JONES & WAGENER is a specialist firm of consulting professional engineers and scientists based in South Africa with depth of experience operating since 1966.
Jones & Wagener (J&W) has over the years broadened its service offering to include Geotechnical Engineering, Structural Engineering, Mining Infrastructure, Engineering Hydrology, Waste Engineering, Tailings Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Environmental Sciences and Environmental Management expertise.
The South African Professional Services Academy spoke to Head of Department: Waste Engineering at J&W Jabulile Msiza about her personal and professional journey thus far.
Tell us your brief history; academic, professional, and your role TODAY
I was introduced to J&W during the third year of my studies initially for an opportunity to gain practical engineering training or vacation work whilst studying towards my B.Eng. Civil Engineering degree. That led to a bursary opportunity and the start of a long and fruitful relationship. My experience has been a pleasurable one at an environment that is both a training ground and family, and it has been an honour to see the organization grow through distinct phases and transforming to its current form. Through exposure and involvement in complex projects, covering the full project life cycle, at an early stage of my career I had the opportunity to professionally register sooner than I had imagined.
What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with the position of HOD?
As I have progressed over the years at J&W I have taken ownership and shown responsibility with what I was entrusted with, proven my competence through working under supervision with experts in my field and thus gained trust as I developed. It was a great honour to be given the opportunity to lead the department when the vacancy arose. It is a big responsibility which I continue to grow and develop into with great support from my management and staff.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term?
To have run the department in line with the vision, mission and values of the company, that provides an excellent service while still encouraging growth and innovation to develop young professionals of high caliber and integrity. Our human capital is our biggest asset, and I’d like to have contributed positively to both technical and personal development of our staff through procuring work that will be both challenging, fulfilling and in line with our specialization plan. I’d like to achieve the goals and plans that the department and company has set.
Have you had any challenges as a woman professional that you think differ from your male counterparts? How have you tackled them?
In my junior years and given the industry we are in, I did experience some discrimination from a few clients and contractors. Gaining approval and acceptance was not as automatic and instant as it was for some of my male counterparts without first proving ability and later experience. That coupled with certain misconceptions and non-conformance to gender-based roles set by society was a challenge. Strong character, knowledge of self-worth, non-biased leadership while working in an environment that promotes fairness got me through those difficulties. Treating everyone in a respectful manner despite our differences, made it possible to change perspectives without alienating those who held them.
How would you describe your management and leadership styles?
I didn’t know there was a name for this until one of my Personal Development modules during my MBA – I am a Servant type of leader. For us to win together my aim is to help others achieve their goals, promote their development and trust them enough to deliver and act professionally. This is a continual process. I aim to create an atmosphere of open communication and collaboration within the team as there’s power in sharing our differing strengths to serve our clients better. I am always aware of my own developmental needs and growth areas both technically and managerially.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?
The need for an optimal mix and number of projects that will be both interesting and challenging to keep everyone engaged and still run a profitable organization.
How do you take part in mentoring others?
We have a mentorship programme where each candidate is assigned to a mentor in a different department and thus mostly different from their direct supervisor. They are required to meet every quarter to assess progress towards professional registration. Most of the mentoring though is done on the job; an example is attending site inspections and meetings with junior staff and imparting knowledge naturally as you perform the work. Externally, I belong to an organization that assists candidates who work at organisations/firm without mentoring programmes or who desire additional mentoring above what they offered at their workplaces.
If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?
I’ve had more highs than lows in my working career. From my relatively quick professional registration to my subsequent promotion to Technical Director and then to Head of Department: I continue to be in awe of my journey. Being chosen as the CESA Young Engineer of the Year in 2017 was another high that has opened many doors and opportunities to serve with industry colleagues I highly respect. The lows have been some of the mistakes I have made in the process and resulting growing pains; no one ever seeks out to fail even though some lessons are best learnt through personal failure. Managing time between my family life, my personal interests and work remains a constant and evolving challenge.
What accolades have you and your organisation received recently?
Personally, CESA Young Engineer of the year for 2017 and finalist for South African Professional Services Awards Young Professional in the Built Environment Category for the same year. One of our own, Dr Peter Day received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Engineering also at same year SAPS awards.
One of our Technical Directors, Mr. Danie Brink, was the joint-winner of the ‘Engineer of the Year’ award by South African Institute of Civil Engineers in 2016. Dr Peter Day previously also won the award in 2014.
We have won the NOSCAR award for the 5th time in a row for our five-star system.
We have received best paper and presenter awards for various conferences our staff present at and have also been recognized together with our clients for various projects.How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?
J&W has a strong value proposition and key competitive advantage in areas of niche specialization. The purpose of the strategy is for the company to realise its vision with our strategic objectives focusing on Specialization, Products, Employees and Clients, in short our SPEC.
We have had three mergers that have grown and strengthened our Environmental, Tailings and Geotechnical Engineering departments. We take pride in the relationships we have fostered over the years with contractors and other consulting companies. These find expressing in design and construct projects and joint ventures with fellow professionals ranging from large international consultants to smaller niche-market specialists. We are also proud of our involvement with the wider civil engineering profession, both in SA and abroad.
Through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains high level of ethics and integrity?
Integrity is one of our values. Through leadership and adherence to the company code of conduct we maintain a high level of ethics. In our recruitment process we aim to appoint a caliber of employees that are aligned to the company culture in this regard.
Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, and if so, how is it attended to?
Yes, we’re committed to promote diversity and equitable representation of all people in our workforce and to this end, we have a portfolio in our Management Committee with a Manager implementing plans and monitoring systems in this regard. I serve on the CESA transformation and gender diversity committees and gain valuable industry insight regarding the status quo and developments in our sector.
Kindly highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of.
We have been involved in many initiatives throughout the years but have only just formally set up a CSI committee. To name a few things, our activities include:
- We provide bursaries to deserving students in our industry and have a separate non-profit educational fund that is wider reaching.
- We have supported SAYEP (South African Youth into Engineering Programme) since 2003 as their main sponsor. Their primary objective is to recruit potential engineering students from the rural areas and enable them to pursue their engineering studies successfully through financial and other support.
- We’re invited by most universities in the country to lecture and act as external examiners in various courses. We’re involved in some industry advisory bodies that have been set up by these institutions.
- Different annual Mandela Day activities – in 2018 we sponsored a soccer team from Alexander and held a friendly match where the donation was handed over to them.
- We support various charities in the form donations.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?
We have implemented an efficient and effective Business Management System (BMS) in conformance with IS0 9001 and endeavour to maintain certification to this standard. The services we offer comply with all professional and legislative standards and requirements by staff who maintain their expertise through on-going training and professional development activities. We believe that a commitment to quality is essential for our own and our clients’ long-term success and to enhance our reputation as a provider of quality professional services. We continually monitor our performance and perform customer satisfaction surveys for feedback. We do internal training in the form of talks to share knowledge, development in our fields and lessons learnt.
When you not at work, what do you get up to including family life, where can people follow you online?
I am with my husband and our two sons 7 and 2 years old. We love the outdoors, trying new places and meeting people. I also spend time at church, I value fellowship and worship, it grounds me and builds my faith and resilience. I also make time to keep up with my friends. I am on LinkedIn as Jabulile Msiza.