After years of uncertainty, this changes everything

After years of uncertainty, this changes everything

In Morocco, unemployment is high among the 18-35 years old, and yet demand for skilled workers is strong. Meet Azzeddine, a specialized technician in heavy machinery maintenance and father of two, who decided to attend a USAID-funded programme to sharpen his skills and give a new push to his career – as well as provide for his daughters.

17 Jul 2018

The air is filled with heat, dust, and the roaring sounds of a hundred engines echoing through the valley. Here, the scenery is nothing but boulders, cliffs and plateaus upon plateaus of intricate tracks and excavation sites, where large diggers and dumpers meet and exchange, and through which a long line of trucks pass and await their load, like an endless gray and white caterpillar.

This is Harrcha, the main quarry that feeds the Nador West Med construction site, possibly Morocco’s largest project today: a 3000-acre port, sixteen years in the making, set to become the African continent’s largest maritime industrial zone when completed, and which until then needs to be fed constantly with rocks for the foundation of its embankments. In Harrcha, trucks come in and out all day and all of the night, and excavators relay to one another to dig the face of the mountain. However, this morning, one of them is not working.

Gloves, hat and safety glasses on, Azzeddine slowly walks around the warm, silent machine, listening, watching, summoning all his senses. Only a few moments later he comes back to the car, to fetch his computer diagnostic system: “This is going to take a while,” he says, ready to go back, with a look of delight.

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Not so long ago, Azzeddine was an unemployed family man, who had been moving from one unqualified job to another. Aged 30, the young man had acquired a diploma in vehicle maintenance some seven years before, a qualification that had not brought him much luck on the job market. Recently a father of two daughters, Manar and Selma, he was wondering which way for him and his family to go.

These days, Azzeddine’s story is not unusual among youth in Morocco. Almost half of Moroccans aged between 15 and 29 are neither in school nor part of the workforce, despite the fact that a large number of them have a technical certificate or a university degree. Contractions of the national economy, and a persistent mismatch between the skills taught in school and the ones sought on the job market mean that big sections of the future workforce remain, for the time being, on the side.

"‘It’s simple, see," he says, and one can only believe him. He quickly retrieves the excavator’s digital manual on his computer and points with his finger to various parts of a full-scale diagram. "Vibrations," he continues, "caused this cable to unplug itself, interrupting the connection between the dashboard and the engine." Engine maintenance is no longer just about grease and oil stains, or screwdrivers and wrenches: these days, one also needs a full, precise understanding of electronics, computer tools, and other new technologies. 

As far as he can remember, Azzeddine has always been passionate about heavy machinery. "When I was 10 or so," he remembers fondly, "I would come with my dad to the garage where he worked and then follow the technicians around." So when he heard about AGEVEC, a USAID-funded heavy machinery maintenance training academy at Settat, not far from his hometown of Khouribga, he immediately jumped at the opportunity, and soon found himself among the first twenty participants to the programme.

AGEVEC is a public-private development partnership, developed by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which brings together the Moroccan government and the private sector (Volvo Group). Since its launch in 2015, AGEVEC has worked to improve the employability of youth through training in heavy machinery and commercial vehicle maintenance, a booming sector of the Moroccan economy. In order to increase its participants’ chances of finding a job, the programme relies on a large variety of modern equipment, favours intensive practice over theory as a learning method for technical skills, gives major value to soft skills modules, and offers classes in technical French and English – all courses tailored and reviewed to meet the needs of this particular industry. To prepare them for the “big jump”, trainees are also given career advice and are assisted in their employment-seeking efforts.

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"All in all," Azzeddine recalls, "this training taught me what it meant to be responsible…What it is to know you can rely on your own skills, when you’re on the field, alone in front of a broken machine – and when, next to you, there are trucks waiting, and when, next to them, there are bosses waiting too," he adds with a chuckle.

The programme also closely collaborates with the private sector to multiply in-training internship opportunities for its recruits. It was in this context that Azzeddine was able to land an internship at a major heavy-duty machinery maintenance workshop, in Casablanca, where his diligence and technical knowledge were quick to impress his supervisors.

"He’s a true, superior maintenance technician," his current supervisor, Martinez Molina of SMT Group, is quick to note. "A rare find, one that not only does his job well but seeks time to help others out – in other words, a real model for everyone."

When his internship ended, they asked him to leave his CV – and when, some six months later, his training came to an end, with him earning some of the best grades of his class, he was immediately offered a job, as a maintenance technician.

Azzeddine remembers his time at the Academy fondly. "It’s always a good thing", he says, "when you get to learn a lot among a lot of great people." His company recommended him to one of their biggest clients in Nador, to represent them and be a lead technician at the Harrcha quarry, where he is now based. Having proven his worth to his employer, he has now a stable job in a stimulating work environment, with a competitive salary and promising career perspectives – which, after years of uncertainty, changes everything.

More importantly, the training programme gave him the push he needed, the confidence and know-how to make a career out of something he truly loved – and one that allowed him to provide for his family, back in Khouribga.

 "I get back down there to see them whenever I’m on leave," he confides, his face lighting up with a candid smile whenever his daughters are mentioned. "This summer they’ll all be coming to see me, and I can’t wait."

More than 150 students have been able to attend the AGEVEC programme since its inception – the project now aims at offering the same services to aspiring heavy-duty machinery operators, and crane operators.

"I didn’t know where I was going, and this programme helped me get back on track," Azzeddine says. "Now if you’ll excuse me," he adds gently while reaching for his toolbox, "here’s a machine that needs some fixing."