Lomile Modiselle
Lomile Modiselle, Director for Energy and Electricity, City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa

Have you found yourself neglecting your own strengths and talents? Instead of building on these, have you put emphasis on weaknesses and spent valuable time trying to repair your ‘flaws’?

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 2-2020.
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

We spoke with Lomile Modiselle to uncover her secret recipe for changing this mind-set and working her way up through the electricity supply industry ranks.

As a Director of Energy and Electricity at the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, Lomile is responsible for electricity network control, communication, protection, testing and switching of high voltage networks. This responsibility needs someone who thrives on highly pressurised and challenging working environments.

This Women in Energy feature is brought to you by Nyamezela.

Where do you get your inspiration and motivation from to remain steadfast in your position where you are accountable for providing an essential service to the public?

The motivation comes from being part of a successful and productive team. While the inspiration comes from the book by Marcus Buckingham titled Now, Discover your Strengths: this book helped me as a leader and manager to understand my strengths and of those I lead. The work environment can be strenuous for our personalities when it leads to neglecting our own strengths and talents, and our ability to build our lives around these. Instead, we tend to put focus on our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair our ‘flaws’.

This book helped me to discover my capabilities, and how to translate them into my successes (both personal and career achievements). What works for me, is to actively pause and celebrate my achievements – it’s a habit I’ve formed and applied over the past years. Not only has this helped my own self-esteem, but it has also helped me to genuinely appreciate and recognise my team members.

This quote from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Mathaai, has also shaped my resilience: “A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance. It is a reminder to all of us who have had success that we cannot forget where we came from.

It signifies that no matter how powerful we become in government or how many awards we receive, our power and strength and our ability to reach our goals depend on the people, those whose work remains unseen, who are the soil out of which we grow, the shoulders on which we stand.”

Lomile, before we delve into your career and projects you’ve dealt with, let’s explore the importance of mentorship. As the deputy chairperson of the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities (AMEU’s) Women in Electricity (WIE) initiative, which seeks to provide leadership development and mentorship, what has your personal experience been?

Throughout my career, I have been mentored by many people, both men and women. Allow me to mention a few who made an impact in my life: They are (in no particular order) Mbalekelwa Tshabalala, Dr Frans Manganye, Refilwe Mokgosi, Bertha Dlamini and Corrie van der Wath. You may not be familiar with these admirable people but it isn’t about who they are – rather the focus is on how they have guided my career path and personal development.

I believe it is important to have mentors in one’s career, especially for women in the energy sector. Mentorship programmes are strategic to ensuring more female students are assisted to progress in their careers and to becoming leaders in the industry.

The point here is that mentorship provides a mentee with industry knowledge and information that, in many cases, they didn’t know to even ask about.

It’s an important method to assist in improving your skills in areas such as managerial, technical, or just how to get your voice heard when presenting ideas. It stimulates the personal and professional growth of mentees – whether female or male. As a mentee, the mentorship programme helped me to become a mentor to others as well; where I have mentored many women in the technical environment and am fortunate to still be mentoring others today.

AMEU Women in Electricity Committee Members

The AMEU’s mentorship programme has been hugely successful. Briefly, tell us about your background in the energy sector and involvement at organisations such as the Association.

I am one of the few women who ‘grew up’ in the Electricity Distribution Industry having started my studies at a FET College. After the completion of my N courses, I was appointed as an Apprentice (Electrician) in the City of Tshwane municipality in 1998 and qualified as an Artisan (Electrician) in 2001 and acquired a National Diploma in 2004. After working in various sectors as an Artisan, in 2007 I took a decision to turn things around and improve my qualification.

I studied toward a degree in Power Engineering, and have written the Government Certificate of Competency (GCC), which I passed on my first attempt in 2016. Today I am a qualified Certificate Engineer and now working on the completion of my Masters in Public Administration (MPA) at the University of Pretoria. Studying can be addictive and I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to put their mind to it as it is for their personal growth, and could lead to a whole new adventure.

One such adventure for me has been that as a member of the AMEU, I joined the association’s WIE programme immediately after it launched in 2015. [Ed: Yes, I recall talking with the then AMEU President, Sicelo Xulu, about the programme. He felt strongly about changing the demographic of the industry as a whole.] Through this programme, I felt invigorated to enhance my professional development and started to attend courses such as mentorship and leadership development, which assisted me in my career as a woman in a leadership position within the municipality.

I’m currently the Deputy Chairperson of Women in Electricity nationally from 2018 to date. This role has also, literally, given me a platform to share my knowledge and experiences by participating as a speaker in several technical conferences and women in engineering seminars. My latest ‘adventure’ is being an Advisory Board member to the well-known African Utility Week (AUW) 2020 conference where over 5,000 industry experts from across Africa and abroad gather annually.

Your professional advancement is a powerful motivational story. Tell us about a project that you are particularly proud of.

As an engineer, during my career, there have been many projects but the one I recall the most vividly was in July 2018. I had just returned to work from a holiday, when I received an emergency call that one of our Primary Substations was burning. On arriving at the site we found the whole control room of the station completely burned down.

This resulted in all customers feeding from the station being without power and there was no quick means to reconnect them. I worked alongside a team of engineers and technicians throughout the day and night to build a temporary structure of the substation control room. Here our main focus was to ensure power restoration to the customers of the city. Through teamwork and determination, we managed to rebuild and restore this substation within eight days and all customers could get electricity supply.

Another project I’d like to highlight is the WIE programme. As the Vice-Chairperson, I am participating in several initiatives geared to developing women in the engineering sector. Part of the WIE mandate is to: Accelerate gender transformation in the electricity Industry; Maximise the positive contribution women can make in the industry; and Create tangible programmes that are designed to groom women in the electricity sector.

As women in the industry, we must have the courage to stand up, show up, excel and collaborate with our male counterparts to change the face of electricity in South Africa. Diversity brings performance, high performance will change our communities, our economy and all South Africans will benefit. There are some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that WIE achieves its goals. Together we will be an industry where inclusiveness is the norm.

As you’ve mentioned, the energy landscape is being redefined and there is an energy revolution underway that the market cannot ignore. How do you foresee this impacting on current electricity networks?

Indeed, throughout the history of humanity, every change of a dominant energy source has been a revolution. Each change resulted in industrial and social developments. The next energy revolution is now at an accelerating pace, where it is being propelled by technology developments and innovation. The fourth industrial revolution (4IR), together with energy-specific technologies such as renewable energy, battery storage, electric vehicles and the rise of gas in our market, provide the opportunity for utilities to change their current business model.

This business transition can be achieved by redefining the customer experience through recognising the new reality of customers’ transactive approach to the electricity system. Further to this, there must be an aligned redesign of the regulatory frameworks, which will change the rules of the game such as the bylaws and the incorporation of new revolutions in organisational policies etc. Perhaps most importantly, knowledge management skills must be developed with the digital transformation in mind, and develop open innovation for employees, specifically engineers.

It requires utilities to embrace a massive switch from traditional services to high-value services. Consequently, the connection to grid of solar PV power at a fair price becomes a reality and therefore seeks government intervention to support utilities. At the same time, accelerating the deployment of renewables can alleviate poverty, create jobs, and improve welfare in society. As an industry, we must work toward attaining a balance between providing traditional services while embracing new technologies.

The 4IR is already morphing the industry. How is the sector making it possible for female engineers, technicians, and energy sector entrepreneurs to hold decision-making roles in this new market?

I think the government and private sector have developed policies that create a more gender-inclusive workplace, but am still not clear about the implementation of such policies and organisational strategies. What I have noticed is that there is a need to be vocal about the strategies, which must start at the grassroots; it begins with schools linking subjects that are being taught with real jobs in society in mind.

This could be enhanced by getting more role models and STEM ambassadors into schools to talk about their work, which would help debunk any misconceptions children might have that they can’t do such jobs. We need more visible female role models and we need louder, clearer leadership and targets. We also need a range of internal policies and programmes on flexible working conditions and changes to recruitment practice to remove unconscious bias and become consciously inclusive.

More women, particularly young ones, need to be made aware of the amazing opportunities available in the fields of engineering and energy generation. STEM subjects provide so many career disciplines to choose from, making it difficult for young adults to decide. In particular, young women should be encouraged to attend career forums that will assist them to seek work experience opportunities and engage with people within the industry to get a feel for what’s involved.

The trends have indicated that there is progress in women participation in the sector, but the progress is slow. Though women are entering the sector, the positions that they are holding are not decision making positions. I have conducted a survey in South Africa on the number of women entering the market versus the period they get promoted. It shows that we have 80% of women sitting at lower-level positions for a period of 10 years with no promotion opportunities. Therefore a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of implementation of organisational strategies and policies.

With regard to women entrepreneurs, there are programmes designed to empower women as energy users—supporting individual and household welfare, including income-generating and productive-use activities – and providers of energy services. However, addressing gender equality and social inclusion in the context of upstream infrastructure development, which is equally important, has been little explored to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in the energy sector to ensure they compete in a fair market with their male counterparts.

What is your message for young women who are starting their careers in the power and energy industry?

To take up your space and participate! It is, after all, the Universe’s instruction.

The role of women in the energy revolution is to articulate renewable energy policies and strategies to ensure that utilities deliver on their mandate of bettering people’s lives and achieving a high quality of service delivery. I do believe that when more women take up prominent roles in the industry, this will help to shape the environment of the workplace to be more welcoming of female engineers, entrepreneurs and board members.

What is your wish list for the electricity supply industry in this new decade?

Locally, that South Africa’s state-owned power utility, Eskom, does not fail and regains its footing in the electricity supply industry along its supply chain that includes generation, transmission and distribution. The ongoing loadshedding must be resolved quickly as the country cannot afford to continue on this path of unreliable power supply.

The energy market will continue to be an instrumental role player in economic development, and my wish is that challenges such as lack of productivity, inefficiency and wasteful expenditure be minimised moving forward. The market must strive to find innovative ways to provide affordable access to electricity for all South African citizens. This will lead to the industry increasing its contribution to job creation.

To achieve an energised and robust market, all stakeholders need to continue working together and to be more cooperative in exploring solutions to the challenges that are pushing the envelope in the energy sector. The electricity supply industry is walking a path of its own and by the end of this decade it will arrive as a completely revolutionised market. ESI

This Women in Energy feature is brought to you by Nyamezela.

AN INSPIRING CAREER PATH

Lomile Modiselle is a qualified Certificate Engineer who started her career at the City of Tshwane Municipality in 1998 as an Apprentice and eventually qualified and worked as an Electrician. She then moved and worked for Transnet as an Artisan, Team Leader and Senior Foreman from 2002 to 2006, she returned to the City of Tshwane in 2007 as an Engineering Technician in Planning; Chief Engineer in Power Systems Information Management; and Deputy Director of Service Connections and Township Development. She is currently employed as a Director of Energy and Electricity at the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, responsible for electricity network control, communication, protection, testing and switching of high voltage networks. She is also a member of the Association of the Municipal Electricity Utilities (AMEU), and the deputy chairperson of AMEU’s Women in Electricity (WIE).

Lomile Modiselle is an Advisory Board member to the 20th edition of the African Utility Week & POWERGEN Africa conference and exhibition taking place on 24-26 November 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. www.african-utility-week.com

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 2-2020.
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.