My Construction experience as an ‘appie’

I want to help make your time on site pleasant I also want to inspire you to persevere through the tough times. Allow me to share my knowledge gained from 5 years working in South Africa on civil engineering contracts. I’ve worked on regional roads, national roads, water reticulation wastewater management projects and reservoirs. Allowing me to acquire skills in bulk earthworks and layer works, quarrying, structural engineering, reticulation, site management, community relations and general engineering and construction works.

Civil Engineering is an exciting profession with varying fields of expertise. It’s a highly rewarding yet demanding career with a plethora of information available to us at our fingertips, it’s our duty to transfer this information into knowledge through our own experience.

My personal experience is in the contracting game and honestly, contracting in South Africa is not for the feint-hearted. Just like every other walk of life, you get what you give and as a contractor you must be willing to get your hands dirty, in fact, not only your hands, but arms, legs, face, hair, neck, ears and every other part of your exposed body, otherwise don’t bother.

“Living and working in remote locations has taught me how to ‘make a plan’”

Contracting has opened up doors to experiences I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams.  Breathtaking beauty in the most remote areas of the Transkei, trail running through forests and over hills where only cows and sheep know your name, watching a tractor driving without front wheels, being held hostage, witnessing sign posts being stolen out the ground, goods being lifted from bakkies (Pickups) while in traffic, traffic officials trying to seduce me, dodging potholes with wildlife swimming in them and seeing a person getting crushed to death by potatoes. These are just a few things I have been exposed to and the list goes on, especially if I were to include some of my close friend’s accounts (shootings, murders, robberies, hijackings etc.)

Living in remote areas and working for companies, like Rumdel Cape and Mamlambo Construction, has taught me how to ‘make a plan’ and by that I mean creating innovative solutions to problems which were not taught to us in our university textbooks. I learned things about myself which I didn’t know. Even after my time in the military, I was still learning things about surviving in the bush. I was part of a team of experienced people whom didn’t hold my hand, but rather directed me from the sideline. I made mistakes and, in my opinion, this is the best way to learn. We were always able to resolve disputes as we all understood the type of arena we were playing in.

Im grateful for my experiences and all the people who were part of them because at the end of the day, it’s about appreciating the moment.

Construction site in the dark... be prepared
Construction site in the dark… be prepared for working after hours

To see more photo’s of the projects I’ve been involved in, click here

For the Appie/Freshie/Beginner

Below I share 10 of the most important lessons I learned in my first couple of years on site, fresh out of varsity with a booming ego, I thought I knew it all.

Lesson 1: Think for yourself, nobody is there to hold your hand.

Pack water, some food and sun cream and keep your bag with you at all times do not leave your bag in the bakkie (truck) because if your foreman drops you off in the middle of nowhere to supervise the team of labour, there is a possibility that he will not be back for a few hours and this is not because he wants to screw with you, it’s because he may have a more important task to attend to. Carry some money with you because you never know, you may just find a spaza shop (kiosk) around the corner or over the next hill.

Lesson 2: Be humble.

You do not know everything and the sooner you accept this the better it is for everybody. Don’t allow your years at university to inflate your ego beyond your control and be sure to respect everybody equally regardless of their appearance.

Lesson 3: Be confident

Just because you don’t know everything, it doesn’t mean that you don’t know anything. If you think you have an idea to simplify a process, share it. Often, all it takes is a different perspective. You could potentially save your company lots of time and money with your idea.

Lesson 4: Remember the three P’s [Planet, People, Profit] aka ‘the triple bottom line’

Your company survives by making a profit but it cannot make a profit without the people and, as responsible humans and Engineers, we need to look after our planet because we depend on it for our survival.

In order to make profit you need to keep your pencil sharp, always look after your team, keep them happy because without them you are screwed and always look after the Environment because without it your kids and future generations are screwed.

Lesson 5: You are accountable for your own actions, follow the design and put safety first

If you think you have a better way to do something, always ask.. Use your common sense and rather take it up with your senior before doing something especially if it involves one of the “P’s”. One day you will be in a position to make decisions which will hold financial value. I said that it is good to learn from your mistakes, just be careful.

Remember that it takes a lie to cover up a lie so often the best thing is to bite the bullet and admit that you fuc#ed up.

Lesson 6: Knowledge is power so become a knowledge sponge and start absorbing.

Pick the brains of your seniors and mentors, don’t be scared to get your hands dirty, get accustomed to the different tools and pieces of equipment which you use on site. This means to know how long equipment lasts before it needs replacing, knowing the cement status, aquiring skyhooks, understanding the efficiencies and turnaround times on all of your plant, familiarising yourself with the standard and project specifications and everything else.

Lesson 7: Be prepared to put in the hours.

You have chosen a career path which is hardcore. The people are hardcore, the environment is hardcore and the rewards are hardcore. It’s a challenging environment and often it feels like you are on a runaway carriage, it’s up to you whether or not you want to take the reigns. Like every job in the world, you will have days that you feel like not being present and you will have days that take your breath away. Make sure you remember to enjoy every moment.

Lesson 8: Learn the ‘lingo’.

It helps to understand the local lingo and bonus points to you if you can speak it. Refer to the three P’s

Lesson 9: Be a compassionate person.

We are all human so be fair and treat people with respect, what goes around comes around. Your greatness will resonate through your team. You should however be cautious of people taking advantage of you.

Lesson 10: Remain calm and remember to breathe, enjoy the moment

Look at each and every experience, good or bad, as a learning experience, have fun.


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