So, what’s new?

2015-03-10 06:00

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Buzzwords such as ‘futurising’ and ‘imagineering’ spring to mind when the topic of innovation arises.

In essence, innovation in business is essential to keep evolving to get a more competitive edge, to increase turnover and hopefully grow profits. It is also a way of engaging others and growing the prospects of those around you to strengthen your industry.

Fighting the fear of change

Tumi Paulos, of Amaziah Trading, Johannesburg: “This is a really interesting topic, because when it comes to women working in construction it seems it’s the men who have a fear of change.

“A couple of years ago, when I was involved with my first project, I was asked: ‘Why do you not have a man sitting here?’

“So, in my first meeting, I had to defend the fact that I was a woman. I had to tell them they needed to give women a chance.”

Thato Mokhothu, of Refilwe Tshiamo Trading, Bloemfontein: “It created huge change in my life when I resigned from the bank, which I had worked in for seven years, to start my own construction business.

“A bank salary is a safe income, but I decided to take a leap of faith. New opportunities opened up almost immediately for me.”

Sindiswa Mgulwa, of Tanela Construction, Bizana, Eastern Cape: “After college, I started working for someone who was paying me R800 a month as his PA. I’d always been attracted by the construction world, but after I resigned I thought, almost immediately, oops, no salary. Have I done the right thing?

“I decided I had. I faced the fear.”

Mokhothu: “The construction industry is a challenging and intimidating one for women because, so often, men don’t think we can crack it. For that reason, I subcontract my services.”

Lerato George, of Milisuthando Trading, East London: “I was pregnant when I registered my company in 2008, and my first project was supplying bricks. I’ve had an up-and-down existence since then. Business was slow, so I went back to my salaried job. But when I saw other women making it out there, I returned to construction with my husband’s support and, since 2010, I’ve been doing fine.”

Nikelwa Pumane, of Euro Blitz 1182, Dutywa, Mthatha and Qumbu: “When I registered my company, I began with catering and events management. Then I went into construction. I am excellent at fixing potholes, but I’m not getting the tenders to do so. They go to bigger companies.

“But I’ve decided to fight my fear and approach big construction companies to ask for subcontracting work.”

Giving your workers two jobs

Paulos: “I’ve decided to empower the women on my construction sites by giving them responsibilities in addition to their building. I put them in positions of power, and I now have two female supervisors. It grows us all.”

Nomthandazo Nkosi, of Nomuthe Nkosi Trading and Projects, Soweto: “I have a general-construction company, and I have empowered start-ups in my community in Soweto. I also send my company co-workers to meetings and that, in time, gives them the confidence to start their own businesses.”

Bongi Xintolo, of BHS Construction, Mthatha: “We work on schools and offices and do renovations on projects that are in deep rural areas most of the time.

“We are given unskilled people to work with us. We make sure people who are only used for mixing concrete, for instance, get taught other skills too.

“For example, I have ensured that we teach a bricklayer about first aid. It’s an added skill.”

Sisanda Hangana, of Sakhe Logistics, East London: “There are challenges to upskilling labourers working on site. When I have offered some of them a training course, they have responded by saying, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. I want to go on earning money here on site.’”

Mgulwa: “I go and get young people from the small town of Bizana to work with me in other municipalities. Once they have a taste for this kind of construction work, it sets them on their journey. So I am motivating them.”

Paulos: “I am listening to you women who work in deep rural areas talking about the challenges facing you there. And I am amazed at what you are managing to do with so few resources.”

Learning from failure

Nkosi: “I had a really successful fast-food business in Soweto that eventually collapsed. But I picked myself up, learnt from the experience and now am successful in the construction arena. Never be afraid to fail, because that’s how we learn.”

Mgulwa: “I once quoted way below what I should have on a construction project because I was so desperate to get the job. I lost money and decided never to underquote again. I almost quit building because it was so hard – but I am glad I’ve hung in there.”

Mokhothu: “I opened a restaurant along with running my construction business, not realising that anything to do with food is a 24/7 job. I was overambitious, but I thought closing the restaurant would mean I was a failure.

“I learnt from my experience. Stick to one thing, certainly at the beginning.”

Being passionate

Pumane: “If you aren’t passionate about what you are doing, then who is going to love working with you?

“It is disheartening, because we really struggle to get tenders in the Eastern Cape. But I am carrying on because I so enjoy construction.”

Hangana: “You need to feel strongly about what you are doing, especially during the start-up phase. As a small, medium or micro enterprise, you’re not given projects because you are told you have no capacity; you are not big enough. But we have to start somewhere.”

Collaborating with other construction businesses 

Xintolo: “Working on joint ventures with others can be good for us.

“But I had a bad experience when I set out to empower someone in a joint venture. It failed because I was spreading myself too thin.

“But I tried again – and failed again because the other company didn’t do what was expected of it.

“But now it is third time lucky. I’m happy with my latest joint venture, and it’s because I am far more assertive than I used to be.”

Pumane: “Collaborating with other companies is a good idea because building projects for those with lower building grades are hard to come by. If you work with a big company, you acquire new skills.

“There are companies building schools in the Eastern Cape – but they come from other provinces.

“We do wish they would give us a chance to work with them.”

Miranda Mtwecu, of Mtwecu Construction, Queenstown: “In the end it’s about empowerment, isn’t it? I adopted my domestic worker’s child, educated her and then hired her to do marketing for my company.”

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