Electromechanical equipment manufacturer John Thompson is committed to recruiting and promoting more women in the manufacturing industry.
The company’s yearly intake of apprentices encourages the consistent inclusion of women. This gender parity in its recruitment process extends to in-service trainees in other disciplines as well, says John Thompson manufacturing head Suben Govender.
“Our Bellville factory, the Western Cape, spearheads this four-year apprenticeship programme, where apprentices are exposed to a healthy balance of practical work exposure and theoretical training.
“The majority of the apprentices are absorbed into our workforce after completion of the training programme,” he explains.
John Thompson welder Shannon Pepper, John Thompson welding consumable store controller Wareldia Williams and John Thompson quality control inspector Haily Naldrett are some of the women who have completed the four-year programme and have qualified as artisans at John Thompson.
Williams highlights that women in the welding environment have to work “extra hard” to be regarded on the same level as males.
“You need to be strong-willed and able ‘to take a punch’, you must speak your mind and know when to speak. You must know when to cry and when to stand your ground. Do not cry in front of the men or show any sign of weakness because if you do, they will walk all over you during the time that you are there,” she warns.
Pepper adds that many men feel threatened by their female colleagues, owing to women paying more attention to detail and being more patient when welding.
Women often have to earn the respect of the men that they work with and prove that they have the skills required to be qualified welders and artisans.
“The narrative has been changed and we need to constantly show men that we are here, and that we are here to stay. We have to encourage other females to come into this environment and try it out because people have a misconception that it’s not for females,” says Pepper.
Naldrett adds that there was a sense of pride when she ticked the qualified welder or artisan box while filling out a form and saw the reaction of those around her.
She emphasises the importance of girls’ choosing mathematics and science as subjects in high school. Many women do not qualify for an apprenticeship because they chose mathematical literacy and not mathematics and science at school.
Those two subjects are required in the engineering and manufacturing environments, and not having done these subjects in high school hinders women from pursuing careers in manufacturing and engineering, says Naldrett.
Pepper encourages the women currently working at John Thompson to pave the way for those who will be hired after them by ensuring that they do their job to the best of their ability.
“The challenge is that we have to prove to the company and everybody else that we can do this job well and that will encourage the company to employ more women,” she says.
The only barrier to any woman entering the steel and engineering industry is personal preference. John Thompson is proud to be one of the preferred entry points into the industry for women, Govender concludes.