Dr Philani Zincume – when passion turns into research

[Article by Nane Zietsman]

Dr Zincume’s interest in engineering started as a young child growing up in Esikhawini, a township in Empangeni, Kwazulu-Natal. “It was my father who kindled my passion for engineering. He always asked my brother and me to help him when fixing electrical appliances,” says Dr Zincume. It was only in grade 7 that Dr Zincume noticed the possibility of turning his passion into a career: “I met a teacher from a local technical high school who exposed me to electronics and got me curious about studying engineering. Eventually, in my grade 12 year, I got an opportunity to pursue an electrical engineering degree at the University of Cape Town.”

After working as an engineer for some years, Dr Zincume realised that he had a stronger interest in soft engineering skills, such as engineering management practice and human factors. “I had to face the fact that I am more passionate about people than machines. This is what drew me away from electrical engineering to industrial engineering because industrial engineering as a profession does not only deal with the optimisation of complex processes and systems but also deals with the integration of systems, people, knowledge and information,” shares Dr Zincume.

Dr Zincume’s decision to enrol at Stellenbosch University as postgraduate student was motivated by the word-class offerings of the Faculty, particularly the Department of Industrial Engineering. He was drawn to the Engineering Management program since it is tailor-made to equip engineers and scientists with the skills required to manage engineering, technology, innovation, and people. Detailing his research, Dr Zincume shares that his choice of topic originated from his industry experience as a production manager: “In my role I had to manage frontline supervisors of engineering teams. I realised that frontline supervisors make an important contribution to the success of an organisation and form an important link in the chain of management command, yet their role is often neglected. This realisation led me to conduct research in a pursuit to identify, describe and quantify the determinants of frontline supervisor effectiveness in engineering team-based organisations.” Dr Zincume conducted his research under the supervision of Dr Wyhan Jooste who comments that the project contributes to the asset management body of knowledge, specifically in the field of organisation and people enablers, which is often a neglected field of study in engineering management. “This research about frontline supervisor effectiveness is expected to contribute to how engineering organisations should think about their supervisors’ roles and competencies for unlocking organisational value,” says Dr Jooste.

Since joining the Department as a PhD candidate, Dr Zincume has also been appointed as a full-time lecturer. In sharing his plans for the future, Dr Zincume shares his newfound love for education: “I plan to continue lecturing at the Department of Industrial Engineering. I have become passionate about teaching and interacting with students. I truly want to use the skills I learnt while pursuing my doctorate to assist those who are still on their research journey.”

Photograph: Dr Philane Zincume.