Even though she was aware of her nomination for the position, she obviously took it with a pinch of salt, given how visibly overwhelmed and surprised she was to be chosen as the industry body’s first female head.
Nevertheless, she said she was up for the challenge and eager to get to work, as soon as she got her bearings.
“I’m still in shock!” she told Moneyweb after the breakfast event where she was announced as the new president.”But I feel honoured. It’s a huge responsibility, This industry is so critical to the well-being of this country. Without it, how would build the much needed infrastructure? How would we create jobs?” she asked.
Dick takes the reigns at a time when the industry is in decline. According to Seifsa, the metals and engineering (M&E) sector represents 34% of manufacturing activity and contributes 6% to the country’s GDP; last year it added R123 billion of value to the economy.
But after growing by 2% in 2013, it contracted by the same proportion in 2014, and is not expected to show any growth during 2015. Last week Statistics South Africa released production data for the M&E sector revealing a 1.1% contraction in the 12 months ended July 2015. In isolation, the decline is marginal. But given the low base effect of the five-month-long platinum sector strike, which was followed by a month-long steel and engineering strike in July 2014, it’s a telling statistic.
The market for the M&E sector is largely made up of intermediate product suppliers to the mining (10%), construction (10%), machinery and equipment (45%) and auto sectors (8%) – all of which are facing troubles of their own.
Dick will have to find a way to make government more proactive about protecting the industry imports, which are largely subsidised. The sector competes, roughly, with R250 billion worth of imported products, which take up 45% of domestic demand.
Meanwhile, talks of introducing carbon taxes and a national minimum wage threaten to heavy the burden on companies already under pressure. Dick is not oblivious to the magnitude of the task ahead.
Said Dick: “I think every industry in this country, and all around the world, is facing challenges. The global economy is putting pressure on companies that are having to cut costs in order to survive. South Africa needs to find creative ways to stimulate the economy because we can’t rely on the minerals in the ground any more.
“For me. It’s about going back to the drawing board and looking at what we, as Seifsa, have done right and where we might have gone wrong. Our primary responsibility is to advance the interest of our members. But if there’s any chance of reviving the industry, it’s going to require a collective effort from all stakeholders, including government and the employees, whose livelihoods are at stake.”
Dick is very passionate about South Africa’s unemployment crisis and hopes that her presidency will be remembered for making a meaningful contribution towards addressing that challenge. A teacher by profession, Dick has made job creation her life’s work, co-founding Transman, which is recognised as one of the largest independent temporary employment services providers in the country, with its number of placements in the millions.
But it will be interesting to see how she is received by labour unions given the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) strong opposition to labour brokers.