Iscor had a scheme that on the one hand was laudable, but on the other hand also restrictive, that of the engineer-in-training. During your first three years as an engineer, never mind previous experience, you had to go through the engineer-in-training scheme, where you were evaluated at 6-months intervals on your progress.

Laudable because for a fresh starter it gives some structure to your working life, and for someone new to the business it makes you feel that you’re being looked after. However, it’s also restrictive because for someone who wants to stretch his/her wings and progress faster than the scheme allows, it’s an uphill struggle. I had to battle to get even 6 months off my 3-year period based on previous experience and excellent performance reviews.

I’ve seen it happen elsewhere (e.g. in Corus / Tata Steel) where the laudable purpose of making fresh starters move from one area to another so that they can appreciate various aspects of the steelmaking process, but very often this automated process does not allow for someone to stick once they’ve found a place where they feel they want to put down roots.

Hence a second struggle for me to stay in steelmaking technology once I found that my work on DWI steel would take a lot longer to make a difference than the standard 6 months that is allowed for a standard getting-to-know-the-place period. In the end I managed to stay where I wanted, mainly because I had the backing of Ferdie Lemmen, the boss of steelmaking technology, who knew he had a good guy working for him and didn’t want to loose the resource.

At the time that I joined, everyone wore a tag with their name and title on it, which at the time was simply “Engineer”. Earlier on though, it used to say “Engineer In Training”, which made people think that you were some student, which often meant you were treated accordingly (i.e. your requests were often ignored as being of a low priority).

But to be honest, in my case I felt the scheme held me back, since I felt ready to spread my wings after no more than a year, and although in practice I did just that, the “Engineer-in-training” stuck for a further 1½ years. Sometimes Iscor was rather enamoured with its procedures (maybe required because of the lower level of initiative in your standard South African graduate), and did not see that it held some people back when it could have helped the company.


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