A Growth Mindset and a Force to be Reckoned with!

Nonhlanhla Angel Mathebula – Former SAIW Student & now AFROX Application Support Specialist

Q: Please provide some background on your journey to forging a career in welding – where did you grow up and what were your childhood, schooling & tertiary education experiences like?

A: I grew up in Mpumalanga, in Nhlazatshe. I completed high school in a small rural school in Elukwatini. I’ve always wanted a career where I could work with my hands as I knew I didn’t want to have a conventional office job. I had often considered going into nursing, and I was offered a scholarship to a nursing programme. However, my circumstances didn’t allow me to pursue it. Luckily, while looking for other scholarships, I found my way to the SAIW. I also liked the idea of defying gender norms and dreamed of becoming a civil engineer. In line with this, the SAIW is an internationally accredited college, so it opens many doors in the industry, including international positions.

Q: What role did the SAIW play in furthering your training/skills base? Which specific courses did you complete?

A: I completed the SAIW’s International Institute of Welding (IIW) Course and have never looked back. Over the course of a year and a half, I learned so much and gained a lot of exposure in the industry. This included the opportunity to enter the Young Welder of the Year competition, in which I came second. Because of this, I was invited to speak in a television interview for SABC1’s iSpani, a show that focuses on careers for aspiring younger people.

Overall, the SAIW provided a lot of support before, during, and after the course. They encouraged us to push our boundaries by learning more and giving us all the resources that they could for us to achieve great things! They also introduced us to opportunities to build successful careers using their vast network.

It’s through them that I got the opportunity to work for Afrox, which is an internationally renowned market leader in gases and welding products.

Q: Where have you worked since your initial SAIW qualification?

A: From the SAIW I got the chance to intern at Afrox in 2017. I interned for two years and got promoted to a permanent employee to fill the role of Application Technology Centre Coordinator. After approximately two and a half years I was promoted to Application Support Specialist which is what I do currently.

Q:Why are you so passionate about your welding career?

A: Other than the confidence I’ve developed after successfully completing so many projects, I think I’d say it’s the exposure that we get. We are constantly given a new environment to work in, with new materials and processes and it sparks my enthusiasm for this field. I also love that women can excel in this male-dominated industry and provide valuable ideas and insights from an unexpected perspective!

Q:Is there a type of personality best suited to this work?

A: I would say it takes someone who has grit, who isn’t afraid of getting their hands dirty and who jumps into tasks with enthusiasm!

Q. Is experience as important as formal training?

A: Formal training forms the foundation that leads to experience, so I would say that they are equally important. I’ve come to learn that to get somewhere you must fully embrace learning and experience – no experience is wasted, and continuous learning is vital.

Q: Describe a typical day on the job?

A: Depending on the day, we go to a different site where my team and I meet with the customer to determine where we can assist. We assess the environment and what the focus is for that specific customer – we begin by fully immersing ourselves in understanding the customer’s requirements.

We then identify any faults and inefficiencies and decide how we can add value and streamline processes. We aim to optimise productivity, quality, cost-savings and environmental safety and awareness. We often conduct training while we are implementing better welding solutions, methods, or materials so that the site can run without our assistance. If further training is needed, we typically return and repeat the process.

Q: What do you like the most about your job?

A: There are a few aspects: I enjoy how dynamic it is; that no project is the same. I also enjoy setting an example. In a very male-dominated industry, I have noticed that my presence as a female has inspired other females to take charge and get involved. I want to be an example to others – showing that there is nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it.

Q. Which aspects are you least enthusiastic about?

A: Honestly, every project is so different that there isn’t anything I can say I don’t enjoy. I love to learn and experience new and exciting challenges, and my work is dynamic and fulfilling.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career to date?

A: I was fortunate enough to work on an exciting project in the shipping industry; we were commissioned to join a site where a company was in the process of building the biggest ship in South Africa.

I was also involved in advising them on how to optimise their processes through extensive training using various materials, different welding equipment, and new welding methods. It’s through this sort of training that I get to develop my career as well as gain further understanding and experience.

Q: What would you say are the biggest work and life lessons you have learnt since then?

A: Through doing the SAIW course, I learned that there are so many branches of welding – I always thought the industry was standard with only a few branches. I was surprised by how many possibilities there are in the profession! I’ve also learned (from the support of SAIW) to be confident in my ability despite the gender gap in the industry.

Q: How do you hope to take your career to even greater heights from here?

A: Through the learning and experience that I acquire along the way, I’m aspiring to become a Welding Technologist who establishes new welding technology and practices. I aim to make my mark on this industry and show that anything is achievable.

Q: What advice would you give to someone starting in your career?

A: I would say that it’s important not to lose focus; learn your weaknesses and strengths and do everything you can to improve on both. You must remember that nothing is impossible, so reach for infinity and find your niche. Once you find your passion, everything else falls into place when you work hard to get where you want to be.