Auto re­pair work­ers in tech skill race

The Myanmar Times - - Business - MYAT NOE OO my­at­noeoo@mm­times.com

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.”

Photo: Kaung Htet

A me­chanic works on the body of a car.

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