Women making tracks in the motor industry

In an industry traditionally seen as male-dominated, many women are making their mark in the motor industry – owning workshops, playing leading roles on the workshop floor, and running businesses. Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Association (RMI), says the fact that Audi South Africa has just had its first female qualify as a master technician shows that women are challenging the industry status quo. “There are more and more female workshop owners and mechanics,” he says.

One such person is Monique Petzer, owner and head mechanic of We Care Auto Repairs (Westmead, KZN), a MIWA member. She started her career in the motor industry by working in the office at her sister and brother-in-law’s mechanical company in Pietermaritzburg. She worked in the office for a few months before becoming interested in what her brother-in-law, Piet, was doing in the workshop. “Piet then showed me a few things on the cars and I just loved it and wanted to know more about how stuff worked in a car,” she says.

One day her sister arrived at work, gave her overalls and said they had decided to give her the opportunity to do an apprenticeship if she wanted to. She agreed. “I did my apprenticeship in three years instead of five on the condition that I passed with 97% or higher in Olifantsfontein. If I failed, I would then have to do my last two years before I could re-write again. Luckily, I passed,” she says.

Petzer has since been in the industry for 12 years and has been qualified for nine. “I love making cars faster and re-building engines from scratch. I love that feeling when you start the car for the first time and how easy and quiet the engine is,” she adds.

She adds that they run regular successful car maintenance workshops for women and young people who are about to get/or have their driver’s licence.

Tania Louw’s love for cars lead her to attend Princeton SSS in Mitchells Plain because it offered motor mechanics as a subject. “My husband, Allistair and I then studied at Athlone Technical College – now called False Bay College – where we completed our studies but I then went to work in the beauty industry.”

She is now the co-owner of Canterbury Car Services in Cape Town and takes care of all admin duties, staffing as well as vehicle diagnostics. “I am passionate about training motor mechanics. They must have integrity when repairing vehicles and always put the client’s safety first as well as keep cars in a standard roadworthy condition,” she says.

She adds that her goal for the business is to grow it into a one-stop shop where everything can be serviced. When she’s not at the workshop, she is running a catering company as well as a mobile spa.

Another woman with a passion for the industry is Riana Conradie. When asked what her current role is at Riaan’s Auto Repairs (Parow), she responded by saying she is the paper problem-solver of the business and Riaan is the cold-metal problem solver.

Having started the business together in 1998, Conradie and Riaan Conradie have been running it since then. “My father was a motor technician. When I did my aptitude tests in high school the results said I should also go into the motor technician trade. I didn’t then. I studied something totally different but ended up marrying a motor technician and supporting him while he completed his qualifications,” she says.

After that they opened the business, Conradie’s initial role was customer service – answering phones and handling the admin. “After 1996 the MerSETAs came into play and women were seen as historically disadvantaged. This opened the way for free courses for women so I enrolled and qualified in engine rebuilding, servicing of manual gearboxes, and diffs. I focussed on what makes the engine run but wasn’t too interested in brakes etc,” she explains.

Her passion is the upliftment of the youth in the motor industry. “Since 2000 we have been training young technicians. We usually take on one or two a year. They qualify with us and then we generally help them move on to find work. It is very rewarding. We really want to continue what we are doing at the workshop. In our own way we are making a difference,” she says.

Ranft salutes all the many women who are making a difference in the industry. “We are still evolving as an industry and these women are examples to young women wanting to enter the industry. They are showing the world that through hard work and dedication – success is possible,” he concludes.