Blog > STEMStories

#STEMStories: Jeshika, Civil Engineer, South Africa

Name: Jeshika Ramchund PrEng
Role/Occupation: Civil Engineer 
Country: South Africa

I recently interviewed Jeshika Ramchund, a senior engineer in the developments division at Bosch Projects in Durban, South Africa. Her work covers planning, design and implementation of civil engineering infrastructure. She fulfils a variety of roles in her current occupation from Programme Manager to Design Engineer to Design Team Leader.

Being exposed to the technical field from a young age as her father worked in construction, her fascination with engineering drawings and specifications was immediate and long-lasting. She soon discovered that it was in the initial stages of a project that the most creativity could be exercised. She then made a firm decision to have a career in the built environment.

As a student, Ramchund succeeded in securing a scholarship for study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). A vacation work opportunity turned into a fantastic start to her career with a full bursary and employment as a graduate engineer; the experience gained honed her technical skills and appreciation for the design process. She later gained project management experience by working on large and multidisciplinary projects across the country. She then completed the Consulting Engineers South Africa's, Business of Consulting Engineering Programme which put her in good stead to tackle the role of Acting Regional Head of Infrastructure and Technical Director for KZN. Her recent focus has been on the management of a private sector portfolio at Bosch, where she works alongside sustainability specialists to grow and evolve the conventional design process to incorporate technology, sustainability and innovation.

Her journey on the promotion of engineering and consulting engineering began in 2008 in the KZN Branch of Consulting Engineers South Africa's Young Professionals Forum (CESA YPF). She went from being the Branch Chair of CESA YPF KZN to National Chair of CESA YPF South Africa and then onto Chairperson of the Group of African Member Associations to serving as a member on Federation of International Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) YPF. She has delivered presentations at several local and international conferences and congresses on the engineering profession and the consulting agenda.

When asked what excites her about her job, she states that “Our roles [as engineers] may be small, but the potential of our impacts are huge. My work in civil engineering… improves the quality of life of people and the environment in which we live. Embracing technology, and developing engineering solutions that bring the imagination to life is what makes me tick.” Her experience as a woman in the engineering space has been largely positive, although she feels that “Engineering is still very male dominated. Ills such as sexual harassment, the pay gap and the ‘old boys club' are still a reality, but despite these challenges many women have defied the odds and changed these dynamics in the profession and industry. Over the years, I have had the privilege of learning from many dynamic and successful female engineers. It takes those who walk before us to improve the path for us to walk.”

Her aim in consulting engineering is to create a safe space that encourages women in technical fields to converse on the successes and challenges faced, to discuss professional and personal coping mechanisms and to share ideas. Ramchund believes that it “is to not just [to] have the conversation at a tea party with other women, but the best way to encourage behavioural changes is to invite men to the table to listen, share and lobby with us for the changes we would like to see.” She has a very positive outlook on Africa and feels that “Africa is a land of opportunity. There are huge opportunities for the growth in the engineering space. The rate of technological development and innovation oozing from creative African youth sets the scene for the coming generations… This means that young women engineers can take their place, front and centre and lead Africa into the future.”

She attributes planning ahead, making lists of the things she needs to do and leaning on her support system (her husband, family and friends are her biggest cheerleaders and enablers) as the means of maintaining a balance between her professional career and her role as a volunteer and ambassador of engineering and consulting engineering with her role as a wife and a new mother.

Read further to discover an engineer’s journey from being a wide-eyed girl fascinated with engineering drawings to a woman who has climbed the mountain of engineering success and stands at the top reaching out to give other women a helping hand. Be inspired by this hardworking and determined Geeky Girl.

1. Describe what your work entails.
I am currently a Senior Engineer in the Developments Division at Bosch Projects in Durban, South Africa. My involvement covers planning, design and implementation of civil engineering infrastructure with a background in water and wastewater. My roles vary from Programme Manager to Design Engineer to Design Team Leader on different projects.

2. Describe your engineering journey.
My dad worked in construction and exposed me to his world of work from a young age where I was fascinated by engineering drawings and specifications. What frustrated me was that at the construction stage, there wasn't room for many creative or functional changes. I then learned about the various careers in the built environment and how by getting involved at the initial stages of a project, in planning and design, one could exercise the most creativity. I knew that a career in the built environment was what I wanted despite the very cyclical nature of the work.

I was successful in securing a scholarship from the Construction Industry Education and Training Services (CIETS) for study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal commencing in January 2004. During my search for the university work experience programme during vacations, I was accepted for training by CBI Consulting Engineers (Pty) Ltd (now incorporated into Mott Macdonald). That vacation opportunity turned into a fantastic start to my career with a full bursary and employment as a graduate engineer in their Durban offices. It was the greatest opportunity to experience and be involved in water and sanitation projects that honed my technical skills and appreciation for the design process.

I joined the team at ILISO Consulting (Pty) Ltd where I gained project management experience on large and multidisciplinary projects across the country. It was where I grew a deep appreciation for the complexity of engineering. I grew competence in performing critical functions in a consulting engineering business. I successfully completed Consulting Engineers South Africa's, Business of Consulting Engineering Programme. This set me in good stead to tackle the role of Acting Regional Head of Infrastructure and Technical Director for KwaZulu-Natal.

When the opportunity to couple technical expertise with the project management experience on a large water and sanitation project that I had previously worked on arose, I knew that my career would take on a different path. I have been at Bosch Project for just over 2 years and gained a wealth of experience in multidisciplinary and mega projects for the public and private sector. Recently my focus has been on the management of a private sector portfolio, my role in the team has been to work alongside our sustainability specialists to grow and evolve the conventional design process to incorporate technology, sustainability and innovation into the business as well as to improve internal processes and efficiencies.

My journey on the promotion of engineering and consulting engineering began in 2008 in the KZN Branch of Consulting Engineers South Africa's Young Professionals Forum (CESA YPF). The core objectives of the YPF are to create awareness of the engineering industry and consulting engineering as a profession, to promote development of high quality professionals in the consulting engineering industry; and to address the issues that affect YPs in South Africa. My journey through the organisation has taken me from Branch Chair of CESA YPF KZN, to National Chair of CESA YPF South Africa, then onto Chairperson of the Group of African Member Associations (an organisation representing Consulting Engineers across Africa, of which CESA is a member) to serving as a member on Federation of International Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) YPF (an organization representing Consulting Engineers globally, of which CESA is a Member Association and GAMA is a regional grouping). I have been privileged to speak and deliver presentations at several local and international conferences and congresses on the engineering profession and the consulting engineering agenda from the perspective of the young professional (under 35 years old).

3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?
Engineering is such a vast field and covers every imaginable aspect of life across disciplines - civil, electrical, chemical, mechatronic, biomedical etc. Our roles may be small, but the potential of our impacts are huge. My work in civil engineering, delivering water and sanitation infrastructure for example, improves the quality of life of people and the environment in which we live. Embracing technology, and developing engineering solutions that bring the imagination to life is what makes me tick.

4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?
My experience in engineering has been very positive. I have had a series of mentors and sponsors who have advised, guided and motivated me on technical subjects, management and professional development areas. I have been fortunate to have been given opportunities beyond my experience and qualifications and this has helped to grow and thrive. I have found that if you show initiative and seize every opportunity afforded, success is guaranteed.

Engineering is still very male dominated. Ills such as sexual harassment, the pay gap and the “old boys club” are still a reality, but despite these challenges many women have defied the odds, and changed these dynamics in the profession and industry. Over the years, I have had the privilege of learning from many dynamic and successful female engineers. It takes those who walk before us to improve the path for us to walk.

I have a passion for empowering technical females in our industry to grow and share their knowledge and experiences with each other. In Consulting Engineering our challenges are different and we lack an accessible mechanism for women to converse on the successes and challenges faced, coping mechanisms and a safe space to share ideas. My aim is to create that space and encourage these conversations. The key is to not just have the conversation at a tea party with other women, but the best way to encourage behavioural changes is to invite men to the table to listen, share and lobby with us for the changes we would like to see.

5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the engineering field?
A career in engineering is more than just a job, it is an opportunity to change lives everyday by just doing what makes you happy. There are huge opportunities for careers in engineering, consulting, contracting, municipal, academic, industry and manufacturing. There are also various paths that can be pursued to access a career in engineering. The key is to prioritize Mathematics and Physical Science at high school with the best possible results. This enables one to secure a place university as well as provides access to funding via scholarships and bursary programmes. There are many opportunities and initiatives that are aimed at women interested and studying toward a career in engineering, Geeky Girl Reality is one such grouping.

Women are naturally multitalented and excellent multitaskers, imagine the impact that we make every day by just being us! Sheryl Sandberg, author of the book Lean In says, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”

6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”?
I believe that Africa is a land of opportunity. There are huge opportunities for the growth in the engineering space. The rate of technological development and innovation oozing from creative African youth sets the scene for the coming generations. The infrastructure gap, youth unemployment and economic growth, is pivotal to realising the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html) and the African Unions’ Agenda 2063 (https://au.int/en/agenda2063). This means that young women engineers can take their place, front and centre and lead Africa into the future.

7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?
Each time I successfully complete an infrastructure project, I have a “mini-Eureka” moment. I was recently selected as one of the Mail and Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans to watch. This has been such an honour.

8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?
I try to balance my professional career, my role as a volunteer and ambassador of engineering and consulting engineering and my role as a wife and a new mother by planning ahead, making lists of things I need to do and leaning on my support system whenever I feel myself being overwhelmed. My husband, family and friends are my biggest cheerleaders and enablers.

9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?
I am inspired by many people for various reasons, as I fulfil various roles in my life. I admire Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Sheryl Sandberg and Melinda Gates for their work towards women empowerment. I aspire to be and to promote that women can have it all. I admire Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet for their philanthropic efforts and using their wealth for meaningful causes.

Within the engineering sphere, I am inspired by a past generation of engineers, who despite the challenges that apartheid imposed on black people who wanted to study engineering in South Africa, still followed their passion, became successful and technically competent engineers. They went further to start and grow consulting engineering businesses that provided much needed infrastructure to South Africa post-1994, much of which was aimed at the previously marginalized populations, providing a platform for employment creation of thousands of technical employees over the years. These incredible engineers continued to stay involved in growing the engineering profession, having led Voluntary Associations such as CESA and SAICE in the capacity of Presidents etc. They inspire me to be the best engineer that I can be as a way of life, rather than as a job.

No high-profile person is without controversy, and by the virtue of being in the public domain one open’s themselves up to that kind of scrutiny. However, the overriding benefit is their ability to do good and change lives in an extraordinary way, that inspires us to do in an ordinary one.

10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? 
My Civil Engineering work at Bosch Projects: http://www.boschprojects.co.za/

Consulting Engineering in: 
South Africa with CESA: https://www.cesa.co.za/ypf
Africa with GAMA: http://fidic.org/node/7946
Internationally with FIDIC: http://fidic.org/YPF

Ramchund can be contacted at: 
Email: ramchundj@boschprojects.co.za
Twitter & Instagram: @JeshikaRM
LinkedIn & Facebook: Jeshika Ramchund

Jeshika Ramchund interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd