Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) is confronting a shortage of technicians in Sub-Saharan Africa with a Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) project to help support and modernize technical schools in Africa. Volvo CE will take a hands-on approach with a project at Selam Technical and Vocational College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, providing new equipment, training materials, teacher training, ongoing curriculum development and apprenticeship opportunities for students.
A lack of well-trained machine technicians is a serious problem in much of Africa and has meant that equipment dealers operating in countries like Ethiopia are often forced to hire expatriate technicians, rather than invest in local workers who would remain in the country permanently – and keep more money in the local economy. The few technicians who are local often have had inadequate training, as many technical schools in these countries use outmoded equipment – sometimes dating back to the 1970s or 1980s.
Developing a technical program will benefit OEMs like Volvo by providing a larger pool of skilled workers. Though students and apprentices won’t be under any obligation to work for Volvo, the project will provide Volvo a very powerful way of building relationships with potential employees.
“This project will increase the number of trained mechanics in our African markets, which benefits Volvo as well as other local OEMs,” says Jonas Rönnebratt, aftermarket director in EMEA South (Africa). “But we’re also doing this because we think we can make a real difference in Ethiopia by empowering and educating local people. That’s why this project is so exciting.”
“A major obstacle to economic development in this region is the availability of skilled labor, especially in technical professions,” says Lena Ingelstam, head of the Department for Global Cooperation at Sida. “We believe that this project can serve as a model for other vocational schools in the country and facilitate the emergence of new enterprises.”
A bright future
The project, which will train about 30 students a year, is a first for Volvo CE in Africa, but a similar Volvo program that trains homeless teenagers in Brazil has had a great deal of success. If the new program works well, the company hopes to expand into other African countries in the future.
“We’ve had a great experience with our Brazilian program, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of this endeavor in Africa,” says Lars Haglund, who, in his previous role as president of Volvo CE’s former International region, was involved in both Africa and Brazil. “Even though our company can benefit from these kinds of projects, this is really about helping people in the communities where we work. I’ve visited the schools in Brazil, and it warms my heart to see how our dealers are giving kids a chance to succeed.”
Volvo CE organizers, who have been working on initiating the program since 2009, are targeting a course start date of January 2013. While Volvo deals with teacher training and equipment, the school will handle administration, recruitment of teachers and selection of students while the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will oversee the project.