Marwa Mbarek, 22, has held her new job as a quality control technician for five months, and she is excited to continue growing professionally alongside her team at Plastic Electromechanic Company (PEC). The manufacturing firm, based in Zaghouan, a district 35 miles south of Tunisia's capital, Tunis, specializes in automotive and medical parts.
A native to the area, Mbarek struggled to find work after receiving her bachelor’s degree three years ago, in 2010, but now has her sights firmly set on financial autonomy and career advancement—sharing her savings with her family and pursuing further professional training.
USAID's work with PEC was part of a targeted training program designed to help Tunisia address high unemployment rates, particularly among women and university-educated professionals. Through the program, launched in June 2012, USAID supports two sectors that stand to become catalysts for accelerated economic growth and job creation: the Tunisian information and communication technology (ICT) sector and industries enabled by ICT such as manufacturing. Mbarek was among numerous new hires recently recruited by PEC as it received USAID training in its efforts to bolster efficiency and expand staff ranks.
“Thanks to USAID, PEC added a new unit for a new line of medical products where I was hired,” Mbarek said. “Having steady long-term employment with such a big and respected firm is a great opportunity for someone from Zaghouan, a countryside area where unemployment is high and finding work can be very difficult.”
Started in 2003 by CEO Imed Charfeddine, PEC had emerged as a credible competitor to Asian-manufactured products on the European market, especially France. At first exclusively focused on automobile parts, the company has since branched out into cosmetics, packaging and, most recently, a branded line of medical products—an accomplishment undertaken with USAID support.
Manufacturing efficiency had emerged as PEC’s key challenge, however. For numerous indicators—minutes to produce a steering wheel, items produced by a worker per hour, or the number of idle seconds per worker per hour—the firm’s performance lagged far below established international standards. This pushed up unit prices and hobbled its ability to grow.
“To remain competitive, we needed to institute a system for constant improvement,” said Charfeddine. “And this is where USAID is helping us.”
USAID assistance enabled PEC to boost efficiency on its main manufacturing floor and newer facilities by identifying specific measurable improvement goals and setting targets for dozens of manufacturing chain elements—a strategy modeled after international best practice. Much of the assistance was informed by a management approach known as lean manufacturing: a production practice that helps companies increase capacity and preserve value for the customer while cutting bottlenecks.
The impact can already be felt: enhanced product quality, addition of new products, lower prices, and 300 new staff members hired to date, 80 percent of them women from Zaghouan countryside areas, bringing PEC’s overall staff to about 800.
“We are in the process of recruiting additional new workers from our area,” said Charfeddine in May 2013. “Because of our lower costs and improved competitiveness on the global markets, we’ve already won additional orders.”
Last updated: September 26, 2013