Auto repair workers in tech skill race
AUTO repair centre owners used to getting cars back on the road with the twist of a spanner are flummoxed by increasingly advanced vehicle technology, which is making their old skills obsolete.
U Bo Aye started working on cars when he was 12 and spent the next 25 years in the same trade, opening up his own business, Bo Aye Car Workshop, in the process.
Looser import restrictions in recent years brought a flood of new and used foreign vehicles onto Myanmar’s roads, which should have meant more business for people like U Bo Aye.
But modern cars can boast a host of microprocessors and many of the systems are computer-controlled. U Bo Aye’s skill-set could not keep pace, he said.
“The [modern] car’s structure and operating system is different and requires a computer system to check,” he said. “It’s too hard to continue [in the repair business].”
A few years ago U Bo Aye abandoned the repair trade and bought a taxi, which he still drives. The influx of imported cars with advanced computer systems has seen most old-style technicians make similar moves, he said.
As modern cars use computer systems modern technicians need to be able to use them too, but that means enrolling in training programs, and U Bo Aye said he could not make that kind of financial investment.
His old workshop had 12 staff and around K500,000 in revenue per month, which had to cover expenses and salaries, he said.
“Some [workshop] owners could afford the investment [in training courses] and so they are still in business.”
Ko Athaylay, owner of a workshop in Yankin township, said he sees more and more workshop owners shut up shop and move into other jobs.
“Most of my friends [in the business] are older and they have closed up,” he said. “There used to be more repair jobs but the charges were lower. Now there are fewer cars needing repairs, but the cost of repairs has gone up.”
The price of receiving training in new technology, meanwhile, has been pushed up by instructors who know there is huge demand, he added.
Ko Kyaw Myo Htut, another former workshop owner, said most repair centre owners try to switch to car-related businesses like taxi driving, where their skills and technical knowledge are still useful.
“I drive a school bus now,” he said. “Car owners don’t want to take their vehicles to old-style workshops, so business got slower and slower and I stopped.”
U Bo Aye, however, is hoping the shift into taxi driving is only temporary. He has not given up on mastering new skills and reopening his own business.
“Taxi driving isn’t as good as the workshop,” he said. “But it’s also not a hard situation because I own the car and don’t need to pay fees. I’m saving money to attend training [programs] and reopen a workshop.”
Other people in the repair trade are making sure their skills do not fall out of use. Ko Aung Tun Oo had his own workshop, but decided to move to become an employee at a more modern outfit where he can get to grips with new technology on the job.
“Now I’m learning and saving up money for my own workshop,” he said.
Ko Athaylay, meanwhile, is comfortable repairing modern cars in his Yankin workshop, having spent five years learning and working in Thailand.
“Technology has increased and so workshop owners need to learn [new skills],” he said, but added that it was possible to get by in the repair business without using a computer. “The main thing is be interested in learning new techniques.”
A mechanic works on the body of a car.