Women roll up their sleeves and get on the shop-floor

Rashmi Pratap Mumbai | Updated on January 16, 2018

Breaking new ground

Auto majors beginning to hire more women to ‘man’ the assembly line

Women are now entering in droves what was once considered a male bastion – the shop floor of an automobile plant.

From looking under the hood of the car to repairing them, women mechanics are doing with elan what their male counteparts have been doing for ages. Take the case of Poonam Singh, for instance. She hails from Timakiya village in Uttar Pradesh but is now a mechanic at a Maruti Suzuki dealership in Meerut.

All of 24, she is the first woman in India to complete her automobile mechanic course and followed it with an apprenticeship from the government-run Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Meerut.

“It was a well-thought-out decision. With more and more people owning four-wheelers, I knew this profession had a good future,” she says on phone. She has been working as a mechanic since March 2014.

Poonam, however, is not alone. Across the country, women are enrolling in courses to become motor mechanics. While Maruti Suzuki has tie-ups with 100 ITIs, Hyundai India has partnered with 25. Maruti has set up Automobile Skill Enhancement Centres in about half of the 100 ITIs.

In 2014, over 60 women enrolled for motor mechanic courses, in 2015, the figure was 70 and this year, over 200 women have opted for it.

Priya Dahiya from Jabalpur’s Ranjhi village has just completed her motor mechanic course from ITI in Vijay Nagar and is ready to take up job at an auto service centre later this month. “I knew what I was getting into. It was my decision and my family backed me,” she says.

Dahiya would travel by bus for two hours every day to reach the ITI. “It wasn’t easy, but this is a steady career, as motor repair and maintenance is always in demand,” she adds.

The increase in women is also visible on shop floors of auto giants. Even five years back it was rare to see women putting together engines of cars. Auto companies too were reluctant to have them in the factory. No more.

Ford India has 97 women on the shop floor in its Chennai plant and 10 in the Sanand factory at Gujarat. For Maruti India, the number is close to 100. And Hyundai India hired its first woman on the shop floor, Sruti S, just two years ago.

Greater gender diversity

Stephen Sudhakar John, Senior Vice-President – HR & GS, Hyundai India, says the company is making an effort to bring in gender diversity in every area possible. “We see more women now who are keen on being part of the shop floor. Earlier, there was a kind of hesitation. It will help us build diversity over a period of time,” he says.

As an assistant manager at Hyundai India’s assembly shop in Chennai, Sruti is in-charge of work to be done in the car’s underbody. “I decide what has to be done in every station and in which sequence,” says Sruti. A production engineer by training, Sruti opted for Hyundai over offers from multiple IT companies.

Anuraagavi SS is a Senior Executive Engineer in Hyundai’s paint shop. Her work involves increasing the automation level, in-line quality checks and projects involving energy and cost saving. She also works on new machine instalment.

“I didn’t want to get into IT and wanted a core job involving chemical engineering. Hyundai was one of the companies that offered this and I was glad to take it up,” she adds.

Anuraagavi points out that it wasn’t easy to break into a male dominated profession. “Initially, people here were not comfortable to have a woman around and I also took some time to adjust. But I am well settled now,” she says.

Poonam too “felt different among the boys at the service centre.” She remained absent from work for about two weeks, contemplating quitting, but the service centre’s manager called her to get back and helped her get over the awkwardness. Today, she is happy with her work as well as the work environment.

This, however, is just the beginning. Hyundai’s Sudhakar is upbeat about the future of women in the world of auto. “The trend will definitely increase. We have taken baby steps and there is a lot more to come,” he says.

Published on September 19, 2016

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