Photo above: Hermann (right) mentoring one of his workers.
The high cost of living these days has literally “forced” many of us to resort to the DIY (do-it-yourself) culture, where we build, modify or repair something without professional aid.
We make our own pizzas, refurbish our own furniture pieces, sew our own clothes and fix minor plumbing or electrical problems.
Come to think of it, we were all exposed early to some of these basic skills during our schooling years, i.e. through Kemahiran Hidup (literally, “living skills”) subject.
I didn’t quite appreciate this subject until much later in life, when I realised that people in the skill-trade industry earn more than white-collar workers. At least that seems to be the case in countries like Australia and Germany.
What about here in Malaysia?
I had a “torque” with Hermann Nicholsson Xavier, 33, a car mechanic who owns a workshop in Klang to find out more.
Steering a destiny
It has been quite a ride for Hermann, a graduate in mechanical engineering majoring in automotive, since he started repairing cars 15 years ago.
To raise the standards in our automotive industry as a mechanic, he opines, “You need at least some degree of qualification to do this professionally.
“I’ll personally recommend having at least Level 4 supervisor training certification with institutions such as the National Vocational Training Council, or what is known as Majlis Latihan Vokasional Kebangsaan or MLVK.
“In such programmes, students are thoroughly equipped with the necessary knowledge and training to be prepared for the real industry.
“As a business owner, you just need diligence, honesty and determination.”
When it comes to skill-based careers, Malaysians in general still hold the perception that it is only for poor academic achievers. I wondered how the response was from Hermann’s parents when he “got his hands dirty”.
“I experienced the best of two worlds from my parents, in terms of career perspective. On one hand, my late dad was always very supportive of what I do, even supporting me financially at one point to help me set up my workshop.
“On the other hand, my mum wanted me to have a ‘proper’ and ‘respectable’ career – the likes of engineer, doctor and lawyer.
“To fulfill her wishes, I kickstarted my career as an engineer to see where it would lead me next.
“I must say that I gained a great amount of exposure and experience in my four years working as an engineer to help me get to where I am today.”
Fuelling the passion
While working as a full-time engineer, Hermann did not forget his first love for cars. While holding a stable job, he was also a part-time mechanic, repairing cars in the backyard of his house!
Juggling both professions, he realised the hard truth that he was earning more as a mechanic than as an engineer.
“Comparatively, I once even took home RM6,000 just by painting a single-storey house, which was completed within a week. It was way higher than my monthly salary as an engineer.”
The reality accelerated his motivation to venture into business in what he does best, i.e the business of restoring cars.
Navigating rough roads
Hermann recalled one unforgettable moment when he was asked to move out from his former workshop because the owner wanted the place back.
“I was desperately looking for a new location that was affordable. I didn’t have enough money then to pay the advanced 3+1 (three months rental and one month deposit) rental because a large portion of what I had previously was invested in the necessary machinery and tools for my business.
“On my last few days left to vacate my workshop, with no place still to relocate my tools, I drove around one day and saw a woman closing the doors of a vacant shop lot.
“Armed with prayers and hope, I went down and asked her if the place was available for rent.
“After an exchange of words about my background and what I wanted to do with the space, amazingly, the landlady, Anna Taing, agreed to let me use it first, and pay the rent later! I signed the agreement immediately.”
The extra mileage
Asked how his workshop stands out among the rest, Hermann says, “A lot of workshops don’t do engine built-up and reengineering.”
“In fact, most mechanics dislike that part of work because it requires you to pay close attention to details and be meticulous, especially when you disassemble an engine and reassemble it again. It can get pretty messy.”
Like the heart of the car, a mechanic needs to possess a pair of surgeon’s hands to do the “heart” operation in an engine to nurse it back to life from the years of wear and tear.
Inadvertently, it is also a continuous journey of learning and keeping oneself updated with the latest car technology.
“As for myself, I read up a lot on car and engine manuals. Thanks to the Internet and YouTube, this information is readily downloadable and visually available for us, provided by car enthusiasts who often share their knowledge on these platforms.”
Sparks of success and empowerment
Today, Hermann has three workers and one part-timer under him. He stressed that staffing is still a real challenge for him and many others in the industry. The trend is that every so often, workers leave to seek better opportunities.
“It is good in a way, because I always advise them to become their own bosses in the future. And not work for someone else too long,” clarifies Hermann, who usually takes in workers from Workers Institute of Technology and Montfort Boys Town.
“While they’re with me, I impart in them everything I know so that they can continue to excel in what they do in the near future.”
Along the way, he has also met many generous people who have helped him in many ways, with regard to his business. More importantly, the contented look on his customers and his returning customers keeps him going in this labourious but fulfilling endeavour.
Hermann was very busy at work, it was quite impossible to take a profile photo of him.
I conclude the interview by asking Hermann his advice for those who want to venture into the skill-trade industry. He aptly says, “You really need to love what you do. By loving what you do, you will take the effort to learn all about the trade.”
“And by knowing your stuff inside out, you prove yourself a professional and trustworthy mechanic to your customers. Today, my mum is my biggest supporter in what I do!”
With that, customers like you and me can send our cars for repairs with peace of mind, trusting that these mechanics know what they are doing.
Lay Hsuan was contemplating playing around “Mike and the Mechanics” (band name) to give a title to her article that might sound like “Mike, the mechanic”, “Mike, you’re the mechanic” or “Mike, are you the mechanic?”, since Malaysians here sometimes call their Indian brethren “Mike”. But, she thought it might end up silly.
Love your job and eager to share your story? We’d love to hear from you! Share your personal career journey and useful advice on how you get to where you are today. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment in the box provided. For more A Day In The Life articles, click here.
First appeared on Leaderonomics.com. Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 27 June 2015