Chemical Engineering visiting engineer programme

23 May 2017 - 07:45

Motlatsi Mabaso, a 2007 chemical engineering graduate, was the second alumnus to be part of the Chemical Engineering Department’s Visiting Engineer Programme which brings in experienced engineers to: (a) provide technical input (in their areas of expertise) to undergraduate courses; and (b) speak to students about their experiences in the workplace.

As a Safety and Risk Consultant, Motlatsi gave lectures to students in 2nd, 3rd & 4th Year classes on topics directly linked to their current project-work: pressure relief and venting, fault-tree and bow-tie analysis, and Risk Assessment and Management, respectively.  His perspective and ability to contextualise this subject matter in the workplace were enthusiastically received by the undergraduates.

After his high-intensity engagement with the students in the lecture theatres, Motlatsi also gave a lunchtime seminar (attended by a range of students and staff) entitled “Your Chemical Engineering career – it’s a long journey – enjoy the scenery”.   In exploring his own journey, he highlighted the importance of looking for learning experiences in every situation, developing relationships in the professional space, and taking into account the social aspects of your work (paying particular attention to the social impacts) when making business-decisions.  A more detailed description of this biographical talk is given below.

Motlatsi grew up in Soweto where he was raised by his grandparents who instilled the importance of education in him. At school, he enjoyed chemistry, mathematics and biology and was considering engineering as a study option before he was influenced by family members to choose medicine. He was accepted by various universities for medicine, and after receiving a good luck card for matric from UCT, he decided that UCT was the one. He only received a partial scholarship in his first year and was concerned about the financial burden on his grandparents. At the end of first year, he made the decision to change to chemical engineering where he received a bursary from Hatch. During his time at UCT, he became involved in student leadership positions where he got to meet a diverse group of people and experienced what management entailed.

At the end of 2007, he graduated and went to work for Hatch. 2008 was a turbulent economic year in the world, particularly for the natural commodities industries. During his first year at Hatch, he worked on interesting mining projects and was thrown into the deep end when he had to present to senior management on a project which was analysing Platinum furnace performance data. He said even though he was nervous, he was grateful for the opportunity as he got to connect with the senior management of Hatch and the client which gave him good exposure early on in his career.

At the end of 2009, he accepted a redundancy package from Hatch and spent three months having fun, making music, before accepting a position with ERM, a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk and sustainability consulting services company. During this time, he travelled to Manchester and Houston, Texas, where he performed safety and risk studies and complied emergency response plans for onshore industrial facilities. Motlatsi said, “When working you realise how important it is to maintain and develop relationships in the workplace. It also helps to keep your contacts from your university days. You never know when your thermodynamics or mass transfer lecturer could be helpful in assisting you with a problem you face.”

Working for ERM, he worked in a small team which gave him the opportunity to manage projects from a young age. At the end of 2011, he was transferred to Oxford where his work included a project in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Here he was exposed to the realities of big oil companies working in and around very poor communities who do not seem to directly benefit from the development that happens around them. “You see the same situation in South Africa where the big mines are surrounded by poor communities,” he said. “As young engineers, I plead with you to look at the way you do business and the impact it has on the community and the sustainability of the projects.”

During his time in the UK, Motlatsi registered as a chartered chemical engineer. He also started his own consulting business and had clients in the Middle East. When the oil price dipped in 2015, he returned home and joined ERM as the Principal Safety and Risk Consultant.

His message to the students was to make the most of opportunities, network and develop relationships, and in your work, create a better space for everyone.