Women’s Month Profile – Confidence Lekoane

Forging a path to success

In celebration of the women who make our nation, and in this case, the SAIW great, we speak to the SAIW’s Technical Services Welding Consultant Confidence Leokane who firmly believes that in the post COVID-19 age of economic and industrial transformation; companies that have the right set of skills and competencies to break the mould will stand apart and achieve great success in local and global markets…

Q. Please can you give a brief outline of where you grew up, went to school and completed your tertiary education?

A. I grew up in a Township called Thembisa east of Johannesburg in Gauteng. I attended Rhodesfield Technical High School in Kempton Park where I matriculated in 2006. I went on to further my studies at the University of Johannesburg, where I completed my Diploma and B-tech Degree in Engineering Metallurgy in 2012.

Q. How did the first years of your career/first job/s build on what you learnt at university/college but in a more practical setting? What were the key lessons you learned during this time?

A. My first job was at a foundry SCAW Metals; now Cast Products SA. I worked there from 2010 to 2011 and gained practical training to obtain my Diploma. It was a tough environment! As a trainee metallurgist, I had to perform quality and process control duties, while meeting production deadlines. I learned a lot of metallographic analysis and destructive testing of material which aided the theoretical knowledge I had obtained at university.

This allowed me to make better sense of the relationship between the mechanical properties of various grades of steel castings, in terms of their crystal structure as a result of the heat treatment. Besides the knowledge imparted to me, the environment also built my character.  I learned to have a thick skin and stand up for my truth but most importantly, I learned how to communicate with people at different levels.

Q. How did you come to work at the SAIW and when?

A. After I completed my practical training at SCAW Metals I was one of three students who were awarded the opportunity to join their graduate program under the mentorship of Research & Development Manager Clive Jones. Normally students are absorbed by the company as permanent employees at the end of the graduate program but they could not afford to keep all three of us. Fortunately, we heard that the SAIW was looking for someone to run its material testing laboratory.

We all applied for the position and were called through for interviews. To be quite honest. I didn’t think I stood a chance because I knew nothing about welding, whereas my colleagues had completed modules in welding at their tertiary institutions. Despite that, I successfully got the position and started a month later.

Joining the SAIW as a young graduate was challenging, especially when I was given the task to start up a new division. Initially, the thought of starting up a material testing laboratory seemed impossible but with a lot of training, support and research I was able to make it happen. During this process, I learned how to believe in myself, work independently and make informed decisions.

Q. What is your current position and please describe a typical day in your job?

A. I currently work in the SAIW’s Technical Services Department as a Welding Consultant. On a typical day, I respond to telephonic and email technical enquiries, and visit clients to provide solutions to the material, metallurgical or welding problems they are experiencing. I also assist clients in qualifying their welding procedures and welders based on international manufacturing standards in line with their company needs.

Q. Why do you feel that welding, NDT & certification has such an important role to play in getting South Africa’s economy back on track following the COVID-19 pandemic?

A. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted how business is usually done and we have seen a lot of people being laid off mainly in the manufacturing sector, despite it being one of the largest contributors to the county’s economy.

There are also a lot of imported skills and products coming into the county. One of the reasons for this is that the use of technology has made it much easier to communicate and do business with global companies. South African firms need to position themselves to compete with the global market, and this can only be achieved through the training and development of their workforce.

Companies that are equipped with qualified and certified personnel will have the right set of skills and competencies to improve productivity and production quality levels on par with that of their global competitors. This will enable local companies to grow their global market share and be in a position to employ more people and boost their economic activities. However, the private sector cannot do this all by themselves we still need the government to introduce more industrial projects to stimulate this growth.

Q. Why does the SAIW have such an important part to play in this economic recovery and the overall success of the fabrication and manufacturing sectors in particular?

The SAIW’s core business is training and we pride ourselves on offering welding technology and NDT courses that are in line with both national and international standards.  We are in a position where we can train, develop and certify personnel as well as companies so that they are globally competitive.

This is because we provide skills training for companies and individuals that allows them to perform manufacturing and fabrication activities to improve and manage their weld quality operations. This makes the SAIW the best partner for companies that are looking to close the skills gap in South Africa.

Q. What do you consider the most exciting innovations/developments in the welding sector over the last five years?

I have been fascinated by the use of technology in welding recently and truly believe that the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is officially upon us! For example, there has been an increase in the number of organisations utilising robotic welding machines. This makes perfect sense given the high hours of downtime they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic where many firms reduced production yields because of rotational shifts as a result of being short staffed.

The introduction of robotic welding means that less skilled welders will be needed for these types of operational activities, resulting in an improved consistency in the weld quality through the elimination of human error and a reduction In the amount of downtime. However, a new set of skills will be needed to fix the machines and programmers.  I am excited to see how the South African market will receive the use of robotic welding machines in the next five years.

Q. What is your life philosophy/a phrase or sentence that sums up your approach to life and work?

I have two phrases that I apply to my everyday life. Firstly, “do good even when no one is watching”. I believe that you need be intentional about everything that you do and not just do something for the sake of doing it or because someone is watching you. In this way, you will gain pleasure and be satisfied with the work that you’re doing regardless of other people’s opinions.

The second one is  “be the solution, not the problem”. This generally gets me out of procrastination mode and helps me to get things done because I am always looking for solutions to problems instead of magnifying the current problem.

Q. What is one of the most important lessons you have learnt in life and who or which situation did this stem from?

I’ve learned to live a little and to constantly find a balance between work life and family life. I had never imagined myself living without my parents at such a young age but after losing both my parents in the space of eight years I realised that tomorrow is not guaranteed and I therefore grab every opportunity I get to spend with my loved ones.

Q. What are your personal goals and your goals for SAIW Technical and Consulting services in the next year?

My personal goals are to equip myself with business management skills hence I am in the process of obtaining a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration (PDBA) at the Wits Business School. My mom once told me they can take away everything from you but no one will ever take away your education and knowledge.

My goal for the SAIW Technical and Consulting Services is to increase our market share in consulting and material testing in the welding fabrication sector. The SAIW has all the resources needed and the competence to be the number one go-to for these services.