Full steam ahead for young women in the engineering and industrial sector: Mahadi Funeka, Industrial Planning Manager, Gibela

Mahadi Funeka is responsible for all planning activities and for ensuring that all the resources required for Gibela to manufacture train sets at its plant in Nigel on the East Rand are there when they are needed. This incorporates risk identification, formulating a long-term strategic master production schedule and introducing it to all the relevant staff members. This ensures everyone is on board with the plan and ready to achieve Gibela’s business objectives, such as resource and capacity planning, and inventory management so that an efficient supply chain environment is created.

Gibela was formed in 2013 as a black economic empowerment company. The Gibela Rail Transport Consortium is a venture between French rail company Alstom and South Africa’s Ubumbano Rail. Gibela has a R51-billion contract with the South African government to manufacture 600 trains for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). The scope of the contract includes train maintenance, technical support and the manufacture and supply of spare parts.

Today, state-of-the-art X’trapolis MEGA commuter trains are rolling off the production line at Gibela’s bespoke R1-billion factory in South Africa’s Ekurhuleni metropolis. In fulfilment of contractual obligations to PRASA, Gibela is training thousands of historically disadvantaged South Africans, mainly women – in technical skills for both Gibela and the manufacturing industry at large.

Gibela continuously draws scores of South African companies, many of them black-owned start-ups, into its supply chain and works to improve the lives of people in its neighbouring communities. Gibela will generate 1 500 direct jobs at the peak of the project and thousands of indirect jobs through the supply chain over a 10-year period.

How did you get to this important position?

I studied finance and then I applied for an internship at Edcon, the clothing, footwear and textiles retail group, where I had a choice between interning in the planning or the buying department. I chose planning because my strength is working with numbers.

That’s how I got into planning. From Edcon, I went on to Unilever, the fast-moving consumer goods company, where I was based at a manufacturing plant, also doing planning. It was very exciting for me, seeing how the products got made.

This experience has helped me at Gibela, which is a very tough environment because it is an industrial site. We need to ensure that we align the planning to capacity, and that means I am the intermediary between the manufacturing team and management.

I have to reassure the manufacturing team that management’s goals are doable, and I have to make sure that management doesn’t set unrealistic goals. I wear the manufacturing team hat when I speak to management, and the management hat when I speak to the manufacturing team.

I came to Gibela in 2018 after a friend told me Gibela was looking for strong women to join its team. The opportunity excited me – it was a very different product, but I would still be planning, and I would have so much to learn.

How do you feel about women in the workplace?

We women need to support each other. We don’t talk to each other enough, and we need to show our real selves when we do, so that we can learn from each other and support each other. Also, we need to believe in ourselves more. Your silence serves no one.

I have had two women in my life who have been great mentors. I learned from them that I should not limit myself and that my voice matters. I also learned that one of my values should be integrity – don’t take shortcuts and give it your all, even when no one is looking.

These women have also taught me to not be afraid of making mistakes and saying sorry, and the importance of not changing who you are just to fit in. If you avoid that you will always be consistent in your behaviour.

What tips do you have for young women entering the industrial and engineering business sector?

  • Don’t be afraid to be the only girl in the team.
  • Take on new tasks. That’s how you learn.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or to say sorry.
  • Believe in yourself. It makes it so much easier for other people to believe and trust you.
  • Be willing to take criticism, it means that whoever is criticising you believes you have the capacity to improve, that you have not been written off.
  • Always be willing to learn.
  • Read a lot of books. One that is a stand-out for me is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I wish I had read that earlier. It teaches you not to be intimidated by rules.
  • Women need to talk to each other and learn from each other. For this world to be stronger, we need to come together.
  • Once you get to the top, don’t forget to pull up the women behind you.
  • Always put God first!