After studying mechanics at the Mosul Technical Institute in northern Iraq, 29-year-old Ammar Akram worked as an apprentice in the Mosul industrial district, repairing cylinders and tractor grinders. However, as the security situation deteriorated after the US-led invasion in 2003 and Mosul became a ghost city, Ammar Akram lost his job as his employer closed his workshop.
"Before the invasion there were a lot of very skillful mechanics in Mosul, but after 2003 many of them migrated abroad and to the Iraqi Kurdistan, including my employer who migrated to the United States," Ammar Akram said.
Currently he is studying at Swedish Academy for Training where he will learn how to repair heavy trucks and machinery and he hopes to find a job after he graduates.
The Swedish Academy for Training, based in Erbil, the regional capital of Kurdistan, officially opened in April 2012 by training almost one hundred young Iraqis. The project is a collaboration between Scania, Sida, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), international education company EF, and the Kurdistan Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and offers training in basic mechanics, computing and English for students from all parts of Iraq. Courses in advanced mechanics, driver training, and sales and marketing will be added further on. The academy targets unemployed Iraqis under the age of 30 and almost all of the teachers are from the region.
"It’s an important project because there is significant lack of technical mechanic maintenance in Iraq," Erik Ladefoged, director of the academy and chief technical advisor at the UNIDO, says.
“This initiative combines Sida's mission to create economic opportunities for young Iraqis with the need of the industry to recruit skilled workers in the region. This way we are able to make much larger and more innovative investments, which benefits everyone”, Sida’s coordinator for Business for Development Henrik Riby says.
Finding skilled mechanics has proved to be a huge challenge for Scania in Iraq.
“The school will serve as an important base for recruitment of the employees needed for the continued expansion of our service and sales units in the country”, Gustaf Sundell, Scania’s Country Manager for Iraq, said.
After graduation, the academy will help connect the students with Scania, that has a maintenance center in Erbil, and other companies in the region. The academy will train far more mechanics than Scania needs and the students will not be tied to the company.
28-year-old mechanic Shina Ababaker is one of the students at the academy. Although five of his brothers have trucks, none of them own a Scania since there are very few mechanics specialized in Scania in Erbil.
"It’s very difficult if you have trucks from MAN, Volvo or Scania since there are only a handful mechanics that can repair them here," said Shina Ababaker.
Shina Ababaker is a busy man, always on the phone with truck drivers since he is one of very few mechanics who knows how to use automotive diagnostic software. But since he felt his skills needed brushing up he applied to the Swedish Transport Academy.
The course with the largest number of students at the academy is not mechanics, however, but English. In Iraq, and particularly in the Kurdistan region, there are a lot of foreign companies and NGOs and speaking English is of crucial importance for anyone applying to work with them.
In spite of his college degree in economy and administration 23-year-old Dilzar Muhammad works in construction, mainly because he doesn’t speak English.
"I applied for jobs in many companies but they all rejected me because I can't speak English," Muhammad said, adding that anyone speaking English can easily find a job in Erbil.
Ammar Akram heard about Swedish Academy for Training through his brother who works in Erbil. He said the academy is his only hope to find a job.
"After graduation I would like to work at the Scania maintenance center. If that’s not possible I’ll work as a truck mechanic in Mosul.”
According to Kurdistan’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Asos Najib, the unemployment rate in Kurdistan is 14 percent.
“This academy is a step to reduce unemployment among youths in the Kurdistan region and in Iraq."