Young engineers entering the workplace must learn the necessary skills to adapt to the workplace and transition from education to practical application, panellists noted during a webinar held as part of the Electra Mining Africa 2020 Connect virtual event, for which Creamer Media’s Engineering News & Mining Weekly is a partner.
The webinar, titled ‘The Early Career Development of Engineering Professionals’, held on September 11, was hosted by SAIMechE, a voluntary association of mechanical engineers, technologists and technicians.
Komatsu Mining senior product engineer Sewela Portia Moketla said that moving from tertiary education or formal training to the workplace required one to become multiskilled, to supplement the hard engineering skills gained in education with soft skills.
She explained that, in the former, one could rely on themselves for the majority of work; however, when moving into the workplace, there was more teamwork, which required the additional development of people skills, interpersonal skills and cultural skills, besides others.
ACTOM Power Systems president Sy Gourrah, meanwhile, emphasised that there was room for a work:life balance and encouraged young professionals not to be scared to commit to either.
While not compulsory for engineers, she also encouraged young professionals looking to enter the workplace to gain professional registration, as this would provide valuable training and work experience.
Moreover, she outlined the benefits of getting involved in voluntary work.
Gourrah said these were some of the ways that young professionals could build up a network of contacts and relationships that would support them throughout their careers, open up job opportunities and provide platforms for findings mentors.
One of the things the all-women panel were in consensus about was the demographic of the workplace, which was still largely male dominated and older.
Gourrah pointed out that young engineers were sometimes not taken seriously and encouraged young professionals entering the field to be persistent and not to fixate on other people’s opinions, but rather, to do their work well and add value wherever possible.
Speaking from her plethora of international learning experience, Stellenbosch University mechanical and mechatronic engineering Associate Professor Deborah Blaine noted that workplaces differed in terms of culture.
For example, she noted that students in the US were taught to market themselves and their skills, which was culturally different to South Africa. She said this could provide insights for South African professionals, especially under-represented groups in engineering, who needed to be able to represent themselves in the workplace.
However, she noted that it was important to strike a balance between confidence and overconfidence.
Moreover, she said that, depending on the culture of the workplace professionals find themselves in, they must understand and adapt to it, much the same way as they would deconstruct and approach an engineering problem.
Here, she reiterated Moketla's statement that interpersonal relationships in the workplace were key to getting jobs done.
Speaking from the perspective of a business owner, Centre of Engineering Excellence director Cillia Molomo-Mphephu said young professionals wanting to succeed in their own businesses must learn to gel engineering skills with delivering profitability for the business.
She noted that they would have to ensure they have an understanding of the science of engineering to be able to deliver a sound engineering product; and then, this must be delivered in a way that positively impacts the profitability of the business.
For this, she encouraged investing in physical resources, that is, building trust and competence in the workforce.
Single Destination Engineering project engineer Alicia Celliers encouraged young professional to fill gaps in the workplace that nobody else has identified and add value wherever they can.
Moreover, she said that, when they make mistakes, they should call attention to these immediately for rectification, as, otherwise, it would eventually catch up with them.