As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, jobs of the future will be driven by technology and innovation, and recent studies suggest that 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that don’t yet exist.
The United Nations has declared 11 February as International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It is intended to give those who are leading the charge in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) a platform to shine, and light the way for others who have a similar dream.
Ford Motor Company is fully committed to the principle and practice of equal opportunities in all aspects of employment, and is actively working towards bridging the STEM gender divide in what is traditionally considered a male-dominated industry.
At a global level, through an initiative called the Ford Professional Women’s Network (PWN), the automaker recognises the achievements of women in STEM, fosters an environment for cultural change to enable personal and professional growth, and encourages the next generation of scientists, engineers, and technologists.
At a local level, Ford South Africa hosts an annual Careers Day for around 80 Grade 11 and 12 students, from various schools and different socioeconomic backgrounds, at its inland vehicle assembly plant in Silverton, Pretoria. The students are exposed to the vast array of skill sets needed to operate and grow a business of this size, so it remains relevant, competitive, and sustainable.
Representatives of Ford’s Graduate Programme explain to the students how they are rotated between departments for the duration of their internships. The aim of this is to help the graduates identify where their main interests and aptitudes lie, so that they can make an informed decision about the direction they would like to pursue as they set off on their unique career journeys.
The students are also given a Plant Tour and Ford Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) course, and go home enlightened and inspired, with a much clearer understanding of the possibilities that their futures hold.
At Ford’s coastal engine assembly plant in Struandale, Port Elizabeth, electronics technician Nosisa Nkwali proves just how rewarding one’s work can be when you have the conviction to pursue your passion, whilst boldly challenging gender stereotypes and biases about women in STEM along the way.
A self-assured, solution-driven individual, she is responsible for solving often urgent problems on a very busy assembly line, which produces a staggering 250,000 engines and 280,000 component sets per year, for both the domestic and export market.
It was clear from an early age that Nosisa was destined for a future in STEM. As a curious young girl, she could often be found quietly taking apart domestic appliances and household gadgets to see their insides and figure out how they worked.
“As a kid, I used to love fixing broken things at home, like kettles or irons, and opening up cell phones and remote controls, checking to see how they operate,” she laughs. “At school I excelled in Maths and Science, and I knew I wanted a career that incorporated both of my favourite subjects.”
After matriculating, she went on to obtain her National Diploma in Electrical Engineering from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. And in 2012, she joined Ford, where she now gets to exercise the muscles of her sharply analytical mind every day.
“To start with, it can be challenging to be one of only a few females in a predominantly male working environment,” she admits. “But as time goes on, you get used to the challenge. You just have to work extra hard to prove yourself, and eventually you become part of the team.”
“There’s no such thing as an average day in manufacturing,” she continues. “Some days are much busier than others. It really all depends on how the machines are behaving!” But she relishes a challenge, and absolutely thrives under the pressure of troubleshooting real-time electrical and electronic issues to ensure minimal interruption and maximum efficiency on the line.
Her advice to other young women and girls who are considering following a similar study and career path: “If you have a passion for Maths and Science, if you have the right attitude and confidence in yourself, if you are prepared to motivate yourself and practice patience when the going gets tough, and if you are prepared to work really hard and be a team player, you will succeed. Never allow anyone to tell you that you will not make it in this field because you are a woman. You are the author of your life story.”