A nightmarish administrative error that nearly cost her her career did not stop this bright woman from graduating top of her class in Mining Engineering and landing her first job at Barrick Lumwana after just one interview.
You’re relatively new to mining?
Yes – I’ve been in the industry for barely a year. I was hired straight out of university and appointed as Short-term Planning Engineer.
Had mining been your career dream at school?
No. I first wanted to become an accountant. Then I realised I liked the sciences. So, then I wanted to work in aviation and become a pilot. But in the end, I settled for mining engineering because it combined geography, maths and science.
How did you fund your studies?
I got a government scholarship that paid for 75% of my costs; the balance of 25% was paid for by my parents. Without that help, I don’t think I would have managed.
How did you find the transition from school to university?
In school, they make notes for you, the teacher teaches, they put everything on the board. At university, you have to work it all out for yourself. So, it’s tough in first year. Plus, I hadn’t done A-levels, so I had a lot of catching up to do.
How did you do in first year?
I did well. I got my first choice, which was to study Mining Engineering at the School of Mines. But I was mistakenly assigned to the School of Engineering.
What did you do?
I had to fight for my career. In the first semester, while I was trying to solve this problem, I had to study both engineering and mining, just in case it didn’t work out. I took it up with the Vice-Chancellor. I made an appeal and was eventually granted access to the School of Mines. I was overjoyed!
And how did you find mining?
It was tough. But because I was so interested in it, it made things easier. Not easy, but easier. At times, I’d get bad grades, and I’d tell myself – pull up your socks! My interest is what kept me going.
How did you do in your final exams?
I graduated from the School of Mines top of my class.
“Mining is stressful: you have to stand your ground and defend your viewpoint.”
Did that make it easy to land a job?
No. It took a long time. I contacted all the big mining companies, but it was always the same answer – we’re not employing right now, we’re really looking for skilled people, the copper price. I just kept the faith and kept on applying. I managed to get an e-mail address for someone at Barrick Lumwana, but my application somehow was not getting through; the e-mails kept bouncing back. It was frustrating. You try to call, but you’re told they will call you.
How long did this go on?
Nearly two months. But eventually I got a reply from Barrick. They called to say they’d seen my application and would like to interview me. Possibly tomorrow! I was in Mazabuka at the time, so the interview was conducted by telephone.
And how did it go?
They told me afterwards I’d performed really well in the interview. A few days later, they called to say they’d like to hire me. So, when I formally graduated a week or so later, I already had a job!
What have you learned so far about working in mining?
Mining is stressful! Interesting, but stressful. You have to be fit. You have to stand your ground and defend your viewpoint. There’s a lot of analysis and detail, a lot of brainwork. You have to know what you’re going to say before you say it.
What about the pressures of work?
I’m on a 28/7 roster, which means I work here on the mine for 28 days, then I go home for 7 days. At work, I’m exhausted at the end of the day and go to sleep early. At home, with siblings and friends, I relax more, and keep relationships going. It’s two different worlds, and you learn to manage it.
How has mining changed you?
It has made me independent. I don’t have to ask others for money any longer. I used to depend on my parents; now I depend on myself. I can decide to save, invest in a plot or buy a car – it’s all up to me. It’s helped me to grow and make adult decisions.
Any grand plans to travel?
Yes, but not right now. I first have to balance my time off and my time on-site. But one day I’d like to go to Amsterdam, to Jamaica, maybe to Cuba.
What about Johannesburg? It’s closer.
No! (Laughter) I’ve already been to Johannesburg – Barrick sent us on a training course there. So, I’ve already done the whole shopping mall thing – Sandton City, Bryanston. It’s all ticked.
What other job would you be doing if you weren’t in mining?
Aviation; I’d want to work in aviation.
See also: A Zambian success story