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License to skill

January 05, 2014

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There is a glint in 25-year-old Rana Hashim’s eye. It seems like just yesterday when he lost his employment as a ‘rider’ at a small company that downsized. It seems like just yesterday when he was picking odd jobs as a plumber and electrician to scrape through for his parents, wife and child. It seems like just yesterday when his wife was selling her jewellery collection to fund his admission and transport expenses. It seems like just yesterday when life was becoming a chore.

But not today.

Today, Rana Hashim is not simply a proud alumnus of Aman Tech, a large-scale vocational training institute established by the Aman Foundation in Karachi’s Korangi Industrial Area. He has also just received an offer of employment from a company in Bahrain as an air-conditioning and refrigeration technician. Life is about to take-off, and he couldn’t be grateful enough for his Aman Tech experience.

Sprawling over six acres, Aman Tech has six fully equipped computer labs, a library, 18 workshops and a students’ breakout area. Groups of students gather around work tables on spotless floors and amidst hydraulic floor jacks, elaborate arrays of tools and instruments mounted on slick slat walls, simulator car engines, air compressors and all the nifty gizmos that make it a dream lab where a young man can play real life Lego.

In sharp contrast to greasy auto workshops, makeshift garages and dingy, badly-lit shops where an apprentice learns from a master, the Aman Tech premises are bright, air-conditioned and state-of-the-art — yet simple. The institute imparts vocational training in disciplines as varied and specialised as automobiles, general electric, mechanical, refrigeration and air-conditioning, welding, fabrication, pipe work, plumbing and electronics.

After a year, students are ready to take on challenges at the highest levels and all this at a nominal fee. The only admission pre-requisite is matriculation or even below. Aman Tech has already improved the lives of over 1,000 young men by providing them job options; some 3,000 are presently under training.

Rana’s big break came soon after graduating — with flying colours, as he proudly tells me. A team of foreign recruiters had come to interview refrigeration and air-conditioning graduates, and Rana was one of the 25 graduates short-listed for an interview. Since he had been working on his English language skills, he aced the round. “I’m doing all of this for my little one.” Shortly after that, he received his offer letter.

Like Rana Hashim, Waqar also discovered Aman Tech through friends’ recommendation. He enrolled in automobile training — pursuing a passion that he held since childhood. When they were younger, Waqar’s over-protective father would not allow his siblings and him to go out much. Waqar would fuel his passion for cars by creating toy models from matchboxes. He started working with real cars at a workshop that paid him nothing and went from job to job, including fast food restaurants. “Even in the 21st century, people frown upon blue-collar work,” he says.

Presently Waqar works in the day at Honda Motors, does an evening shift at a fast food chain and sleeps only three hours a night. This way he gets to do what he likes, as well as take a decent pay packet home. “What I learnt at Aman Tech cannot be compared to the hands-on experience you get by fixing cars in a workshop, but it gives you focus and an internationally recognised diploma’, says Waqar.

Rana Hashim and Waqar are just two of the hundreds that advocate Aman Tech’s cause: “to create a growing force of skilled workers, with a positive mind-set and a strong work ethic.”

Farukh Jamal, the general manager of Business Development and Placement at Aman Tech, believes that not only does his institute enhance the earning capacity of its graduates, it also helps generate foreign remittances by placing their graduates on lucrative jobs abroad. “The idea,” says Jamal, “is to polish the rough edges, so they can interact and deal better with people.”

There is a great need for skilled technical labour, both at home and abroad. But as Jamal explains, despite the presence of 3,125 vocational training institutes in the country, neither workplace standards nor job market requirements are currently being met.

“Students graduating from these vocational training institutes find themselves under-qualified to cope with rapid changes in the business industry. Partly, the reason is the out-dated teaching material and equipment being used and softer competencies and interpersonal skills being unaddressed,” says Jamal.

At Aman Tech, the boys are taught basic hygiene, grooming and table manners, apart from the English language, computer skills, CAD/CAM and electronics. This method has yielded results: till date, 78 students have been placed abroad, and 91 have acquired jobs locally in reputable companies. Affiliated with City & Guilds, UK, Aman Tech provides relevant certification on completion of the course.

It is perhaps because of such pedigree that men such as Rana Hashim believe in the promise of a better tomorrow. Every day after a draining day of study and work at Aman Tech, Rana would come home smiling. He knew that one day, in the not-so-distant future, he would not only be able to provide well for his family but also send his daughter to school. That day has arrived.