Young entrepreneur sees the future in youth development

After finding himself without a job, engineer Llewelyn Pillay refused to be a victim of circumstance. Marchelle Abrahams chats to him about being selected for the Young Entrepreneurs Global Exposure Program.

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work,” Colin Powell once said.

Engineering graduate Llewelyn Pillay (28) knows all about dreaming and then watching those aspirations fall apart before your very eyes. After working in the engineering sector for a number of years and then retrenched, KZN-born Pillay refused to become a victim of circumstance.

Instead he he fought hard to rediscover his dream of starting his own business, and through sheer determination and his refusal to be part of SA’s unemployment narrative, he finally put down roots. “I’ve faced many obstacles and have had countless doors shut in my face, but I still persevered,” says the young entrepreneur. “I literally went knocking on the doors of construction companies for work, until I finally landed a contract.”

But the nightmare was far from over. Big clients refusing to pay had led to cash-flow problems, until eventually he turned to his family for help. Finding his feet again, he made an oath to give back to his community by creating job opportunities for young South Africans.

Years later, and Pillay has delivered on his promise. Now the proud owner of civil engineering and construction firm, Ubunye Africa Construction, his focus is solely on youth development. And not one to take things for granted, he’s even now taken over his mother’s fashion business, creating opportunities for aspiring designers.

Q: Starting your own business in civil engineering is no mean feat, and now you are concentrating on youth development. How do you intend putting your plan into place?

Having been in that position myself, I understand the struggles that young South Africans are faced with. We are working together with the NYDA [National Youth Development Agency] to help place young graduates that have studied civil engineering in various projects to help gain their experience. 

Training in some areas will be provided to the interns to equip them for the industry. The same initiative is incorporated in the clothing label as well. Providing practical training for young designers to enhance their skills.

Q: You’ve been selected by Investec and En-novate to go to Germany for the Young Entrepreneurs Global Exposure Program. What does this entail?

I was selected by Investec together with 16 other young up and coming entrepreneurs to go to Berlin for the CSI Global Exposure Program. Investec is ranked one of the leading brands in South Africa, so to be mentored by this international powerhouse was an opportunity that I grabbed with both hands. Together with En-Novate they have created this exciting platform for us young entrepreneurs to gain international exposure. 

Not only does the program allow for supplier development, but also assists with possible partnerships and investment opportunities.

Q: I love that your programme is aimed at young females. Have you found in your own personal experience that there has been a pushback against female graduates in the industry?

I don’t think there has been a pushback against female graduates, but with all the negativity around gender-based violence, we try to encourage more females to seek a career in construction that is a male dominated industry.

Q: Do you think SA is doing enough to encourage women to take on roles within the engineering sector?

In the past, government hasn’t really done much with regards to Including females in the engineering sector. However, it is changing. The government should also invest more in initiatives like the one I am currently working on.

Q: Your mother obviously has a huge bearing on your career. Is it safe to say she’s been your inspiration on your journey?

My mom has inspired me to dream big, and that’s just what I’ve done. She has taught me to persevere and never give up. She is a perfect example of no matter what your circumstances are, if you can dream it, you can achieve it.

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