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Finding foot in a male's world

by Linekela Halwoodi

Brigit at the Sudhaus


Brigit Kriess has given Namibian men one more reason why they should drink beer - she is the only local woman to ever work as a brewer at the Namibian Breweries Ltd (NBL).
Kriess (26), a holder of a Brewer and Malter Diploma from Ferdinand Von Steinbeiss, a university in Germany, has been with the NBL for the past seven years working in the brewing department where she has done three years of training hence qualifying for a professional brewer's position in 2008.
This makes her position a very special one since brewing, just like many other jobs, was reserved for the men folk.
 According to NBL Human Resource Manager, Terence Makari, back in the days brewing was a typical job for women for many decades whereby women prepared food and beer while men worked in the fields.
“During the medieval times in Europe, the monks were famous for the monastery beers which helped them survive the abstinence period; the nuns were the brewers. Brewing then became commercialised in the industrialisation era and men were mainly employed as brewers because of the heavy buckets that needed to be carried,” he said.
Makari adds, “This trend seems to continue to this date and females have not developed much interest in the profession despite employers' continued request for female applicants when taking in trainees. The recent job applications received in the past two years have been predominantly male and the successful trainees we took in over the last two intakes have all been male as well.”
Kriess had not planned on becoming a brewer when she finished her high school education at DHPS in 2004.
She headed to Germany to take up tertiary education doing a veterinary course. However, she quickly realised that becoming a veterinarian was not her calling.
When she came back to Namibia, she learned about NBL`s brewery apprenticeship through a friend and her attention was immediately drawn.
“When a friend told me about the brewery apprenticeship, I was puzzled and interested at the same time. Since biology and physics were the main subjects needed for the apprenticeship and they were my main subjects in high school, I was willing to try it out,” she said.
She then started her training with NBL in October 2004 and was placed in different areas from the filter to the cellar and Sudhaus (brewing room) for the following three years.
She was then sent to Germany, first for a six-week malt production training and then graduated after six months from Ferdinand Von Steinbeiss University.
Kriess points out that: “Even in Germany, I did not find women training for a brewer's position. Most of them were training to work in the laboratory.”
Her working day consists of a 12-hour shift done either during the day or the night. She works three consecutive days, and then has two days off.
“It is not easy staying awake for 12 hours; your system has to get used to it and I also work every second weekend which can be a social killer. On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that I can have days or mornings off to do my personal things,” Kriess says.
Brewers are primarily involved with the entire process of creating alcoholic beverages and fuel. Their main duties include selecting and checking the malted barley or grain which are used in the preparation of a particular kind of beer; adding yeast, water and any other necessary ingredients.
In addition, they may be required to operate a milling machine, clean and sterilise the brew tanks, filter equipment, carbonate machines as well as perform regular repairs on the machinery.
Regarding the fact that her daily job involves physical work, she has to keep fit in order to keep up with the demands of her work. “Our work is hard. It is mostly a physical job so I always have to be in a good shape and work out. As a lady, in a team of twelve men, I avoid saying that I cannot do any physical related jobs just because I am a lady, so I have to do it the way they do it. I earn respect that way,” she proudly says.
"During my training at NBL, I was with two other girls but unfortunately one left us during the training because she could not handle the physical requirements of the job. The only problem with our department is that it’s difficult to go into senior positions. If you are determined and perseverant, it could happen but it might take a long time.
“It is all about team work anyway, so we have to work together to reach our goal. Therefore, there is always a helping hand for whoever is faced with a challenge,” she emphasizes.
Makari further adds that it is NBL's desire to reverse the current trend and bring about a balanced representation among brewers although it might take some time to achieve.