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Making room for young talent in the construction tech industry

13 June, 2024
7 mins read

Tumelo Marule is one of a handful of young women making their mark in South Africa’s construction industry. Her passion for technology led her to construction software company, RIB South Africa, where she became immersed in software solutions that help streamline efficiencies in the industry and reduce time and cost overruns. 

While Tumelo did well in science and mathematics in high school, she really excelled in technology studies. In ​​Grade 11, she got to attend a pre-university programme that gave her insight into university life and the types of opportunities that were available to her. This made it easier for her to choose a career path that aligned with her passion for technology. 

Tumelo first contemplated pursuing an engineering degree at university, but ultimately chose to study towards a BSc in construction. “At most universities, the construction qualification was offered as a diploma course, but a few years prior to me attending Wits University, they had introduced a BSc degree in construction to complement other non-engineering degrees, such as property studies and architecture, which all fall under the built environment,” she says.

Tumelo Marule RIB South Africa
Tumelo Marule (RIB South Africa)

During the research phase of her honours year, Tumelo interviewed Andrew Skudder, then the CEO of RIB South Africa, who sparked her interest in its estimating, planning and project control solution, RIB Candy, as well as other products offered by the business.  

“What excited me about RIB Candy was that it was a South African product. Until then, I had learnt about many technologies, but they were all internationally developed technologies,” notes Marule. 

RIB was just as interested in Tumelo and as soon as she completed her BSc Honours in construction management in 2018, she was snapped up by the company in 2019, starting off in a business development role, with the focus on RIB Candy sales. 

Her job was to grow the customer base for Candy and provide support for the product. A year later, she was offered the position of intern for RIB BuildSmart, a cost management and enterprise accounting solution for the construction industry. She progressed steadily and today fulfils the role of Implementation Consultant and Training Consultant for BuildSmart. 

The construction industry is a traditionally male dominated space. “This can be a challenge for the women who work in this industry, and they need to have the willpower and strength of character to stand their ground on certain issues. 

“Needless to say, it’s the same thing within the construction IT space where the back-end of the industry – developers, engineers, testers – is also male dominated. While selling the technology may be easier for women than working on site, we still need in-depth technical knowledge of what happens on site and what the software can do to streamline processes. I’ve made sure I gain insight into other aspects of the product such as testing, coding and programming to boost my understanding,” adds Marule. 

Having one foot in the technical side of the business and the other in a client-facing role, Tumelo says her job is more fulfilling. “This is largely due to my boss and mentor, Les Johnson, a dominant player in the industry, who has championed me and shown me the best of both worlds.” 

Another important mentor in Tumelo’s life is her father. “My father took early retirement when I was young and spent a lot of time doing construction work, whether it was fixing the house or fixing other people’s houses, inspiring my interest in the field. Other mentors include some of my lecturers at Wits who exposed me to industry leaders at a young age and encouraged me to follow my chosen path.” 

She says the greatest challenge in the software integration or data management space is the fact that technology is constantly evolving. “We play in a space where you have to keep up. As much as you think you may know a lot about the product, it constantly evolves to meet customer demands or incorporate new innovations.”  

Another challenge relates to the expansion of the products into other African countries. “I have discovered that South Africa operates very differently to the rest of Africa, and even though we work in the same industry, the way training is conducted and solutions implemented differs quite significantly. This requires a high degree of adaptability and sensitivity to other cultures or ways of doing things,” says Tumelo. 

In contemplating her future, Tumelo says RIB enlists business partners who do exactly what RIB does from a sales and implementation point of view. “I am considering embarking on a similar journey and tackling the African market. This will mean working alongside RIB as a co-business partner and selling the products developed by the company.” 

She says the range of products RIB offers has expanded in recent years. “While we started off with just two products, we now offer a multitude of different solutions, which means we can really come up with bespoke solutions to suit each customer’s specific needs.” 

She encourages young women who are interested in technology to not give up on their dreams. “There is definitely room for females within the tech engineering and construction industry. As long as they are adaptable, capable of challenging themselves and open to learning, there will be opportunities for them to thrive. 

“As a young person, you know technology best, probably better than some people who have worked with it for a long time and you’re able to identify the loopholes better, because you’re looking at it from a fresh angle – that’s where your strength lies,” she concludes.