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International Assignments: Kazakhstan 2014-18 - ​My Story

Posted By Johannes Bronkhorst, Tuesday, 13 August 2019

International Assignments: Kazakhstan 2014-18 - My Story
Originator Johannes (Hekkie) Bronkhorst

At the age of 57, and 25 years into my career as a mechanical engineer at Fluor – one of the world’s largest engineering and construction companies - I received the call many engineers dream of. I was offered an international assignment that would not only take me to a country on the other side of the world for more than four years, but would also become the experience of a lifetime.

Before I knew, I was on my way to Kazakhstan, the world’s largest land locked country. The scope was well within my capabilities as I had gained much experience on many of South Africa’s landmark projects in various roles during my career.

So where do I begin to tell you about the four years that would become everything I hoped for,
and nothing I ever expected?

The first thing I became intensely aware of once I set foot in Kazakhstan, was my strong affiliation with Fluor. Walking into the Fluor building, despite the icy winter conditions outside, I immediately felt at home. (I did however very quickly realize that real home is where the heart is).

Work started as soon as we settled in. Logistics on a massive project in extreme weather conditions, -45°C min and +45°C max, were as expected, challenging. I did however always remind myself that I was very privileged to be part of a major project and I was committed to returning home with a successful assignment against my name.

We worked hard and long hours. My knowledge, expertise and experience in the field of mechanical engineering, design of coded pressure vessels and heat exchangers, pressure vessels interface activities, and compiling specification data requirements for design and analysis, were put to the test, but I enjoyed being part of a team of passionate professionals on this land-mark project. We enjoyed our off days, even though I was disappointed that travelling home to see my family for a few days wasn’t feasible as it was just too far. I settled in nonetheless and made the most of my off days. I travelled, rested and watched national TV programmes with the rest of the team. We learnt so much from one another; culture, food, music and national entertainment brought together many nationalities in our camps.

I also learnt very quickly how to work outside my comfort zone. On mammoth projects with so many people on site, schedules and deadlines are complex so the unexpected was the norm but the support from my family and my own goals, kept me going. This assignment, and the experience I gained as a professional engineer and as a person, would never be forgotten.

I am now back in my home office in South Africa and it feels like I am starting all over again. I believe that I will be at Fluor till my last day of work and I can truly say that my international assignment was much more than I ever expected, and will remain the highlight of my career.

What did I learn from my first International Assignment?

  • Be flexible and adapt as required during your assignment.
  • Relish the opportunities of dealing with a new culture in a new country.
  • Study the country and their culture prior to arriving in the foreign country. Locals will appreciate the effort and learn the basic greetings.
  • Verify information based on facts rather than hearsay.
  • Stay humble and respect the locals.
  • Focus on the task at hand, and give your best to the project. The Client is paying for the services of an Expat, perform like one.
  • Follow the Client’s rules.
  • Take part in camp life, this will help you with the long hours.
  • Ensure to track your personal goals and discuss it with your partner.
  • Make new friends.
  • Remember RTR: Respect, Trust and Results will come automatically.
  • Enjoy the adventure like I did and look for assignment opportunities much earlier in your career than I have. You will gain a wealth of knowledge being on an International Assignment.
  • Lastly, appreciate the opportunities given to you.

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Posted By Ntendeleni Lukoto, Thursday, 24 February 2011

Electronic mentoring programmes of students and early careers engineers is a relatively new phenomenon. Electronic mentoring could be  developed based on the possibilities unique to information and communications technology.

Mentors could provide information of their experience and knowledge online. Students or early career engineers may contact their chosen  mentors to introduce themselves. Tell them a bit about themselves  and their background.


E mentoring could be beneficial to both mentees and mentors.

Tags:  Mentors 

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The Status of the Engineer

Posted By Peter Blaine, Monday, 06 December 2010
Dear Vaughan,                 

Your off-the-cuff talk at the end of year party in Cape Town stuck a multitude of chords in me.  It has been a niggle with me for many years probably best exemplified by my colleague's experience.   We were both newly graduated engineers.  He went into a departmental store in the Strand to open an account.  When asked what his profession was, he told the clerk "Engineer" at which she said sorry, no account, that engineers were on the no-account list.  He asked her and then what she understood by engineer.  She answered that an engineer was the fellow who shovels coal on a locomotive.  Funny, in a way, but that would never happen if he had said he was a doctor or a lawyer.  Those with Ph.Ds have to explain that they are not the assumed medical doctor.   Someone who claims to be a (medical) doctor without qualification and registration, can earn himself a hefty sentence at the end of his trial.                 

I thought to myself, why is Engineer so looked down upon as if an engineer is just a skivvy who knows how to shovel?  Why can any one call themselves engineer, when they really mean manipulator?  I suppose we should be proud that the con artists of this world think "engineer" has some status, some aura of knowledge and honesty.                  

When professional registration was first mooted, in 1974 as far as I was concerned, we were told that work requiring our expertise would be "reserved" as in Canada and that therefore it was essential that we register and become proud of the title Pr.Eng..  We were encouraged to title ourselves "Ing" (from the Afrikaans), but I preferred "Eng".  This would follow the German norm where the title is very respected.  We were encouraged to use Pr.Eng. as often as possible.  That is why I write Pr.Eng. under my official signature.                 

Next funny;  my accountant, God rest his soul, thought Pr.Eng. stood for "Professor of English".                 
Somehow we as engineers have lost the plot.  Its almost as if we were embarrassed to be engineers.  We have allowed a very honourable title to be hijacked by all and sundry, to have opened our hands and given it away.  I have raised this point many times over the years and been patronisingly put aside with some caustic remark.  I have never understood why those with the power won't defend the title and the expertise.                

However, when I was young and getting to know what it meant to be an engineer, the standard all engineers aspired to was to be come an Associate Member of an Institution.  That was the mark of a true and competent engineer who had proved himself and was recognised as competent and honourable.  I wanted to be one of those; that was my goal.  Now I am a Fellow, a status at that time which was reserved for only the godlike figures that dominated engineering.  One was very lucky if one met even one in one's lifetime. 

What is interesting is that, even today, the general public knows and acknowledges membership of a professional engineering institution.  And then, after 40 years of practicing engineering, a damned lawyer has the gall to tell me that he is going to take my Pr.Eng. away because I have not been to very expensive courses subjects that are of no interest to me and will just waste my time taking me away from the work that I need to do.  Furthermore I am to be penalised because, in my particular field, I am he who knows and no one here can teach me about it, other than my daughter, and then in anther branch of the discipline.  Even now, when it involves production of ferrous P/M, she asks for my council.                

The problem is now exacerbated because I am at University, doing administration of post graduate work in the field of nuclear engineering, teaching first year drawing and materials science and reading for a doctorate in probabilistic safety analysis.  I have tried to find a local supervisor for my thesis.  Everywhere I am told that there is no one in the country that would be prepared to handle it.  I gave a summary of what I intended doing to the Industrial Engineers.  They would not touch it with a barge pole because the subject was outside their knowledge and experience.  I have found a supervisor, two in fact, who are prepared to help, though they admit the subject is outside their experience.  I suppose that is what is required to earn a doctorate, become a teacher, for that is what the original Latin defines what a doctor is.                  

So, once again, a lawyer is going to try and take away the professional status I have earned.   It gets quite ridiculous.  When it was announced that our Pr.Eng. status would be recognised overseas, but that we had to make application, I phoned the prof at UCT I was told I needed to contact.  He asked me what I was doing professionally.  Once I told him I was in industry, he said that I was not eligible because I "was not practising engineering".  That was the end of that, not that it mattered much as I was only applying because it was available.  This despite the fact that I consciously chose not to enter the realms of "management" and bean counting; I deliberately chose to be an engineer.                

So, your concept of the Institutions deciding who is and who isn't an Engineer is very appealing, especially as it has a long history and is real peer review.  To be accepted as a member of an Institute is internationally recognised as a sign of excellence.  Once the politicians and lawyers and power-brokers get involved, the requirements become farcical as if courses will make one a good engineer.  By their standards Brunell, Stevenson and the Bains would not be engineers in their eyes.  

I have always wondered how ESCA, which seems to spend its time smelling out the baddies among us, expects an engineer with the best will in the world who practises in Springbok, for instance, to earn the points by attending the courses they require.  Recognition has been reduced to a legal, fill-in-the-form and do-the-courses sort of thing.  In doing so, we have lost the fundamental concept of engineering as being an applied science dealing in reality and designing and making things that one can see and touch and study, not the legal attitude of getting better by studying legal precedents and law books and listening to legal experts passing on their knowledge.  Legal knowledge of its nature, has no physical form, but is constructed solely of ideas which do not have to have material existence or even be practical.  The common man is constantly puzzled by what he is told is justice.                

It is about time engineers took back their identity and their profession.  I cannot imagine an engineer being allowed to decide who is a lawyer, a doctor, an actuary or any of the main professions.  Only we allow, nay encourage, those who know little or nothing about our profession to decided who and what we are.  Only we allow a commission of investigation into matters engineering to be chaired by another profession.  Why are we so ashamed, so lacking confidence in our excellence?  Do we really wonder why, as Chris Reay pointed out, the Government has not asked any Engineering Institution for input on such a grave matter as the provision of power to the country, but has listened to unrealistic wish lists with global political overtones.  How many engineers serve on parastatal organisations having essentially an engineering character such as the Civil Aviation Authority, the Bureau of Standards (not as gophers, but as directors), the Roads Authority and so many others?  Who is to blame?  

We are, as engineers, because we were not proud enough say that only those who understand engineering can judge engineering.  Can't see the other professions allowing someone who is not of that profession to judge them.  That would be heresy.                

I am sorry I get my pecker up about the status of engineering in the country.  I fully support, as I am sure you can see, your campaign to take back Mechanical Engineering from the politicians and the lawmakers.

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