Wearing a protective mask, Lucia Silungwe holds a welding machine with practised ease as she joins two metals together, ignoring visitors watching her with admiration.
Given her youthful age, one would mistake the 25-year-old for a student as she does her job with a male apprentice squatting beside her keenly learning the tricks of her profession.
She may be young but Lucia has climbed on the bandwagon of Malawian women determined to prove wrong male chauvinists by taking up jobs or careers that were previously seen as men’s.
She is showing her prowess as a welder with skills she got from Phwezi Technical School in Rumphi, a partner of the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta).
Teveta was established by an Act of Parliament in 1999 to coordinate and facilitate technical, entrepreneurial and vocation education and training in Malawi.
Since its establishment, Teveta has assisted countless people to attain vocational skills of their choice, skills that have helped them to lead productive lives and contribute to the country’s development.
Figures available between 2006 and 2016 show that Teveta has so far trained 11,097 students – of whom 31 percent are females – in its apprenticeship programme in public and private technical colleges.
And through its informal skills training programme conducted in communities, Teveta has trained 11,394 students from 2006 to date, of whom 37 percent are females.
Teveta has also trained 6,063 people over the same period through the public and private sector training programme, which is training given to employees of Teveta levy compliant companies.
“Teveta programmes aim at tackling youth idleness,” says Carol Magreta, Teveta Public Relations Officer. “When you have a technical skill, you can either be employed or employ yourself.”
Magreta encourages girls to pursue technical courses in their large numbers without fear, pointing out that they too are capable of performing as well as or even better than males.
“I appeal to girls to embrace technical courses to change their lives for the better,” she says. “A technical job is the key to a bright future.”
Among its nume r o u s functions, Teveta ensures quality training and adherence to standards in both public and private technical schools.
As a self-employed female who has benefited from Teveta’s programmes, Lucia has realised that technical jobs can be very rewarding in monetary terms compared with white-collar jobs.
She resolved to earn her living as a welder after listening to a career talk by a female welder at an annual youth gathering in Lilongwe that the National Youth Council of Malawi organised in 2008.
Lucia, who comes from Kawale Village in Traditional Authority Mwaulambia in Chitipa, says she has never regretted the choice of her career after the role model’s inspiring talk.
And thanks to that career talk and her own determination to succeed against all odds, the young lady today is a proud owner of a welding and fabrication shop located at Chitipa boma.
“Looking back,” the unassuming entrepreneur told reporters at her Lucia Emmanuel Welding Shop, “I could not have made a better career choice.”
The sight of a female engrossed in something that is considered as a man’s job leaves many people passing by the shop perplexed, much to the delight of Lucia.
“People don’t believe their eyes when they see me making these building materials,” she says, pointing at metal window frames on display outside the shop. “But they are now convinced I am the maker.”
Lucia says six girls including herself went to Phwezi Technical School to learn welding and fabrication under Unicef sponsorship. However, the rest of the girls later chickened out, leaving Lucia alone.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to do a technical job and was encouraged to bring my dream to fruition when I listened to the career talk at the youth gathering in Lilongwe. And so I stayed put,” she says.
After finishing her six-month course, Lucia did apprenticeship work at a Teveta trainer of trainers-cum-entrepreneur called Davy Silwimba who owns a welding shop at Chitipa boma.
“I am grateful to Davy for imparting to me these skills,” says the third born in a family of six who is single. “He taught me everything about welding and fabrication and I owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Teveta’s goal is to create a skilled, productive and efficient human resource that should positively contribute to economic growth in Malawi.
It aims to provide demand-driven, instead of supply-driven services, as was the case when such services were fully in the hands of the Malawi government.
More than 80 percent of the workforce in sub-Saharan Africa is self-employed through small businesses and household enterprises, making vocational training vital for job creation.
Vocational training i s absolutely important for Malawi when one considers that the country is one of the world’s poorest, with more than 60 percent of the population living on $1 a day or less.
To make matters worse, unemployment among youths is high and levels of formal education are low, with dropout rate at 58 percent after primary school, according to statistics.
Lucia says many youths are jobless because they look down on technical jobs, preferring office jobs instead. She says were it not for Teveta, she too would have been unemployed like many others.
“It is time Malawians changed their negative perception about technical jobs,” says Lucia, who employs two young men. “I am a self-employed welder and doing pretty fine.”
When Lucia says she is doing well as a welder, she has every reason to brag. At her tender age, she has done what many civil servants can only do after retirement: she has built herself a two-bedroom house.
“I built this house myself with money from my welding business,” she says, sitting beside her mother in the living room of her modest house which took about three years to build and cost nearly K2 million.
And from the same welding enterprise, Lucia was able to contribute almost half a million kwacha to the construction of her parents’ house around the boma, a gesture her mother greatly appreciates.
“When she told me she was going to a technical school, I told her to go ahead,” says Elizabeth Kapesa, 59, Lucia’s mother. “She made the right choice and has helped us tremendously.”
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues