A company with a difference, making a difference
When interviewed just prior to the 20th anniversary of Rheochem’s inception in 1993, the company’s founder and MD, Jacqui Swart, was asked about the highlights of the past 20 years.
She responded by saying that the water treatment industry is so diverse and dynamic that it would be difficult to select one particular highlight, but that what had been particularly rewarding was to have not just experienced the growth of the company but to have witnessed the personal and professional development of the people that have been such an inherent part of its success. “The sector is extremely dynamic despite a generally sluggish economy. This is due to the provision of water being considered a basic human right and the need for continuous progress towards the goal of supplying drinking water to all South Africans that consistently meets international standards,” says Swart.
Rheochem has and continues to contribute through providing a high level of technical support to rural water plants. “Particularly in outlying areas there remains a significant skills shortage that is only relatively recently being addressed on a countrywide basis. From inception, Rheochem has played a positive role through operator training, either in the form of formal short courses or through our service technicians working closely with plant personnel and thereby sharing knowledge,” she explains.
According to Swart, one of the major challenges we face as a nation is anticipated water shortages relating to global warming. “Recycling and advanced treatment processes will become the norm rather than the exception in the future and Rheochem remains cognisant of this in terms of our strategy going for- ward. Although in value it comprises a small portion of our turnover, Rheochem is experienced and trusted in the treatment of industrial effluent, where we have in-house capability to operate small plants. Being involved in this sector also creates opportunities for the placement of previously unemployed people who have completed the Rheochem Learnership.”
Swart believes that most people are capable of so much more than they realise and that giving people an opportunity and expecting them to achieve their defined goals while simultaneously providing a strong support base, is the reason for numerous employees’ success stories.
Another Rheochem philosophy is that people should mainly (if not practically always) be happy with what they do to earn a living and within their work environment. Inclusivity is another key factor in terms of how the company is structured and operates, with black employees enjoying the benefits of ownership, and all employees being financially rewarded based directly on company performance. This underlying philosophy creates the pleasant and positive working environment that is apparent the moment one enters the Rheochem reception area.
The notion of inclusivity can be expanded to include the entire industry, she notes. “The exciting thing with water treatment is that it is ‘happening’ throughout the country and alongside all communities. Unlike other sectors that are restricted to certain geographic areas due to factors such as distribution, access to resources, etc., there is no reason to exclude any section of society from a positive spin-off from the water treatment sector,” says Swart.
She adds that rural water plants usually draw on local people to run them and there has to be sensitivity to the fact that the local water or sewage plant may be a rare opportunity for some people to work close to their homes and families. “We need to train and inspire these people so that they can be positive inftuences in their communities. This is just one example of how inclusive this industry can be – it provides considerable employment opportunities countrywide,” says Swart.
Skills development in focus
Well before BBBEE was legislated, Rheochem focused on skills development, an ongoing effort that has benefited numerous employees as well as people external to the company, including in-house trainees who gained valuable work experience with Rheochem. The concept is to ‘give back’ to the water treatment industry by passing on specific and scarce skills that enable people to play a useful role in related sectors of the economy. The Water and Waste Water Operations Learnership currently being run in-house includes eight learners, four of whom were previously unemployed. Through this initiative they can look forward to placements as water plant operators when the course ends in mid-2013. Rheochem’s corporate social investment programme aims to support rural schools that otherwise receive little or no external sponsorship due to their remote locations. After three years assisting Ntlambamasoka Junior Secondary School near Umzimkhulu, largely but not exclusively through computer-related donations, the company is in the process of identifying a new project. The core attitude is that it is a privilege to be able to help, as well as being a social imperative because as South Africans we all need to be proactive in finding solutions to the many challenges this country faces.
In conclusion, Swart expressed her gratitude to the many customers and suppliers who have and continue to support Rheochem, adding that it has been an absolute pleasure to meet and interact with so many different and interesting people over the years. Apparently something that she instils in Rheochem personnel is that in any organisation it is the customer who pays salaries and one should not forget that people doing business with a company is a matter of their choice rather than a supplier’s ‘right’. “At Rheochem, we aim to earn business through technical support, attention to detail and efficiency. This has certainly created a winning formulation.”