTOM, said women in engineering need to find a balance between personal and business life as they are often married with kids. She emphasised the importance for young people looking at a career in engineering to network as much as possible and to build lasting relationships with experienced people in the industry and identify mentors. She adds that there will always be cultural differences in the workplace, and it is a challenge that needs to be managed and overcome.
Professor Deborah Blaine, associate professor, mechanical and mechatronic engineering at Stellenbosch University, says there is a big difference between academic work and practical experience, but it is a challenge that engineering students should be able to deal with. “In an environment where everybody is from a different background, teamwork is probably the most important aspect to find solutions for specific problems,” she said.
Cilia Molomo-Mphephu, engineering and asset management professional, says her journey was one of getting to grips with the hard skills of engineering and the soft skills of business management. “Being involved in engineering is a roller coaster ride in a male dominated world,” she said. She added that the most important thing to remember that engineering doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and that it is part of an integrated, larger ecosystem.
Alicia Celliers, project engineer, said that it is of the utmost importance for young engineers to identify a niche and to then make sure that they become irreplaceable in that niche. She adds that young women shouldn’t be scared to make their voices heard and that they should be as flexible as possible.