The average person in the street probably has only a very vague idea at best as to what a qualification in Process Plant Operations involves. Advances in technology and industrial expansion, however, are going to make this an increasingly crucial qualification. The recent outbreak of listeriosis has given the whole country a scary foretaste of just what can happen when Process Plant operations are not competently implemented or rigorously applied.

What do Process Plant Operators do?

Matshidiso Hazel Khobela and Innocentia Maseko are two Process Plant Operations students on the Kwa Thema Campus of Ekurhuleni East TVET College. As Innocentia explains it: A qualification in Process Plant Operations essentially trains one in how to work in any factory which runs a process plant i.e. the manufacture or production of paper, beer, food, colddrinks, sweets… Coca-Cola, McCains, SA Breweries, Sappi etc all have different processes. So as a student you would learn how to set up a process, maintain it and ensure that it is functional. Once employed as a Process Plant Operator, it is your job to oversee the process and ensure it runs smoothly. It is your responsibility to control, maintain and monitor it. You have to take samples to check that these are within specifications. You need an intimate knowledge of the process and the machinery because production costs are very high and any interruption of these can be extremely costly.


What made you choose Process Plant Operations as a career?

Matshidiso knew after five years working as a Financial Administrator with an Educational Training company, that finance was not for her! Researching other career possibilities, she was struck by the wide variety of employment opportunities and options which a qualification in Process Plant Operations offered. She became intrigued with finding out how things were manufactured. Studying this course at Ekurhuleni East TVET College became a viable option for her because she believed that students with this qualification would have an advantage over Matrics straight out of school, when it came to applying for a position.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your studies and what do you find most satisfying about this occupation?
Strangely enough, it is lack of public awareness, even among some companies, about what we have to offer and what is involved. Some people even think it has to do with planting and agriculture! Companies need to be made more aware of this training. The ideal would be constant interaction with companies and a building up of close contacts so that students can gain as much exposure as possible to the equipment. We do have a Work-based Experience period but I think it would be better if this was longer. It is becoming a course which is more popular among women – maybe because many of them like to be thorough! Certainly being precise and thorough must be important to you. You also have to be able to do calculations.

Who has been most helpful to you on your career path to date? How did they help you?
We are blessed at Ekurhuleni East TVET College to have GREAT lecturers We are blessed at Ekurhuleni East TVET College to have GREAT lecturers who know what happens in the industry. Ms Sello, Mr Malaka, Mr Majoe, Mr Malema and Mr Mokone have all come from the industry and so they are able to relate to what happens there and prepare us for the workplace. They give us a real picture of what it is like and how resilient we have to be. This is from people who have found their calling in lecturing at a TVET College so we have exposure to up-to-date methods and technology. In fact one of our lecturers, Mr Nampe Majoe, has just recently been invited to present a paper at an international congress on Progress Safety in Orlando, Florida in the United States.

What are the entrance requirements and how long does this course take?
You have to have passed Grade 9 and be good at Maths and Science. Maths and Physical Science are your major subjects. It is a National Certificate (Vocational) course which takes three years. In our College it is only offered on the Kwa-Thema Campus.

What are your subjects?
Physical Science
Pulp and Paper Making
Process Technology
Process Control
Life Orientation

Classes run from 8:00 to 15:00 every day. Lots of it is practical in that we have to carry out experiments in the Physical Science workshop and also have a day a week in the machinery workshops. I would like to see us having more exposure to the industry through so we can become familiar with the most current equipment. Ideally, 40% of the course should be theoretical and 60% practical.

Where could you be employed on completing a Process Plant Operations qualification?
We could work in any factory where there is a manufacturing process. There is a wide variety of options e.g. in the petrochemical industry (e.g. Sasol), in pulp and paper making (e.g. Sappi and Impact), with food and beverages, in the mining industry or in waterworks. We will have been trained in the basic components that go into the industry and in industrial competency tests.

What qualities do you think you need to be successful in this field?
I do think it is a demanding career and have to be prepared to work long hours. You have to be resilient and, as a woman, I think be prepared to prove yourself. It does have physical sides to it, in that you may have to move pumps etc. You do have to be someone who is meticulous and thorough because taking shortcuts can be very, very costly, or even crippling for a company. You must be reliable and responsible and be able to establish good working relations with others, be able to work on a team.