Meet Hannes Van Schalkwyk, civil engineer

Hannes van Schalkwyk was born in Namibia, but with a father who worked as an accountant for a mining company, he spent much of his childhood in South Africa, moving from one small town to another. In 1996, having completed his engineering studies at Technikon Pretoria, he returned to his country of birth and, before joining Lithon, took up a position that lasted almost two decades. Hannes, who describes himself as a man of his word, recently chatted to us about his love of detailed design drawings, how a school setback set him up for his career in engineering, and more.

What drew you to civil engineering?

It’s an interesting story, actually. Unfortunately, my Grade 9 accountancy exam didn’t quite go to plan, and, after some disappointing results, I was advised to continue my studies in the technical wing of the school I attended. As it turns out, it was a fortuitous move as I decided to follow the civil stream because it included woodwork – a favourite subject of mine. 

How and when did you join Lithon?

That’s another interesting story! I’d been with my previous company for 19 years and knew it was time for a change. While I was applying for jobs, one of the references on my CV (who happened to work at Lithon at the time), invited me to interview for a position that was going at the company. The rest, as they say, is history, and I joined Lithon in late 2015.

What do you enjoy most about working at the company?

One of the reasons I decided to leave my previous company was that I wanted more responsibility, and needed a greater challenge. From the beginning, Lithon gave me the chance to take on more complex projects, which brought plenty of challenges and problem-solving opportunities. Then there’s the amazing Lithon culture. I work with a great group of people and there’s a real sense of camaraderie within the team. Colleagues actively share knowledge and support one another, and the business gives us every opportunity to grow and achieve, both as a team and as individuals.

What are some of the key aspects of your job?

A large part of my job involves providing contractors with detailed designs. It’s critical that these are done accurately from the get-go, so that there are no comebacks down the line. Having to relook designs and drawings once a project is on the go can have a significant impact on deadlines and the budget. 

What has been your career highlight to date?

I enjoy producing drawings for a project. And being the perfectionist that I am, having access to advanced design programmes like AutoCAD and Civil 3D is a definite highlight for me. I’ve invested time and effort into mastering the digital tools at my disposal and it’s important to me to stay adaptable so that I’m always on top of the latest systems. My next move is to get to grips with Building Information Modeling (BIM) so that I’m able to get even more accurate designs done, faster. 

You received your Project Management Professional (PMP) certification last year. Can you tell us more about it?

The drive to achieve my PMP came from a desire to grow in other aspects of my role, especially the management of my projects. It’s a tough course and an even tougher exam, so it was a big accomplishment for me. While I don’t always use my newly acquired skills in the day-to-day running of projects, I apply project management principles to ensure efficient and effective communication with all stakeholders and to fulfill the commitments I’ve made to clients, contractors, municipalities and colleagues. 

How do you spend your free time?

I love spending time with my beautiful wife. I also enjoy being creative and constructive, so I spend a good deal of my time building and fixing things. I guess you could say that I’m happiest engineering a better world at Lithon and at home too!