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Interview with Nolitha Mbele

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Please kindly introduce yourself and briefly describe your career path up until now.

Plant Supervisor, RHEINMETALL DENEL MUNITION, Somerset West, South Africa

Plant Supervisor, RHEINMETALL DENEL MUNITION, Somerset West, South Africa

My name is Nolitha Mbele, I am 32 years old and I have 2 children – a 14-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy. I received my diploma in Chemical Engineering from Cape Peninsular University of Technology. As a mandatory part of my University course, I completed a traineeship at Precision Press, which ended in December 2012. I then joined Rheinmetall Denel Munition in January 2013, starting out as a production supervisor at our OCBM plant in Wellington.

Beginning in 2014, I studied part time in the Bachelor of Technology program of Cape Peninsula University of Technology, completing my degree in 2017. At the beginning of 2019 I was promoted to plant supervisor of Rheinmetall Denel Munition pyro-technic and high explosive plant in Somerset West.

My responsibilities comprise monitoring the production, safety as well as HR-related issues like compliance and attendance. I have 40 colleagues reporting directly to me. The mixture of these tasks makes my new job very interesting, but also very challenging.

As the previous plant supervisor in pyro-technics was a woman, this was not an issue at all. In this respect, Rheinmetall Denel Munition is very progressive.

Studying to achieve your degrees and working at Rheinmetall while taking care of two young children at the same time – that sounds challenging! What you have achieved so far in your life is quite impressive. How do you manage to lead your career and your private life successfully?

It is all about planning! That is one important lesson I have learned: If you have a goal and a proper plan then you will succeed.

Work-life balance: Support is there, when it’s needed.

One thing I highly value about my employer Rheinmetall Denel Munition is the great employee benefits offered, such as psychological support for their employees in times of much stress and pressure not only at work, but also within your family.

I also like the opportunity to bring my children to our plant where they can get to know my colleagues and see where I work, like for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of our plant in Somerset West. I really treasure all these benefits as a Rheinmetall employee and they are a major reason for why I want to stay employed here.

As plant supervisor, I only work straight shifts and I am off on weekends now, which means I have more time with my children. Moreover, I only work overtime when there is a particular need.

Were there any men or women who inspired you? Are they still your role models today?

There are two people who have influenced my values and my action principles a lot: Firstly, there is Nelson Mandela who is a true role model to me and played such an important role for South Africa. He inspires me to always strive for improvement and I try to follow in his steps by inspiring the people I work with every day.

Lead by example – inspiring supervisors

Secondly, I greatly admire Vanessa Naidoo (Executive Manager Business Systems), the first female executive manager at Rheinmetall Denel Munition. She showed me that women can exceed their own expectations. The way she faces the male executive world without adapting masculine behavior is very inspiring to me.

Do women have to adapt to male behavior on their way up?

Respect – a central value of our corporate culture

I did not have to adapt. In general, I believe that when you are in management you adopt the procedures and values of the company you are working for and these do not have anything to do with gender. At Rheinmetall we strongly promote respect and that is something I try to promote in my daily work towards my own employees.

Please kindly complete the following sentence for us: I support my employees in difficult situations by…?

…mentoring and coaching them. In my view, these are two very effective methods for how to get to know your employees well, building up trust and therefore knowing when something is wrong. This way I am always able to give them my full support in any challenges they might be facing. I make sure my employees know that they can always come to me with any problem. If they prefer to talk to someone else, I help them to find another person. That is very important to me.

What opportunities do you see in the future for women in your field of work?

Women should not be “boxed in”, especially not as a woman in engineering. Let me give you an example: We have fitter and turner apprentices and they are performing heavy-duty tasks. Therefore, if women have a passion for that career, they can certainly perform even those heavy-duty tasks and they may even come up with innovative ways that will assist them to perform their tasks both more efficiently and effectively.

There are a lot of opportunities for women in engineering, e.g. in project management, product development and surely in production.

What advice can you give young, aspiring women (at Rheinmetall) regarding their career planning?

Always know what you want and don’t give up! Have goals and dreams and then you need endurance to reach your goals. Perseverance is the key to success! I know that from my own experience.