The South African steel construction industry is monopolised by the larger companies, which possess significant customer bases, making it extremely difficult for new smaller companies to break into the industry, says Boksburg-based steel solutions provider SPM Engineering MD Sejako Morejwane.
She was one of five entrepreneurs who was selected out of 364 applicants to participate in global mining giant Anglo American’s Entrepreneur Internship Programme (EIP), which started in March 2012.
According to Anglo American, the EIP provides a stepping stone for entrepreneurs who are interested in developing industry knowledge, business networks or support, but who do not have access to the requisite skills.
“The EIP was designed specifi- cally to develop entrepreneurs who have high potential to add significant value to their communities and to Anglo American,” explains Anglo American’s thermal coal business CEO Godfrey Gomwe.
SPM Engineering forms part of Anglo American’s supply chain, which has enabled the steel solutions provider to gain much-needed revenue and the necessary industry knowledge to develop Morejwane’s business.
SPM Engineering offers a range of services, including steel detailing, fabrication and project management.
“Managing one’s own business is different from being an employee at someone else’s company, as there is no clearcut solution regarding how to best tackle the challenges you encounter,” highlights Morejwane.
Therefore, she is grateful for the mentorship of senior Anglo American engineers.
“I also learnt about how to better market and brand my company,” Morejwane adds, highlighting that SPM Engineering is supplying a steel conveyor structure to a coal mine in Mpumlanga and hopes to complete the contract by the end of the year.
Lack of Black Engineers and Women
Black engineers comprise only 14% of South Africa’s professional engineers, while women comprise only 3% of the country’s professional engineers, says the National Society of Black Engineers.
Morejwane believes that one of the major reasons for the low number of black engineers in South Africa is because of the poor standard of teaching in mathematics and science at disadvantaged primary and high schools.
“If children are not given a solid foundation in these areas of their education, they will struggle to cope at university, which is why the drop-out rate of black students is so high,” she laments.
Morejwane says companies prefer to work with companies they are familiar with and trust; therefore, often the best smaller companies can hope for is to be employed as subcontractors when starting off.
She explains that SPM Engineering has agreements with other small engineering firms to buy steel in bulk to ensure that it can buy steel supplies at competitive prices.
The company sources all its materials locally, but is also exploring the option of reusing redundant steel structures from mines, where it can ensure that the integrity of the structure has not been compromised.
In February, Engineering News reported on the fire at steel producer ArcelorMittal South Africa’s (AMSA’s) Vanderbijlpark facility, which disrupted steelmaking operations.
AMSA estimates that 361 000 t of liquid steel production was lost, owing to the incident, which resulted in weeks of steel delivery backlogs.
“The AMSA fire significantly challenged SPM Engineering’s ability to operate efficiently,” adds Morejwane. However, she says the company was proactive and sourced steels from steel distributors, which possessed sufficient steel supplies, thereby enabling the company to continue its operations.
The challenge of receiving the timely delivery of steel has influenced the company to explore the possibility of sourcing its steel from international sources such as China and India.
Consequently, she notes SPM Engineering has been approached by international steel suppliers, about sourcing steel from abroad.
This is increasingly becoming an option for the company, owing to competitive steel prices offered by international steel suppliers, says Morejwane.
“The long-term vision of SPM Engineering is to become a fully fledged engineering, procurement and construction management company and, as an individual, I would like to become a role model for aspiring young black engineers and entrepreneurs,” she concludes.