If students had more information about the options available to them in the engineering field, the uptake of females in the field is likely to increase. While civil engineering remains largely male-dominated, there are opportunities in sectors like geotechnical engineering. This is the view of Chelsea Rebelo, who has a BSc Honours in Geological Sciences from the University of Cape Town, and works in the geotechnical department of drilling technology provider Rosond. “If students simply had more information when choosing what to study, I think we would see a lot more diversity across the board.”
Due to the fact that engineering is such a broad field, Chelsea’s advice to students is to identify their thinking preferences and strengths. “Are you analytical or creative? Try and carve a path that enhances your strengths. Even if you embark on a few detours, always remember that experience is good, provided it is relevant and can be used as intellectual or identity capital along your journey. Research your career path properly and network with engineers on platforms like LinkedIn to find out more.”
This is important advice in preparation for International Women in Engineering Day (INWED). Taking place annually on 23 June, INWED is an international awareness campaign celebrating the work and achievements of engineers who are women. Launched initially in the UK by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) as a national initiative, INWED has grown year by year, and has since achieved global reach and UNESCO patronage.
The geotechnical department is integral to Rosond, which has a proud 65-year history. Chelsea’s role itself has expanded from pure geology to encompass project coordination and management. Her responsibilities range from compiling tenders to liaising with clients in order to scope their specific requirements, drawing up proposals and reporting back.
“The data we collect on our geotechnical projects is not just about drilling metres as in exploration. It also encompasses other testing and analytical services we are able to offer,” explains Chelsea. As an example, she references a current project involving geotechnical drilling for design work. “Such projects send a positive message about investment levels and investor confidence, especially if the mining client is likely to establish new infrastructure as a result. The accuracy and precision demanded of the drill crew on such projects is critical in terms of the design work and the models that the engineers develop for the structures required.”
The difference between exploration and geotechnical engineering is that the former investigates mineralogy and geology, whereas the latter aims to understand the physical behaviour of the material in question. A current trend in exploration is to obtain as much data as possible during the drilling operation itself, a trend facilitated by Rosond’s in-house development of next-generation drill rigs in line with the requirements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). “The idea is that we can produce a suite of information while drilling is happening in a live-time scenario. That is definitely a trend in geological exploration, allowing clients to make decisions on the fly, saving them time and money,” explains Chelsea.
She started her career as a geologist conducting greenfields exploration activities in Zambia. A brief stint at a company specialising in undermining studies was her first insight into geotechnical drilling, followed by her latest position at Rosond. “In terms of the digital transformation that the company is undergoing as it embraces 4IR in its drilling technology, it has been really important to have somebody marry all of these elements and ensure everybody on-site can function effectively,” Chelsea elaborates.
“Rosond has given me a wonderful opportunity to expand my career in the geotechnical engineering space. Not only did they see the potential in me, but I have been afforded the freedom to develop my current role even further. Although I am not practicing pure geology anymore, I still engage with clients about their rock samples, for example, in addition to the general business and reporting level. Contract work tends to ebb and flow, which makes every day a challenge. Decisions always have to be made in real-time, as the material that comes out of the ground informs a lot of the design work going forward,” concludes Chelsea.