It is stereotypical to picture a man repairing his own vehicle while a woman calls for help when her vehicle breaks down. Breaking this stereotype are women across the country heading sales and service teams in the automobile industry. They hold positions as branch managers, territorial managers and division heads, work at par with men and earn equally well.
Their productivity is not in question, nor their supposed physical weaknesses. Although there are very few female students opting for courses in the discipline of automobiles, the industry along with the government is reaching out to pull more women into the field.
Recently, the Yamaha Motor India Sales Pvt Ltd signed an MoU with an engineering college in Kochi to begin a Yamaha Training School on campus. In order to attract more female students into the field, the company promised hundred per cent placements for those who complete the course successfully, while for women, they promised placement at their native place with a convenient day shift. Though the course is yet to begin in Kochi, it has kicked off in other parts of the country where it has seen a good response from female students.
“Only 20 per cent of the students in the regular diploma course are female. Most of them go on for higher education like Civil or Mechanical Engineering after their Diploma. Companies tie up with educational institutions and offer training (along with placements in some cases) in order to attract more students, as it is a growing field. Female students who have graduated in this field are working with different automobile companies now. None of them have come back with negative feedback,” says Ganesh Dalvi, from the Department of Automobile Engineering (DAE), Government Polytechnic College, Aurangabad, and co-ordinator of the Govt Polytechnic Yamaha Training School (GPYTS), Automobile Electrical & Electronics Program (AEEP), Mercedes Benz Centre for Advanced Diploma in Automotive Mechatronics (ADAM).
“I chose this course because I like it. I find the training very interesting. They teach us about two-wheeler mechanics. We also attend practical sessions where we are asked to repair the vehicles and get on the ground for work, irrespective of our gender,” says Jyoti Borde, student, Government Polytechnic College, Aurangabad.
“There is nothing in the automobile field that should keep women away from working in it and being a part of it. I would gladly recommend this course to any female student,” she added.
While the BTech-level courses offer training in Managerial skills and the ITI (Industrial Training Institutes/VHSE (Vocational Higher Secondary School) courses in automobile provide training in mechanical skills, diploma courses offer training in supervising skills. Those opting for a diploma in a course related to automobiles would act as mediators between the two. They can head teams as branch managers, sales heads and service heads, or be involved in field work that requires physical effort.
“I am paid on par with my male counterparts. There are no special incentives for women employees as such. The company provides transport and food. Maternity leave given by the company is six months,” says Garima Bhaisware, Manager, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles, Nagpur.
It is not just a single company that is offering such courses, but many leading companies are now doing so and are encouraging women to choose a job in this field. “We conduct training sessions and workshops in colleges. We have showrooms called “Just4her” where scooters for women are sold. The staff members here are all women. We would be glad to employ female mechanics too to make the showrooms exclusively for women but we don’t see women in that field,” Manoj Raut, representative, Hero Motorcorp, says.
Allaying apprehensions about the automobile sector not being women-friendly, 48-year-old Goldy Thomas, Branch Manager at a used car showroom in Kochi, Kerala, says, “The sector is definitely amiable for women. There are women in other sectors too that women generally don’t touch upon. The fewer number of women in this field could be a result of them not wanting to take up challenges”.
“I have been in this sector for more than a decade now. As safety is a factor that needs to be considered, women are given a 9-6 shift while their male counterparts’ shift could extend for longer hours,” she added.
Sometimes, courses in the automobile sector are only sought for as a last resort, points out Philip J Nadackal, lecturer, Government Polytechnic College, Vennikulam, Kerala. “There are so many job opportunities in the automobile sector that students are not aware of. However, they mostly choose this field only as an alternate option and might drop out in between when they get admission in another course,” he says.
Job opportunities are not just limited to private companies but extend to government jobs too. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation had a post of Depot Engineer for those with a diploma in an automobile course. The qualification bar for this post has now been raised.
There are also women who are motor vehicle inspectors. These women have pursued a diploma in this discipline and have been gradually promoted in service. No government job offers mention that they prefer male candidates for the post in this field. In one of its initiatives to encourage female students, the Kerala Government has reserved one seat for them under the fee-waiver scheme in all Government Polytechnic Colleges in the State.
However, some companies who are looking for candidates to fill posts like territorial manager might prefer men because it involves frequent and long-distance travelling. As for dealing with issues of sexual harassment at the workplace, some companies have an internal committee to look into the issue.
While most courses are aimed at college-going students looking for a career, there are also courses conducted by certain institutes that women attend for specific purposes, such as becoming driving instructors. “My friend and I are the only female students who have taken up this course. We opted for it only because we run a driving school and the course could help us in our job,” says Radhika Mijulal who holds an MCom degree and is currently pursuing a two-year ITI Mechanical Motor Vehicle course. She says the course cost around `40,000 but was worth pursuing.
Some companies also tie up with institutions to give training to women from families below the poverty line in order to provide them a job in the field. Some of these women are the sole bread-winners of the family.
“We had conducted a course at the Government Polytechnic College in Nagpur for women. The course was a three-month long practical course. We taught them the basics of servicing and they have been placed with different dealers as assistant technicians. Their productivity in the field is nothing less than their male counterparts,” says Rajesh Revatkar, representative of a prominent automobile company. Rajesh says that the response to the course was extremely positive.
Be it a customer care representative or a car mechanic, women are wanted in the automobile industry as much as men. Experts say that the possibilities of career growth that the industry has in store for women are not yet explored to the fullest.