What you need to know:
- According to AVA management, the plant has been on a two-year journey to try and increase the number of women employees in line with its five-year strategic plan.
- After running operations for over four decades, the management says the strategic plan, which came into effect in 2020, is transforming AVA into a high-performing business.
Immediately after college, 26-year-old Mary Mbuvi Mwende decided to work at a garage to make ends meet after failing to secure employment.
Ms Mwende worked as a mechanic for six months in Kitengela, repairing different vehicle models and servicing them, especially the light commercial ones. Out of a class of 16 engineering students, only two were female.
“While growing up, I had a different dream, that of being a medical doctor. Along the way things changed, I developed an interest in vehicles and this drove me into knowing more about them.
“In high school, my subject options also helped shape my career path. I always performed excellently in physics. I wasn’t scared about science subjects and this made me fall in love with machines,” Ms Mwende says.
At the garage, she was hands-on. Being the only woman, she would do oil checks, diagnostics, and repairs that ranged from fixing tyre punctures and replacing worn-out parts. She could disassemble motor vehicle engines to bits.
She successfully got a job at Associated Vehicle Assemblers Ltd, Mombasa (AVA), after applying for an assembly technician position. She currently works as an assembly technician at the engine station, Line 1, handling light and medium trucks.
“Interest is what keeps you moving. I went into the automotive industry with passion and it has been easy for me. It is a career path that I chose and I have fun at it,” she advises young aspiring people.
Having worked with AVA for 16 months, Ms Mwende says her experience hasn’t been bad; she has learnt a lot. “Engineering is a male-dominated field but it is very interesting. Don’t let someone choose for you, if it is a choice you have made, do it with passion and give it your all. Try our field, it is very interesting, it is very enjoyable,” she said even as she urged young people to take up science courses.
Assembly technician Yvette Kilimo is another woman working at the Trim Station, Line 3 on heavy trucks where she specialised in cabin pre-assembly. She feels like a lone ranger, working as the only woman among 40 men.
Overall, she is among four women at AVA on the assembly line out of a population of over 360 employees. “I feel proud working as a lone woman in a male-dominated industry. When I joined, we were three women and as time passed by, the number has been growing as more ladies have come on board.
“Ever since I was young, I have wanted to be an electrical engineer, but when I was in high school, I started developing an interest in cars. On campus, I did automotive engineering and today I have no regrets. It’s been worth the journey and experience,” Ms Kilimo says.
She says working in a male-dominated environment hasn’t been easy, but she is coping. “It was hectic lifting heavy vehicle parts, but, with time, I got used to it. And there are other challenges that men wouldn’t understand.”
She noted that the automotive sector is growing and providing numerous opportunities for girls.
Josephine Awuor Omolo, 29, works as an assembly technician within the Engine Station - Line 2, handles passenger vehicles such as pick-ups and vans. She says it is a great opportunity that AVA has given women to showcase their abilities.
Ms Omolo, who studied mechanical engineering just like Yvette and Mwende, was among the few women pursuing engineering courses. “I was inspired by my dad who was a production manager at Car & General; this grew my interest in my current career. The first time I visited my father at his workplace, I saw men working on tuk-tuks.”
She says she has learnt a lot interacting with men in her profession. “I have worked at AVA for one year and I love being here despite the low number of women. In everything you do, put God first and trust that you can. Wear confidence as a woman, and believe in yourself. There is nothing hard to be done. You just need passion.”
According to the management, the plant has been on a two-year journey to try and increase the number of women employees in line with its five-year strategic plan. After running operations for over four decades, the management came up with a strategic plan, which came into effect in 2020, to transform AVA into a modern, high-performing business.
“The management recognised the importance of gender equality in creating a balanced workplace and has actively championed the recruitment of qualified women into the organisation.
“Before 2020, AVA had five female employees, mostly in support and administrative roles,” Managing Director Matt Lloyd told Nation.Africa.
East Africa’s leading multi-brand vehicle assemblers, which are characterised by young and highly skilled employees, today boast a total number of 360 employees, with 29 of them being women. In honour of the female gender, the firm has women leaders in key dockets, with three out of seven managers currently being women.
The company also has also set up a lactating facility for mothers. In a programme with the mother company, Simba Corp has an agreement with Thika Technical Institute to offer attachment to their students. Working together with the Technical University of Mombasa, the students spend three months at AVA to learn practically what they are taught in school.
“The goal of this programme is to prepare the students for the job market, with AVA the employer of choice. This programme prioritises female students to boost gender balance in the industry,” Mr Lloyd explained.