SMEC South Africa is a progressive, multidisciplinary engineering and infrastructure solutions company. SMEC has been successful in providing infrastructure solutions to clients and communities for over 70 years. Prior to becoming SMEC, the firm was formerly known as Vela VKE. SMEC has been instrumental in the development of a large number of iconic projects in South Africa.
With 10 offices in South Africa, that allows SMEC to service clients throughout the country with ease and technical capacity to deliver on large infrastructure projects.
SMEC South Africa supports and actively promotes government’s objectives to enhance the economic participation of Black South Africans in the economy.
SAprofessionals.com spoke to Function Manager: Planning and Traffic Engineering at SMEC South Africa Yolan Pillay about his journey thus far.
Tell us about your early life (i.e. University Qualifications, Work History to date, Professional Development over the years to your role today)
The second of three sons, I was raised equally raised by my parents and grandparents where the importance strong sense of serving mankind with the understanding that we must live life more than just ourselves by making a positive difference to the people around us. Education, community upliftment together with religion shaped my early childhood. Doing well in school and thereafter studying further at university was seen to be a norm for my family which stemmed from my great grandparents. The sacrifices they have made to enrol their children to school continued in my family and it’s through this commitment I am an Engineer today. Due to my dedicated teachers and my parents, I excelled in Primary School, foundation of my education which I continued in high school. Coupled with education, sporting and religion helped me balance my lifestyle which was part of my journey to where I am in life today. In matric, I received a scholarship from the Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA) to study Civil Engineering at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal. Through hard work, dedication and not forgetting the fear of failing I worked extremely hard and graduated with a BSc (Civil Engineering) within the four-year programme.
In my final year, I was awarded a bursary from BCP Engineers (now Royal HaskoningDHV) and started work in 2008 in their Johannesburg Office. Relocating to Johannesburg, leaving behind my friends and Family was not easy. I started in the Transportation Engineering Department and have gained my experience and exposure in this field ever since. After 4 years of working, my manager believe I have a high potential and promoted me as an Associate, which was such a privilege to be identified for this title at such a young age. This was due to my passion for my field and making a difference the lives in communities, which emanated from my work ethic. Apart, from this I was actively involved in the Young Royals, a platform, for young individuals in the company to fast tract development across various aspects, including technical, business and social activities. One of the enjoyable aspects of working for the organisation was being involved in the organisations Saturday School Initiative – a programme for disadvantage matric students. I began teaching mathematics and physical science on a voluntary basis to these disadvantaged students since 2009 which gives me a great sense of satisfaction.
In 2009, I joined Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) and the Young Professionals Forum (YPF). This platform allowed me to accelerate my developed by becoming involved in industry related activities and understanding our fraternity better. I was a committee member in the KZN region and became the chairperson for the 2015-2017 period. During this we initiated key activities to develop young engineers, increase the profile of our industry to scholars and get involved in community initiatives. During this period, we launched the Young Einstein’s Programme, a Maths Programme for Grade 10 and 11. The programme involves young engineers teaching these disadvantaged scholars monthly while advocating the engineering field as part of career guidance.
Being a Unit Manager with significant number of young graduates, I take pride in their development in the manner my managers provided me. I believe being street smart and a well-rounded person is as important as becoming a competent engineer.
What was your training like?
When I joined BCP Engineer, in the very first week I was asked by the Director to attend a client meeting along the senior engineer. Being a graduate, I was scared but being thrown in the deep end from the onset allowed me to become independent and well-versed engineer today. It allowed me to grow and an accelerated rate because my manager supported me and provided me with a platform to grow. If we failed in something, it was part of our growth which allowed me to be more open and vocal. He actively asked the young graduates to become involved in industry related bodies and activities, which allowed me to achieve an insight in our industry while building relationship with well-respected engineers and other young engineers. With these relationships, it provided me with insight in these individual’s growth and development.
Being given the opportunity to be part of a graduate development programme, it helped me achieve the requirement to register as a Professional Engineer which is the only requirement to practice as an independent consultant.
In 2012, I was fortunate to be one of 20 people chosen from across our international offices to attend an Accelerated Development Programme across Netherlands, Poland and United Kingdom. Meeting colleagues from across the globe an engaging and leaning from and with them opened a whole new world for me. It not only fast tracked my role with the organisation but allowed me to make new contacts across the globe.
What is important to understand is that training is a two-way initiative – the willingness to learn and develop as well as the support from an organisation to develop their graduate into competent engineers. For me this was a perfect work environment that allowed me to develop.
Training and development did not start and end at the office, attending seminars, webinars and self-study after hours all helped me develop into a senior engineer quite early in my career.
What does the role of being Function Manager (Planning & Traffic) at SMEC mean to you?
I was previously offered this position however, things were going quite well for at my previous organisation and taking the loyalty aspect quite serious I did not change company’s. A year ago, I decided to make the career move to SMEC as the Function Manager for Planning and Traffic Engineering. Almost a year, I am truly enjoying the new experience and people.
Having been in the organisation for 10 months, allowed me to grow even further. After few weeks in the company I was selected to be part of a Senior Managers Development Programme with 20 other senior managers from across Africa – for me this was another level of relationship was built and a better insight in Africa.
The role of the function manager is largely commercial role however, when I joined and got to know my team I realised that it is more than just commercial. Being a mentor, to the graduates was something they yearned for. It gives me pleasure to be mentor to the young staff. This allows us to leave a legacy but also build our country.
One thing I learnt is that at times I must remain a manager and not a friend, this helps creating a team that is independent and self-sustaining. I often tell my staff, that in five years if I can leave my position with the confidence the team will self-manager. then I have completed my job.
You have had several academic achievements, which one stands out for you and why?
Being nominated and shortlisted nationally for the Young Engineer of the Year by South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE). This was an industry acknowledgement, and hearing the motivation made me realise that my contribution to the industry was not just work related, but industry involvement and participation, community initiatives as well as training and development of young engineers. This made me acknowledge that, if I had to choose a career again, it will be Civil Engineering.
Receiving my Professional Registration gave me great pride. Its shows that I possess the ability and straits of being a true professional that adds value not only to my organisation and industry but provide safe and sustainable solutions that impact the lives of many. This is more than just a title, it is something I treasure.
What advice do you have for students who are looking forward to joining the profession?
- Hard work and perseverance to be a competent and highly regarded specialist in your field,
- A passion to make a difference to the end user (Community),
- Active involvement in the industry will to make you a well-rounded Engineer,
- Continue to give back to the community – staying involved in school or university classes help to keep your mind sharp, and
- Getting involved in community and social initiatives help you witness, first-hand the plight of the poor and needy
What has been the highlight of your brief career?
Being given the opportunity to be on the Accelerated Development Programme in Europe. This changed my mindset on how fortunate we are to be staying in such a beautiful county We have challenges, but without any doubt I will remain a South African Citizen, South African Engineer and South African Resident.
What principles and values do you think are important for a young professional?
The ability to never stop wanting to learn and being true to yourself and being ethical in every decision we take.
Explain what contribution you have made to the company since joining it?
The one compliment I constantly receive from my team is Thank You for providing the much-needed guidance and support. I have a young team so day-to-day interaction and support is required to develop young engineers. Havin quite a diverse team, conflicts are common, so with my calm nature I always bring a sense of calm to any storm
Being acknowledged for my Strategic Thinking, I have been selected to be part of the Innovation Team to drive change in the company. This is one of the company’s key Strategic Actions to stay relevant in the industry.
Who stands out for you as a role model and why?
My Grandparents – My grandfather, the person to always push us to be the best we can. He always told us to never stop learning while my grandmother is the one to always make us aware that life is more than about ourselves. Giving back to the poor and helping those in need is a far greater payment than a salary at the end of the month.
Where do you want your career to be in 10 years’ time?
I am a senior manager currently, with commercial and technical specialist input. I believe that this is the career path I enjoy so, moving into the corporate world with this field is where I want to go. Being able to create a company that just doesn’t only deliver solutions but solutions that make a difference to lives is more important. This company live by my belief, so I hope to be within this organisation in an executive position in 10 years.
How does the organisation take part in developing the profession you belong to?
- Regional Young Professionals Forum (all young engineers participate),
- Young Professional Programme (10 identified per year within each region),
- Young Management Development Programme (20 Senior Manager across the Africa – I was selected in 2017),
- Senior Management Development Programme (20 Senior management across the globe),
- Rising Star Programme (10 selected to a strategic session with the COO and CEO),
- Young Innovation Team (Regional teams to drive change and innovation), and
- Active Participation in Industry Youth Programmes.
What awards has the company won?
SMEC continuously wins awards on multiple platforms.
The one recent award in Durban was the Mount Edgecombe Interchange near Gateway Shopping Mall
When you not at work, what do you get up to, including family life?
- I start my morning at the gym to keep a healthy lifestyle,
- My alternate Saturday mornings are spent teaching maths and science to under privileged Grade 12 learners,
- I love traveling, I aim to do one international trip with two local trips a year as this allows me to experience and appreciate different countries, religions and cultures and not forgetting my favourite – Transport Systems.
- I am quite religious and cultural, so this is part of my daily life, and
- Family and friends are an important part of my life.
Where can people follow you online?
Yolan Pillay on Face book and LinkedIn.