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First Cut and GSI women: ‘making the cut’ in gas safety training, cutting and welding sectors

While many may still think that the cutting, welding and grinding industry is an exclusively male domain, five women in pivotal roles at First Cut – a leading South African provider of cutting, welding and grinding consumables and equipment – and its sister company Gas Safety International (GSI) show unequivocally that this is a commonly-held misperception.

So says Ian McCrystal, First Cut CEO, who explains: “We are very proud that our company culture fosters the growth and progression of women within the industry sectors that we service – which includes a strong focus on engineering and mining.

There are no barriers to entry for women at First Cut or at our sister company GSI. This is proven when we look at the example of five key women in our companies, who work across various divisions in different roles.”

Women championing gas safety and welding training

Melanie Kearns, National Product / Sales Manager: Equipment and Seminars, manages the sales for the compressed gas training provided by GSI, as well as oxyfuel product sales. GSI provides certified compressed gas safety training and quality gas equipment to a wide range of sectors, including welding, to ensure a safe and efficient working environment.

Kearns explains: “I believe that women are able to play their role in the industrial arena far more easily – and effectively – than a decade ago. As one of these women, I am proud to be part of the GSI team, because the products and training we provide to our customers are of such high quality. Our compressed gas safety training courses are of critical importance, because of the high risk attached to working with compressed gases.

The training we offer enables attendees to identify risk factors, and empowers their employees to manage these risks accordingly. GSI training is also accredited by the ECSA (Engineering Council of South Africa). Typically, our seminar attendees include management, artisans and operators; as well as laboratory employees and other support staff. Although many are from the mining industry, the training is applicable to all users of compressed gas.

I am so excited to see a lot more female delegates attending our training too. The number of women in technical roles today – in comparison with a decade ago – is extremely heartening! Gender diversity in industries such as mining is definitely gaining traction, and I trust will continue to do so.”

Kearns’s longstanding colleague, Executive Assistant Anneke Hofmeyr, is another key member in the GSI team. She supports GSI’s Managing Director Peter Rohlssen very ably, demonstrating that administration and organisational excellence contribute enormously to GSI’s compressed gas safety training success. Hofmeyr and Kearns are both dedicated to promoting compressed gas safety in industry, and together are testimony to the success of women in this sector.

Women in welding and compressed gas equipment training

Demonstrating her expertise in the gas safety training and risk assessment arena is GSI’s Training and Risk Assessment Officer Thabelo (‘Thabs’) Rabedzwana.

With over 20 years of experience, Rabedzwana is passionate about gas safety training.

“Stringent safety is imperative when it comes to welding as well as gas cutting, heating and brazing,” she says, “and this applies across all industries. I am very pleased to be able to provide this service, and I thoroughly enjoy my job – especially with regards to meeting and engaging with new people all the time, and empowering them with knowledge and safety skills.”

Rabedzwana endorses colleague Melanie Kearns’s input when she adds: “I am seeing an increasing number of women interested in welding. I have also seen female welders being promoted to the role of boilermakers, which is relatively new in recent years, and a very encouraging sign.”

She also believes that increasing the number of trained artisans using compressed gas equipment in South Africa could assist with providing employment, explaining: “I believe that growing the numbers of professional artisans across industries could assist with improving unemployment, because welding and gas cutting is a trade that operates across many industries.

I also hope to see an ever-increasing number of female compressed gas equipment operators, because I believe it can help to make the industry more balanced – and stronger – thanks to the skills that women bring to the workplace. These include greater attention to detail, strong communication skills, patience, and great relationship-building.”

Rabedzwana confirms that ongoing learning and training is an important part of her own career: “I am currently doing further courses in compressed gas safety training.

Combining work with study is not easy – but I believe that in order to grow, you need to continue investing in and empowering yourself through knowledge,” she explains.

Quality and safety

First Cut’s Regional Sales Manager for Mpumalanga, Zelda Vorster, also believes that women are now able to take their rightful place within the industrial arena, and that safety concerns are imperative.

“The focus on people’s lives is a constant focus for First Cut,” she notes. “Therefore, the evolution of our products has always involved offerings that are top-quality, and are correctly priced. We have stringent controls in place, and do our market research to implement solutions that we know will work – as well as ensuring that they conform to the necessary standards.”

With regards to the issue of being ‘a woman in a man’s world’, Vorster notes: “In my opinion, this has definitely been changing over the past five to ten years. I am certainly seeing more women throughout industry. I think the playing fields are being levelled, and I welcome this. Furthermore, I think women’s unique skills bring a more holistic dimension into the workplace.

For example, I believe women tend to focus on the details, and they are stronger at administration. They also tend to follow through very well. When you work in safety and construction, it is extremely important to pay attention to the details. I welcome the ongoing addition of women to our sector, as it broadens and strengthens industry overall.”

Women in industry

Jacolene Fourie: Sales Representative at First Cut, is also of the opinion that the industry is opening up to women. “I think it is fair to say that more and more women have been able to enter the industrial sector over the past few years,” she says.

“I have seen the situation changing throughout all areas of engineering and manufacturing: from the warehouse to the shopfloor and in procurement. Women are easily able to play a key role in our industry, especially considering their strong attention to detail. I have observed our GSI colleague Thabi Rabedzwane’s training courses, and in addition to commending her for her skill, I am also very impressed by her patience, which I believe is a strength that many women bring to the work situation – including in training roles.”

Fourie enjoys the ongoing liaison with people that her job brings, and helping her customers to meet their production deadlines. “It is all about teamwork,” she explains, “and communication is key. Seeing people face to face is a key part of my role, and I enjoy the travelling that my role entails. I certainly feel that women’s ability to multitask brings definite advantages. After all, we work the same hours, and we can do it all in high heels!”

Dynamic diversity

“At First Cut and GSI, we value the dynamic diversity which the women in our companies contribute,” adds McCrystal. “Our five ‘leading ladies’ also offer a wide variety of skills and attributes which – along with their fellow team members’ – all contribute to provision of cutting-edge cutting and welding training, products and service – to the ultimate advantage of our customers and industry as a whole,” he concludes.

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