Falling in love with mathematics as a student kickstarted Lerato Molete’s career as an apprentice automotive machinist. “There’s no job a woman can’t do,” she says, excited about sharing her story during Women’s Month.
A woman in a man’s world
Under the protective gloves she wears to strip the burnt out engine of an earth mover is a delicate diamond ring on her fourth finger. Lerato is mother to Ntokozo, 3, and wife to Nkosinathi Mlotshwa, a boilermaker at Sasol. “Our son’s name means happiness, pride, and joy. He certainly brings us all that. With engineering as a common interest, our relationship is rather unusual,” she says.
Lerato is one of two female apprentices at Metric Automotive Engineering, a company that specialises in remanufacturing diesel engines. Lerato works in the block section, where the team rebores cylinder blocks on earthmoving, marine, mine, truck engines, and similar. Her responsibility is to diagnosis the problems and to figure out what must be done to get an engine up and running again as new. Watch this terrific video and see exactly what she’s doing on the job:
What did you study?
“I set my heart on mechanical engineering and started at Ekurhuleni West TVET College after matric. I earned my N4 certificate and started electrical engineering at Johannesburg Institute of Engineering and Technology (JIET), where I got my N6 certificate. Then I continued with chemical engineering.” Lerato now holds National Diplomas in Mechanical, Electrical, and Chemical Engineering.
How did you link up with JumpStart?
I returned home at some point in my studies and my grandmother, who worked in an after-school programme, told me about a maths tutoring programme. This piqued my interest as I love maths. I said, Let’s do it, and I sent in my CV. Soon enough I was part of the Reahile Primary School furniture!
What did you learn as a tutor?
I worked with many different children including those with special needs. They were brilliant in their own way and showed me different ways of thinking. I wanted to help them to fall in love with maths. In primary school, I personally struggled to grasp the foundations of maths, but Mr Papyno Mwamba unlocked the mysteries of maths for me in college. That was a lightbulb moment! Mr Choma, too, really ensured that I understood the work.
From tutoring primary school to remanufacturing engines?
I was browsing for jobs when I saw a post for females who wanted to learn automotive engineering at Metric. A two-week training helped me get to grips with instruments and micrometers, but it was drastically different from what I had learned at school! I had to learn about the four sections: engine blocks; the heads section, where we remanufacture cylinder heads; the crank section, which focuses on crankshafts and camshafts; and the conrods section. When the engines first come in we strip them, wash them in an acid tank, do an ultrasonic clean, and then move the parts to the relevant sections.
What’s the hardest part of your working day?
The process of honing a small cylinder block is technically challenging. You must hone that cylinder perfectly straight. There can be no taper, and you’re working at .05 mm clearances. Getting used to this environment was quite difficult. There is a lot of pressure! While learning while on the job, I’m also trying to do it perfectly because the engine must go to a customer. There’s no room for error. Massive kudos to my mentors at Metric! They just do it for me. The support from our Operations Director, Andrew Yorke, motivates me to keep improving.
What advice can you offer JumpStart tutors?
Grab every opportunity with both hands. While tutoring with JumpStart, I tutored at three schools. When Mr Jabu Thomo said it’s time to move, I didn’t hesitate. Each move was a fresh chance to learn from other people, to get used to alternate methods. You never know where you’ll end up. Don’t sit down. Jump up! This is your own personal JumpStart, just starting a car. The engine is running, so run with it. Make a difference to someone’s life.
What are your goals for 2030?
I’ll be a qualified automotive machinist and mentor! I want to give my sister engineers the same milk I’m drinking right now, in the same way Sello Andrew Letebele has mentored me. I’ve still got a lot to learn, and there’s so much to be done for women. It’s painful to see a lady stuck on the road unable to change her tyre. Women must work twice as hard to prove that we lack nothing, but when a dumpster truck with a newly resleeved engine gets back on the road I feel such joy!
What are you reading?
I work a ten hour day but the inspirational The Art of Hustling is on my bedside table. Like DJ Sbu, I believe a good attitude and positivity cultivates resilience. Women, use your hard work and determination to achieve your goals.
Support for women’s education
Papyno Mwamba, former mathematics and physics lecturer at JIET, spoke of his former student. “Lerato was one of the smartest students I’ve ever had. I’m enormously proud to discover that her career has taken this turn.” He believes that by facilitating women’s STEM studies at tertiary level, companies requiring engineers can secure quality employees.
By supporting JumpStart’s StudyAssist bursary, female students like Lerato can realise their dreams – whether as an automotive machinist, maths teacher or a lawyer! You can meet your skills development obligations according to the Revised B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice. Your donation entitles you to a SARS Section 18A certificate. Email Betty Oliphant for more information.
Image courtesy: Metric Automotive Engineering