EXTRAORDINARY: Jessie Mayo has worked in the motor industry for 29 years. Image: Supplied
She may have a diploma in gourmet cooking but the kitchen isn’t where you’ll find 51-year-old Jessie Mayo of Johannesburg. This foodie has an appetite for fine-tuning of a different nature.
Most would think it unusual to find a woman in a motor workshop but this is exactly where Mayo has spent the past 29 years and couldn’t be happier. It’s a thriving family business which has been going since 1973.
Her late father, Max Merredew, was a well-respected figure in the industry so Mayo’s very proud to be continuing a legacy he created and is the general all-rounder of the business.
Grew up in the workshop
Mayo said: “It just happened really. My brother, Henry Merredew, and I joined my dad and mom full-time in 1987. Thank heavens because I was in a stifling banking job at the time and was desperate for something less restrictive. We practically grew up in the workshop so it seemed a natural progression.”
Situated in Ford Street, Jeppestown, Johannesburg, Alignment Centre is a member of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA) and Mayo’s second home. The business is a general repairs workshop that specialises in minor and major chassis repairs, suspension and steering.
Despite her years of experience, Mayo is the first to admit she’s no Lara Croft of cars. “No, I can’t fix my own car or change a tyre. But, I can tell you that my car’s lower control arm bushes are worn at the moment and I can pretty much hold my own when it comes to wheel alignment, cambers, casters, chassis’ and suspensions.”
In Mayo’s experience, women are definitely still shying away from the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to car maintenance, which isn’t a good thing. “It’s very important to take an interest in your vehicle. Knowing some basic troubleshooting could save your life one day!”
Consumers need to educate themselves
She adds that a lot of women still fall victim to unscrupulous mechanics because of their perceived limited knowledge of cars. Miwa director, Vishal Premlall, agrees saying it remains in the consumer’s interest to educate themselves thoroughly on reputable workshops and other motoring matters.
Premlall said: "Look for accredited workshops that are aligned with industry associations. Take the time to do your homework or contact associations like Miwa to advise you before committing to book your car in for repairs. You’ll find good workmanship and quality parts at accredited workshops, at reduced rates. An added bonus is that most operate under a code of conduct and have access to dispute resolution platforms should something go wrong.”
So is the motor industry still a man’s world? Mayo thinks it is and Premlall agrees. “Despite the opportunities, there just isn’t evidence of a massive transformation in terms of the fairer sex choosing to fix or work around cars for a living.”
According to Miwa, there is plenty of scope for women in the workshop world. Some avenues to think about are service advisor, workshop manager, specialist technician or parts specialist. “Women can just as readily make a workshop an entrepreneurial venture too,” adds Premlall.
Passion for the job is key
Premlall advises those interested in it as a career to start preparing for this at Grade 9 level by choosing the right subjects: “With the evolution of the modern-day car heading into a world of computers you should include subjects like design, technology, mathematics and computer science. Remember that the current job market is changing at a rapid rate. Jobs you see now may not be lucrative jobs of the future so if you see this as a career path, keep up with the trends in this sector.”
After nearly three decades in the game, Mayo can attest to the fact that you also need to have passion for your job.
She said: "My dad loved cars and shared this passion with his family. It’s important to do something you love … you spend a lot of time at work!”