After obtaining a diploma in automobile engineering from Cumilla Polytechnic Institute in 1998, Ismail Karim Chowdhury managed a job at the age of 20 at a service station of Navana, the sole distributor of Toyota's brand new cars in Bangladesh.
He spent five and a half years there before switching to Rangs Limited, sole importer and distributor of Mitsubishi vehicles. After a year, he moved to Millennium Service Centre, a wing of Millennium Automotive, which imports Hyundai and Nissan vehicles.
Chowdhury wanted to learn about as many branded vehicles and their technologies as possible to materialise his dream of setting up his own workshop.
The dream came true in 2009 when he set up a service centre named Multibrand Workshop at Tejgaon industrial area, albeit in a small scale.
He now owns three service centres in Dhaka. The centres employ 270 people, including graduate and diploma engineers and provide services to 30,000 vehicles a year.
Chowdhury could sense it well before many that the sector would flourish in the years to come. Steady economic growth, rising purchasing power and the increasing use of cars proved him right.
As of September this year, 3,663,189 vehicles, including truck and tractors, got registered, up 144 percent from 1,498,244 eight years ago, according to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority.
With the rising number of vehicles, servicing and repair centres have also thrived. Currently, there are about 20,000 small, medium and large workshops across the country, generating more than 5 lakh jobs for skilled and semi-skilled mechanics and several thousands crores of taka in revenue.
The sector has achieved double-digit growth in the last several years, according to industry people.
Global brands such as Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota, Suzuki, Mercedes Benz, and BMW have opened servicing centres in Bangladesh to cater for the growing number of customers.
Owner of a five-year-old 1500cc car had to spend an average Tk 70,000 a year for servicing, said Zahirul Hoque, secretary general of Bangladesh Automobile Workshop Malik Samity (BAWMS).
The cost is 20 percent to 30 percent higher for higher capacity cars, he said.
Chowdhury of Multibrand Workshop said the sector has a lack of skilled workforce as the country's existing education system does not offer opportunities to learn automobile engineering of the highest standards.
Only three institutes -- Dhaka Polytechnic, Swedish Polytechnic in Rangamati and German Technical School in Dhaka -- offer diploma degrees in automobile engineering, churning out about 150 engineers a year.
Chowdhury took advanced trainings on automobile servicing in the US, Singapore, Japan, Dubai and Malaysia. But most of the people do not get that opportunity, he said.
He said people working in the sector needed regular training as the industry was transforming fast in line with technological advancements.
The industry did not get the supply of skilled professionals as the curriculum of polytechnic institutes was not updated and the teachers employed there lacked knowledge on sophisticated technology, said M Belayet Hossain, a former president of BAWMS.
About 95 percent of the diploma engineers and mechanics have no knowledge about hybrid car technology, he said.
Many automobile professionals and other entrepreneurs are entering the sector by setting up service outlets, said Neuton Chakma, managing director of NB Auto Servicing.
“The lack of skilled manpower is a big problem for them.”
“In the past, only mechanics used to work at workshops. But at present automobile engineers are also employed at outlets,” he said.
Nissan has set up three workshops in Bangladesh—one each in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet—to provide services to about 11,000 cars per year with trained engineers and technicians.
Navana Limited provides services to about 22,000 cars every year, said Shafkat Ahmed, a senior manager of the company.
A big number of automobile repairing workshops still do not have the capacity to provide quality services to the latest vehicles, mostly hybrid cars, which are equipped with advanced technologies, said Farzana Khan, a spokesperson of Millennium Cars, distributor of Japanese Nissan.