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Auto repairers say HEART Trust grads falling short

Published:Wednesday | December 17, 2014 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon

The local stock of automotive workers will have to be improved if local businesses are to tap the anticipated influx of business through the proposed launch of damaged car repairs as an export industry, auto traders say.

The automotive industry is fed with mechanics by HEART Trust/NTA as well as local garages, but some private business owners have aired concerns about the poor work attitude and lack of technical competence among the HEART Trust trainees that filter to the private garages.

Head of the Motor Repairers Association of Jamaica, Pixley Irons, while noting the invaluable service of HEART Trust, has called for a greater focus on the 'worker-ready' skills of its trainees.

The damaged car sector, now under consideration, envisions a more sophisticated operation that includes standardised repairs and reassembly of vehicles, requiring special skills.

"There are certain things that we need to look at," said Irons.

"We are having a problem with who we are getting from the HEART Trust now. So that needs to be looked into ... because we need qualified and trained persons to put in this industry. The skill sets have to be looked at," Irons said at a forum hosted by the Trade Board recently.

Skill improvement

The complaints are not new to the training agency, but while conceding to a general demand by several local industries for a higher level of trained graduates, executive director of HEART Trust/NTA, Dr Wayne Wesley, said the institution has responded by refocusing several aspects of its training programmes and removed the fees for its level-three courses to entice more workers to improve their skills.

Wesley, in a telephone interview with Wednesday Business, also pointed out that the premier skills training institution periodically conducts labour market surveys to gauge employers' needs to guide the developments of its courses.

"Whenever there is an industry coming up, we look at what we have been giving to our trainees and then we look now at what would be required to get them up to speed," the executive director said.

HEART Trust offers automotive training through several locations such as its Old Harbour campus in St Catherine; at centres in Mandeville and Black River; and its major automotive schools, Cornwall Automotive Centre in St James and the Jamaican-German Automotive School (JAGAS) in Kingston.

Deputy manager of JAGAS, Kevin Baxter, said previously that the institution can supply the skills required by the damaged car repair sector.

The HEART Trust has also re-introduced its apprenticeship programme to provide added work experience for its trainees, as well as to gear up for the upcoming logistics hubs, Wesley said.

The Trade Board is weighing the lifting of the moratorium on damaged car imports, under the new damaged car policy that ties the business into the larger logistics hub programme.

Under the new plan, approved auto repairers could import the vehicles and restore and export them for markets in the Caribbean, as well as South and Central America.

While the automotive industry stakeholders call for an improved crop of workers, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, Brian Pengelley, said his organisation has not received any complaints about the quality of the graduates its member companies employ.