John Shiklam writes on the multi-million naira empowerment programme by Peugeot Automobile Nigeria for the training of auto mechanics and standardisation of workshops to address the challenges of repairing high tech vehicles

Foremost automobile company in Nigeria, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN) Limited, Kaduna, has established a multi-million naira youths empowerment programme aimed at providing formalised operating structure in the loose and unregulated auto mechanics business across the country.

Tagged ‘Shade Tree Youth Empowerment Initiative’ (STYEl), about N36.7 million is to be spent in the training and development of youths in the automotive maintenance and repairs.

The programme is expected to train a generation of auto mechanics that will understand the workings of high tech vehicles of today in order to be able to handle repairs and servicing.

The initiative is a welcome development considering the technological advancement in the auto industry and the low quality of auto mechanics that operate across many cities and towns in Nigeria.

Majority of these auto mechanics are largely without basic technical knowledge and rarely understand the workings of today’s high-tech vehicles.

Besides, they operate without requisite tools and in many cases they diagnose faults in vehicles, largely by trial and error to identify the problem.

In the 1960s and early 1980s, corporate organisations like UTC, Challarams, Mandillas, SCOA, FIAT and others, operated standardised mechanic workshops, manned by trained technical personnel who offered efficient repairs and servicing of vehicles.

The decline of these standardised auto mechanics gave rise to the emergence of roadside mechanics, most of who have no adequate technical training to handle modern cars.

This has raised serious concerns among Nigerians about the ability of the present crop of mechanics to handle the repairs of these new technologies. This is part of the scenario that prompted the establishment of STYEI by PAN.

Speaking at the launching of the programme at the premises of the company in Kaduna, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Alhaji Ibrahim Boyi, noted that the automotive sector, like many other industries, has witnessed technological innovations and disruptions.

He noted that, automobiles of today are composed of mechatronics, a combination of mechanical and electronic components, embedded with computer chips for intelligence, ease and accuracy of self-diagnosis and repairs as well as enhanced safety.

These developments, Boyi noted further, had created the need for new set of skills and knowledge for today’s auto mechanics and technicians.

According to him, “This has created a huge gap in terms of adequacy of such skills locally, as reported by National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), in its national auto skills gap survey conducted in 2010.

“The followings were the identified skills gaps:

Lack of understanding of the electrical and electronics (mechatronics) systems in modern cars.

“Lack of standard method of fault finding (step by step). Instead, trial and error is the most used. Improper tools, equipment and materials handling. Little or no experience in workshop management and organisation, lack of environmental consciousness and non-adherence to safety standards while performing certain given tasks etc.”

He said, over the years, PAN, through its accredited and world class Auto Training Centre, has played a pivotal role in training and upgrading the skills of new and older auto mechanics as well as worked with regulators and accrediting agencies to re-design and upgrade training curriculum for modern and latest automotive skills training.

According to him, since its inception, the centre has trained l,200 auto mechanics and technicians, including 224 women.

He explained that it was to further respond to the skills gaps in the automotive sector that PAN floated the STYEI as a platform for its social investment programme.

Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, who inaugurated the programme regretted the collapse of the automobile industry in Nigeria.

He recalled that the development of the industry started in the 1960s and reached its peak in 80s, noting that the progress recorded could not be sustained due to lack of policy, skills’ deficiency, low passion to drive the sector, inadequate protection, lack of support for innovation, inadequate after sale service centres and inadequate energy for production.

“These scenarios had caused great damage to our individual mindset and contributed negatively to the economic growth of our dear country. I am indeed, so delighted by this initiative being part of the effort to revamp the sector which is intended to connect assembly plant, local component manufacturers, mechanics and end-users.

“Suffice it to say that, this initiative would go a long way in solving the limitation of trade facilitation, unemployment, incessant breakdown of vehicles, and promote patronage of local automotive products,” the minister said.

He stressed that the programme would no doubt enhance and improve productivity on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) across the country.

He said the federal government was poised to collaborate with the private sector and individuals in order to create better and productive Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

The minister said government would continue to collaborate with relevant stakeholders in the

implementation of the STYEI project.

Enelamah said the programme would promote business activities and after sales service in response to diverse automotive needs.

“Invariably, it will engender steady growth of the sector and focus on technical and vocational skills, and more importantly marching acquired skill to industrial needs in resolving the human capacity gaps in this sector.”

The minister called on the board of STYEI management to liaise with the National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC) and Industrial Training Fund (ITF) in the course of its implementation to facilitate capacity building.

“It is also important to inform you that the federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is ever willing to support start-ups/ new business development in SMEs,” the minister assured.

Also in his remarks, chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) STYEI, Mr. Otis Oliver Anyaeji,

said the programme was initiated by PAN in collaboration other institutions to drive employment, skill development, entrepreneurship and provide a sustainable operating model for auto mechanics across the country.

Anyaeji, a pioneer chairman of the National Automotive Council, said the initiative presents a steady development and balance within the service end of the auto industry.

“When I was nominated as one of the trustees to the Board of Trustees of this initiative, I was assured by the programme initiators that beside my long association and contributions to the development of the automotive industry in Nigeria, a strong element in the nomination was the need to establish a robust corporate governance structure for an independent and a not-for-profit charitable trust.

“Having served on the Standing Technical Committee on the Nigerian Automotive Industry between March 1990 and July 1993 which led to the creation of the Centre for Automotive Design and Development, Zaria and as founding Chairman of National Automotive Council, the supervising authority of the auto industry in Nigeria, I recognised the immense opportunities that such an initiative presents to the steady development and balance within the service end of the auto industry,” he said.

Anyaeji, called on PAN to focus the training in all the visible brands of vehicles to deepen the relevance of the initiative to the Nigerian economy.

He said the vision for the STYEI is to engage as many Nigerian youths in profitable new businesses while addressing the acute state of disarray in the service arena within the downstream of the auto industry and providing an enabling structure for a more effective application of standardised skills and practices.

Speaking further, Anyaeji said: “We are confronted today with a pervasive dearth of technical and administrative skills among auto mechanics to support the highly intelligent and sophisticated new generation vehicles.

“As we make advances towards alternative energy sources to power our engines and artificial intelligence to drive our automobiles, the problem of skills inadequacy will become even more critical. When we consider the huge financial resources deployed on vehicle acquisition in this economy and the man-hour losses attributable to long periods of demobilisation of vehicles which derive from wrong diagnosis and faulty repairs, we can begin to appreciate the extent of leakages caused by roadside mechanics.

“But we cannot realistically proscribe roadside mechanics given the narrow spread of standard workshops at the community level. What we can and should do is to create a platform for standardisation of practices and skills such as the STYEI is intending to achieve.”

He said the programme is aimed at reducing the adverse impact of road side mechanics and encourage them to key into the project or migrate to the project.

He disclosed that many graduates of PAN Learning Centre sponsored by Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State were road side mechanics and they performed quite well during the training.

Similarly, trainees from Kano State were also road side mechanics who were trained at the Learning Centre have similarly performed creditably.

He said the defining essence of the STYEI, is to empower Nigerian youths, who may be unemployed or underemployed, to engage in the provision of auto maintenance and allied services, under a structured work environment.

The programme covers technical skills acquisition, interest free and unsecured grants as well as coaching and mentoring. It is designed and built around entrepreneurship, which means that beneficiaries will not only be given requisite skills to provide basic service support, but more importantly, be provided with the unique opportunity of owning and independently running an auto service business.

This, according to Anyaeji, includes intervention which will help to overcome the arduous and often unsuccessful undertaking of sourcing financing by start-ups.

“The programme therefore does not stop at providing technical training to beneficiaries but also takes the further critical step of providing standardised service garages, working tools and equipment for business take-off.

“An attractive element of the programme aimed at enhancing knowledge, work ethics and standardisation of practices, is the linkage of all STYEI service workshops to accredited dealership workshops of participating brands.

“This allows for revenue stability, continuity of learning in service culture, maintenance practices and easy referrals of complex problems.

“Without doubt, this programme is bold and ambitious in scope and the reward potential can be substantial. Each STYEI garage has the potential of recruiting at least 10 workers at take-off, a work force that is expected to grow rapidly over a short time horizon,” he explained.

He stated further that a project of this scope requires substantial funding and collaboration with multiple programme partners, especially the NADDC, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), private foundations, training centres, automobile companies and dealerships, international development agencies, governments, its agencies and individuals directly involved in employment generation and poverty reduction.

The financing arrangement is structured to provide a revolving fund to sustain continuity. The total set-up cost shall be provided by the funding agencies for the development of infrastructure and procurement of tools and equipment. Of the total funding, 20 per cent is non-refundable while 80 per cent is payable over a period of five years at zero interest rate.

Anyaeji said the sustainability of STYEI depends on attracting co-sponsors from the groups mentioned above as target partners. “The built-in incentives for partners include the participatory role they could elect to play in the administrative control for specific projects partly funded by them. They could even elect to become members of the Board of Trustees,” he said.

He disclosed that an initial grant of 80,000 euros (about N36.7 million) in one year, eligible for subsequent annual grants based on performance.

“In view of the enormous benefits offered by the STYEI, I would like to seize the opportunity of this unique gathering to call on all interest groups to support and participate in the project for the realisation of its objectives,” Anyaeji said.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has shown keen interest by training over 200 youths at the training centre and has promised to set up the garage under the STYEI programme. Some state governments in the North-west zone had also shown interest in the programme.

The initiative is designed as a sector specific programme to empower Nigerian youths who are willing and committed to becoming entrepreneurs within the service value chain of the automotive industry.

It is targeted at unemployed Nigerian youths between the ages of 18 – 40 with at least Senior Secondary School Certificate.

The programme offers the following value opportunities: There are two categories of the training- training for technical skills in automotive technology and STYEI specialised training.

The training for unskilled youths lasts for 12 months, focusing on skills in auto mechanics, auto mechatronic, auto spray painting, auto welding and panel beating.

Other skills to be impacted on the beneficiaries include, auto electronics, basic auto electricity and electronics, service box application, multiplexing, body electrical equipment, car conditioning system, discover gearbox, general diagnosis, auto panel beating, workshop management and safety, vehicle inspection.

Other components of the training also include management studies, entrepreneurship, basic accounting and Information Communication Technology (ICT).

At the end of the training, beneficiaries are expected to develop the capabilities to handle maintenance of both old and new generation vehicles so as to reduce the present prevalent incidents of automobiles being damaged in the course of attending to seemingly minor defects.

The programme will also go a long way in employment generation, thereby reducing the increasing rate of crime rate and other social vices.

Some of the beneficiaries who spoke in an interview with THISDAY, said the training has given them hope and future in life.

One of the female beneficiaries, Sarafina Kagoma, said after several unsuccessful attempts to get admission to higher institution, she was lucky to be selected for the training.

She said she completed her secondary school in 2014 and when the opportunity came for her to enroll for the training, she grabbed it with two hands.

She said since she enrolled last year, it has been an exciting and worthwhile experience as she has learned so much about the working of a car.

“I love this work, I have passion for working on cars because I have a big dream of making a car one day. I hope to train others too in the future,

“I completed secondary school in 2014, but after trying several times to get admission without success, I got an opportunity to learn mechanic work in PAN,” she said.

According to her, “the experience has been wonderful” adding that women should not see mechanic work as an exclusive for men.

“The opportunity is opened to women as well. Women even have better chances of becoming successful mechanics than men because they are very diligent. We should not restrict ourselves to house wife and house chores,” she said.