My Mechanic Is Smarter Than Yours | Independent Newspapers Limited
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My Mechanic Is Smarter Than Yours

Posted: Jan 14, 2016 at 10:07 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Greg Odogwu

Unemployment is always listed as one of Nigeria’s cardinal problems. But when Julius Berger told President Muhammadu Buhari that he needed to do something urgent about jobs lost to foreign construction workers, it became obvious that our problem is not just about unemployment. It is more fundamental, and complicated. Evidently, our past leaders were not thinking deep enough; and we were so gripped by the so-called oil curse that we lacked a comprehensive national development plan.

Considering the natural restraint that goes with diplomatic relations or official communication, one must then realise that the German company’s officials were actually trying to warn of a gigantic invading monster. The problem is deadly viral and must be seen to be so.

What is more, it is not only in the corporate arena that you find these foreign construction workers. In Abuja, for instance, when you want to build or renovate your house, even a passerby would weigh in: “I know one Togo workman who can finish this work for you. Don’t give it to all these Nigerian painters. They will just spoil your house. It happened to me.”

And, alas, I just discovered a new trend in town. The word in the street is that the best after-school teachers are Ghanaian tutors; and they charge higher!

What all these mean is that we are soon going to depend on foreigners to do the most basic of jobs here, just because our leaders did not have the foresight to maintain, and even build more, technical schools to churn out certified artisans. They did not rejig our educational infrastructure to meet up with emerging academic demands. They failed us.

Someone might say, ah, foreign artisan invasion is a mark of a great nation. The jobs in Europe are given to foreign immigrants who enter in their droves. And I ask this person, can we boast to enjoy the same economic buoyancy as Europe? What is Europe’s population growth? Unlike Europe which has a steadily decreasing population, we are in a baby boom era of which we have already been warned by experts that we face a “Demographic Disaster” in the nearest future if our teeming youth population is not positively engaged.

Nonetheless, we have so many resources that if we are really thinking, unemployment should not be found in our national lexicon. This is why, when you think of it, there is ingenuity in the renaming of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity to Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.

And this is why I wish to point our government to a subsector that is most neglected and looked down upon by everybody: Automotive mechanic industry. Not only will this sector create hundreds of thousands of sustainable jobs, if properly organised it shall solve a big environmental problem while opening a new horizon for waste-to-wealth.

The automotive industry continues to be one of the largest and most important industries in the world. It has been noted that because the industry is undergoing many changes, these developments are creating not only challenges but also good opportunities for people targeting career opportunities. Some of the most important trends include new employment opportunities created by advances in technology, large production overcapacity, heavy fuel consumption, environmental concerns, increased consumer buying power and steady retirement of skilled or trained personnel.

Employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is expected to keep increasing worldwide, because demand for technicians will grow as the number of vehicles in operation increases, reflecting continued growth in the number of multi-car families.

Interestingly, Nigeria’s market in the sector is peculiar because in contrast to the trend in developed countries, there is an exponential job spread for the trade mechanic. In developed world, slowing population growth and the continuing increase in the quality and durability of automobiles which require infrequent service shrink demand for auto mechanics. Over here, the increase in imported used cars and the tendency to maintain new ones for long period create an ever-growing market.

Even in developed countries, most persons entering/seeking employment in the automotive industry can expect steady work, even through downturns in the economy. While car owners may postpone maintenance and repair on their vehicles when their budgets become strained, and employers of automotive technicians may cut back hiring new workers, changes in economic conditions generally have minor effects on the automotive service and repair business.

Opportunities in the automotive industry should be plentiful in vehicle maintenance and repair occupations, especially for employees with formal automotive service technician training. Additional job openings will be due to the need to replace a growing number of retiring technicians, who tend to be the most experienced workers. This is where there is a tragedy in Nigeria. Industry experts I talked to said Nigeria is fast losing its experienced mechanics cadre!

Among the challenges automotive employers face is overcoming negative public perceptions of the industry due to stereotypes and misinformation. According to a research I did on this matter, some developed countries have worked out strategies to counteract this challenge, for instance, by demonstrating the availability of viable occupations that pay well and have growth potential; and institutionalising and mainstreaming technical training for it.

Another problem is the environmental impact of this sector. In many communities, auto repair shops represent the largest generators of hazardous waste among small businesses. These repair shops have potential to generate pollution in the vicinity due to two main activities: handling of chemicals (which generate pollutants) and waste-generating and management (which directly pollute the environment).

Sometimes, local and state governments have myopically focused on the issue of environmental pollution and introduced stifling policies that discouraged a healthy growth of the industry. Such clampdown policies ended up doing more harm than good, as it diminished instead of moulded the sub-sector into an economic force. For instance, when mechanics are told to leave the city centres and are not properly resettled, they end up in the back alleys of the city where they still pollute the environment so immensely, yet the government does not generate revenue from them.

Nigeria cannot afford to allow what happened to her construction workers happen to her mechanics!

We must sound the alarm before things worsen. My personal survey reveals that the number of experienced Nigerian mechanics is decreasing just as the number of cars on our roads is increasing. The situation is that the Lebanese and other foreigners have taken advantage of this gap and started opening computerised automotive workshops, and our consumer-oriented citizenry now see it as status symbol to visit these modern garages. But the paradox is that these shops still depend on so-called ordinary mechanics to carry out repairs backyard once the computers diagnose.

The Chairman of Kugbo Mechanic Association, Abuja, Mr Emmanuel Nwankwo, told me when I visited the ill-developed Kugbo mechanic village that the number of experienced mechanics who learnt the trade as apprentices is rapidly dwindling. He also revealed that some wise engineering graduates now sign in for internship. He said that there would come a day when Nigerians would be searching for mechanics to service their car but none would be available.

However, we do not need a prophet to tell us that on that day when there would be no mechanics, foreign ones would come in to fill in the demand gap, as it is happening in the construction sector today.

The foreign mechanics will become very expensive too.

And remember, when we talk about foreign mechanics, we are not talking about Germans, or South Africans; we are talking about Ghanaians, Togolese, Beninese, and other poor countries, whose governments were not poor in ideas, because they set up technical schools to train their citizens. That is why, today, they are smarter than Nigerians!