When Ayanda Sikobi (26) joined the Ethekwini Maritime Cluster (EMC) in 2019 as an intern in the EMC Graduate Placement Programme, little did she know that three years later she would ascend to the organisation’s management echelon as a programme’s manager.
After Sikobi graduated with her bachelor of commerce honours in economics in 2018, she served as an intern in the Enterprise and Supplier Development Unit of EMC. During this time, Sikobi was instrumental in facilitating the recruiting of SMEs into the Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) Programme, and assisted them to establish themselves in the maritime industry. Before this, the Port Shepstone-born World Maritime University (WMU) graduate attended primary and secondary school in her hometown. She is the youngest of six siblings (three sisters and two brothers).
The allure of the lights of the Durban port had a lot to do with Sikobi’s career trajectory: “Well by profession I am an economist. My love for the industry grew from curiosity. I often spent my evenings at the UKZN School of Law and the library had a wonderful view of the Durban port, I was fascinated by its lights, and really wanted to know what was happening there,” explains Sikobi.
“I did a bit of research about the industry, and found it to be very interesting. I researched how I could link my current qualification with what’s happening in the maritime industry. As a result in my 3rd year, I majored in international trade and macroeconomics. At honours level, I majored in international trade and did a maritime economics related dissertation which further opened my eyes about the industry – I fell further in love with the maritime industry,” said Sikobi.
When the opportunity to do a masters degree at WMU in Sweden presented itself in 2019, Sikobi grabbed it with both hands. In 2021, Sikobi graduated with an MSc in shipping management and logistics from WMU, she says that the experience was wonderful. “I enjoyed being around people from different races, nationalities and cultures. Being away from home was a real eye opener. Sweden is a wonderful and very peaceful country. My biggest take away from the experience was the networking opportunities and the friends I made,” said Sikobi.
Sikobi’s research topic for her dissertation was based on commodity trade and its impact on the economic growth of South Africa. The study provides an empirical analysis of the impact of international trade of commodities on the economic growth of South Africa. Over and above her academic success, another feather in Sikobi’s hat is her recent appointment as ESD programme manager at EMC. “In my current role I oversee the operations within the Enterprise and Supplier Development Unit and the Marine Manufacturing Unit. I formulate programme proposals, plan activities within the units, source funds for each programme and ensure that reports are prepared for our internal and external stakeholders,” explained Sikobi.
The aspiring port manager joins a long lineage of young EMC Graduate Placement Programme alumni, whom the programme has helped to study abroad and establish careers in the maritime industry.
Between 2020 and 2023 EMC plans to place another 50 graduates within the various sectors of the maritime industry. Zenzile Gwamanda, managing director at EMC, said: “Our Graduate Placement Programme forms a part of our Training and Skills Development Programme. And through this initiative we seek to provide training to unemployed graduates and make them job-ready for the industry.” Once the graduates have been recruited into the programme, they attend mandatory work readiness workshops before they are placed as interns across the industry.
Sikobi says her vision for the South African maritime industry is one that is corruption-free, with no entry barriers for new entrants and one that embraces youth development. Sikobi is passionate about shipping, port and terminal operations, and she believes it’s her curiosity that got her this far in her career. She also believes that mentorship plays a pivotal role in her career development.
Sikobi said, “My mentors are scattered all around the world. My first mentor is my manager Mrs. Zenzile Gwamanda. There’s also Dr. Fikile Ndlovu, as well as, Siyabonga Nkomo who is based in Denmark currently working for Maersk Line.”
Her advice to the youth is simple: “Grasp every opportunity like it’s the last opportunity. Have a vision of where you want to be in the future, and work towards that daily,” concludes Sikobi.