As the nation looks to implement ambitious infra projects it will have to bridge the huge construction skills deficit gap.
SHRIKANT RAO examines the critical challenge.
IN July 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while launching the Skill India initiative spoke of the possibilities of the country’s huge population bridging the global labour shortage gap within a decade – the view held by experts at that point was that India would have a surplus labour force of 4-5 crore – subject to the proviso that they were imparted the right kind of training. And he was not necessarily indulging in hyperbole while dilating further that if China was the world’s ‘Factory’, India should be its ‘Skill Capital’.
With the wealth of 1.2 billion people such a possibility is not inconceivable.
India has finally moved into action mode after a period of inertia and is now set to fast forward its efforts in various areas of development. Both qualitative and quantifiable change is expected to be seen, thanks to government initiated ‘must do’ projects. At present, over 70-odd Skill Development Programmes (SDPs) are being implemented by the Government of India, each with its own norms for eligibility criteria, duration of training, cost of training, outcomes, monitoring and tracking mechanism.
As part of its larger plan the National Skill Development Mission aims to train approximately 400 million people across the country by 2022. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship however reported in February this year that the government’s flagship skilling scheme the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana-2 scheme which aims to spend Rs 12,000 crore on skill training 10 million youth between 2016 and 2020, continued to grapple with the issue of achieving end-results, despite fresh attempts to redirect its focus to district-level schemes for overcoming the challenge of sub-optimal results. Various changes have been introduced in the execution of the government's skilling programme to generate more jobs, but without much result. Out of the 29.69 lakh people who were trained as on February 1, 2018, only 5.39 lakh have been placed thus translating into an average of just over one out of six people trained under the scheme having found a job. Faced with the debacle a Skill Development Monitoring Sys
tem has now been established to monitor the implementation of the project.
Now, at the time of writing this story, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) is reportedly working on establishing India International Skill Centres (IISC) to help train migrant workers in skills with which they could get jobs in Japan and the Middle East. Among the transnational job roles being mentioned are that of general mason, welder, commercial vehicle operator and security guard. As part of a Memorandum of Cooperation between India and Japan on Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) the NSDC plans to send about 3 lakh candidates to Japan over a five-year period, where they will be trained in the newest technologies.
Veritably, the challenge appears even more formidable when you think that the deadline to achieve targets is nigh. India lacks enough skilling institutions and those currently available offer poor quality of programmes. The matter is further aggravated due to multiple and time consuming certification processes, non-existence of localized certification modules and dearth of infrastructure support from the private and public sector.
In January the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Global Manufacturing Index put India on the 30th position, listing human capital and sustainable resources as the two key challenges for the country. The view from Davos was that India needed qualified trainers to raise the capabilities of its relatively young and fast-growing labour force by upgrading education curricula, revamping vocational training programmes and improving digital skills.
The urgency to get the nation skill ready ought to be apparent when we consider the fact that more than 700 million Indians are estimated to enter the working age group by 2022, of which more than 500 million will require some form of vocational or skill training.
Large scale skill development is thus an imminent imperative. The sectors that will create large employment and deepen technology capabilities in manufacturing include machine tools, capital equipment required for India’s infrastructure growth like electrical machinery, heavy transport, earth moving, mining and material handling equipment, automotive sectors, IT hardware and electronics, areas providing strategic security like telecommunications equipment, aerospace, shipping, defence, pharmaceutical and medical equipment; energy security involving solar, clean coal technologies, nuclear power generation textiles and garments, leather and footwear, gems and jewellery, food processing industries, and MSMEs.
In 2018, three years after the launch of the ambitious programme, while some momentum has been established in the national campaign with the support of various construction sector stakeholders across the nation, raising human capital continues to be a challenge. For the construction sector faced with the prospect of adding sophistication to the country’s built environment through projects like roads, bridges, tunnels, residential and commercial high rises, Smart Cities, Industrial and Freight Corridors, and IT parks, skill deficit continues to be a big area of concern thanks to the acute shortage of workforce with the required skill-sets. All computer controlled machines require engineering knowhow. While India produces engineers in ample numbers it does not necessarily lead to workers who are shop floor ready. The nation will need to produce “120 million skilled people” which will take the percentage of skilled workforce from the current about 2 per cent to around 10 percent – certainly a gigantic task. Companies like Hindustan Construction Company Ltd (HCC), among the bigger construction players in the country, have taken to training their labour force in the use of heavy and complex machinery required for India’s project push. Significantly the company requires about 35-40 percent of its labour force to be skilled.
The debilitating impact of shortage of constructors is being seen most across cities such as New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Kolkata as compared to other small and upcoming towns. By 2030, the country is expected to have 68 cities with a population of more than one million, 13 cities with more than 4 million people and 6 megacities with populations of 10 million or more. The construction sector in India which contributes to 8 per cent of the GDP currently employs almost 42 million people, with 85 per cent being small workers like masons, carpenters and the remainder accounting for contributors like engineers, supervisors and managers, supervisors. Therefore the lack of professionals with technical expertise, knowledge and training has led to the slowing down of growth in the construction sector, reduced turnover, lowered standards of worker recruitment and has contributed to project timelines and costs being stretched. The industry, for instance, lacks sufficient plumbers and construction machine operators, resulting in a slowing down of work and increasing the overall cost of projects, thus posing a major challenge to the country’s infrastructure development plans.
In mining too, an area which is now beginning to open up, the major concern is shortage of skills. Companies have now begun to undertake high level geotechnical training courses in which workers are taught to apply the best technology procedures to their operations leading to the safety, productivity and profitability of mining operations.
Diwakar Acharya, Ex-Chairman & Managing Director, Uranium Corporation of India, says, “It will be a good idea to have centralised training centre in mining districts managed by an industry body with financial and faculty inputs from surrounding mines. The certification by the body must be acceptable throughout the industry. It could teach a syllabus which is relevant and permit sharing of best practices in the area where rock types, mining methods and equipments and safety concerns are similar. Setting up of such units by specialised private sector agencies will most likely follow.”
The current lament in the Indian construction industry, which expects to employ 80 million workers by 2020, is of low productivity. The Builders Association of India in association with the government as well as private bodies has been at the forefront of promoting the training of construction workers for which it has formed the Construction Skill Development Council of India (CSDCI). H N Vijaya Raghava Reddy, President, Builders Association of India is of the view that a minimum of 20 per cent of the over Rs 40,000 crore the government collected from contractors last year as Labour Welfare Cess should be directed towards the skilling of construction workers. “There is a great need to reduce project execution time and to raise worker productivity. This can only come through skill development for which a lot of money is required,” he says.
The fast pace of urbanisation across India coupled with the specialist requirements in the built environment – modern construction techniques, use of new age materials, emphasis on green and sustainability and global best practices which include structural safety – have led to an emergency of sorts. The paucity of trained man power coupled with low awareness of project management techniques and high performance technology, poor quality of raw material and underdeveloped approach infrastructure, has contributed to glaring inefficiencies in various projects. It is a fact that not enough time goes into the planning and detailing of projects. It is now an established fact that city skylines demand a wide array of construction sector related expertise and skills. Despite the experience of Indian construction professionals who have received encomiums for their work in iconic projects abroad there is recalcitrance among local developers and contractors to employ them. There is a general tendency to hire foreign designers, architects, structural engineers and project management experts. With the growing emphasis on embedding the best in building structures there is a need for training workers in the latest construction techniques.
Niranjan Hiranandani, Co-Founder & CMD, Hiranandani Group, is led to say, “It is a fact that the skill requirements in the construction sector are growing and will continue to grow in the future. Getting trained workers for implementing projects will be of paramount importance.”
And that is not going to easy considering the evolving construction and infrastructure work environment. Across the world businesses have begun to integrate robotics, automation and other data-driven technologies into their workflows. Robots have taken over difficult, dangerous and repetitive physical tasks, improving factory safety, worker comfort and product quality. The emphasis now is on new areas like artificial intelligence and automation, areas that present as much challenge as opportunity. It is here that institutions like the Pune based National Institute of Construction Management and Research (NICMAR), which have been rendering yeomen service by offering various programmes related to construction technology and management, real estate and urban infrastructure development, can contribute. The institute has been at the helm of helping engineers, architects and planners develop domain expertise and further sharpen their techno-managerial skills to manage and execute complex and large construction projects.
Mangesh G Korgaonker Director General, NICMAR, says, “There are a lot of opportunities for students in various areas of construction and infrastructure like housing, roads, tunnels, bridges, power, shipping, airports, seaports, SEZ, oil and gas, manufacturing, automation, banking and finance, consultancies and smart cities. Further with a lot of research and innovation happening in construction management like automation and robotic applications, data analytics, use of drones and application of Building Information Modelling (BIM), for design, identification and tracking, risk management using predictive software the talent pool needs to be properly channelised."
It may be instructive to look at a few statistics to understand the enormity of the skill problem in the country:
• According to the National Skill Development Corporation’s (NSDC) report on Human Resource and Skill Requirement workforce in the construction and real estate sector will touch approximately 76 million by 2022. Of these, 97 percent of workers between the age of 15 and 65 are likely to have no training before they start working.
• The construction industry expects to employ 80 million workers by 2020.
• India is slated to emerge as the fastest growing country in the world for project management-oriented employment and will need 70 lakh skilled project managers in the next 10 years to avoid delays and escalation of budgets in projects in key areas like roads, railways, IT and manufacturing.
The seriousness of the last has recently been underlined through The 2018 Pulse of the Profession, a survey of project management professionals and executive leaders from different sectors around the globe which revealed that around Rs 6.5 crore was being wasted every 20 seconds by organisations worldwide due to ineffective strategies through improper project management methods. It further showed that India loses 8.1 percent of every dollar invested, highlighting the importance of project management in an organisation.
The bottomline therefore, is that a transformative economy like India will have to dramatically skill-up its project managers to thrive. According to a recent international survey by AXELOS, a joint venture firm co-owned by the UK Government’s Cabinet Office and Capita Plc, over 500,000 people are employed in project management roles across the country, covering the public sector and commercial sectors such as IT, financial services, construction, engineering, pharmaceuticals, health and manufacturing. The numbers are set to increase dramatically over the next 10 years as project management moves from being a specialist discipline to a generalist business skill. The professional project manager might become a thing of the past – unless he or she evolves to embrace the new transformation economy. The new survey suggests that the project manager of the future will be valued above all for creativity, flexibility, agility, emotional intelligence and alignment with the strategic goals of the business or organisation.
Raj Kalady, Managing Director, Project Management Institute India puts things in perspective when he says. “There is a growing realisation of the importance of project management skills in reducing cost and time overruns. So much so that even companies in the public sector are laying emphasis on training programs and strengthening their existing project management units and professionals.”
But the damage accrued from lack of skills is already evident. Large industrial projects have reportedly been delayed for over twelve months due unavailability of skilled workers eventually escalating costs for the construction process. The decline seen is also in terms of low budget allocation for hiring appropriate professionals for the job and poor mechanisation of work. The lack of quality across the large construction landscape is also owing to the fragmentation of industry: only a handful of construction companies – this includes medium-sized companies specialising in niche activities and small and medium players who operate as subcontractors – are involved in activities across all segments.
At present the labour intensive industry offers employment – both direct and indirect – to over 35 million people. While much is being made of India’s demographic dividend, which finds reflection through its young population, the current shortage of skilled workers across industries, does not bode well for the national mission to sustain economic growth. By 2025 it has been assessed that close to 70 per cent of the country’s population will be of working age however lack of skills could render the majority unemployable and reduce the advantage India holds over other nations.
In the wake of the announcement of fast tracking of next gen projects like Smart Cities, Industrial and Freight Corridors, Bharat Mala, Sagarmala, Metro systems and high speed rail and consequent realization of skill shortages which could pose a serious threat to implementation causing delays – not to mention the prospect of impending national elections – the government has sprung into action.
The National High Speed Rail Corporation, the umbrella body formed to oversee the construction of the 508 km Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train project, proposed to hit the track on Independence Day, 2023, has announced the setting up of an exclusive high speed rail training institute in Vadodara for employees of the project to acquire skills. The new facility will come up on a 5 hectare land parcel, cost Rs 600 crore and is expected to be ready by the end of 2020. The facility will be capable of training 4000 staff members in the project’s execution, operation and maintenance. It will have a sample track fitted with the overhead electrical systems to enable testing of bullet trains that will run on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route. While it is under construction, three hundred rail engineers will initially be trained in Japan to give them exposure to HSR technology to assist in the development and operations of other lines being planned across the country.
“Training is vital for a high tech high speed rail projects. The training centre with its advanced training modules will facilitate that," says Achal Khare, Managing Director, National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRC).
The Centre has already embarked on the process of training 10 million potential jobseekers by 2020 under its Skill India Mission, inadequacies in training programmes and high dropout rates affect the larger objective of skill development. If there is skepticism it is not only because the Centre has been found wanting in its efforts to push skill development but also on account of the enormous amount of money to be expended on such programmes. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has assessed that Rs.5 trillion will be required to train a quarter of a billion people in five years, and expects both the public and the private sector to chip in.
As part of its mission to raise the skill development profile across the country it has signed agreements with PSUs such as CIL, NTPC, REC, Power Grid, SAIL, RINL, AAI, NALCO and others. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has introduced new affiliation and accreditation norms for over 13,000 ITIs by emphasising on its qualitative aspect. The Railways have been providing training to apprentices in various disciplines like fitter, turner, machinist, welder, painter, carpenter, electrician, refrigerator and AC mechanic and motor vehicle and diesel mechanics. It has a target of training of 30 thousand apprentices across its 16 zonal units and 7 production units.
Initiatives for skill development have been undertaken by industry associations like FICCI which has launched The FICCI Skills Development Forum (SDF) to supplement government initiatives with industry interventions and international collaborations. CII has skill development projects running across the rural and urban areas of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Punjab. It has also taken up ‘skills gap’ studies across states and sectors. To address the matter of severe shortage of skilled workers CREDAI Pune Metro and the National Skill Development Corporation have come up with a joint venture called Kushal which seeks to impart on-the-job skill-training programme for construction workers. The pioneering project aims to upgrade the skills of 100,000 construction workers and building contractors over the next 10 years on a pan India basis. The project has proved to be a very successful model and is helping change the face of training and skill building for construction workers in India. Developers now have construction sites where wastage is minimal, construction quality is high and customers are content. Extending support to the UN Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality – more specifically the HeForShe Campaign, CREDAI has also announced the launch of its first all Women Mason Batch to encourage women to join the construction sector, allowing them to take part in opportunities that till now was largely limited to men.
Assuredly a lot of private sector companies with an understanding of the ecosystem have been investing into the skill development of their work force either singlehandedly or through public private partnerships.
Some outstanding examples of firms enthusiastic about developing worker skills – both internally and at a community level through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives – include leading companies like Tata Motors, Mahindras, JSW, Bosch, Volkswagen, JCB, Nuvoco (formerly Lafarge), the Freudenberg Group, the Hero Group, Alstom, Schneider Electric, Schindler Elevators, Rosatom Corporation and the ELGi Group among others. ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth which is the philanthropic arm of ICICI Bank is running 24 urban and 12 rural centres across the country where it imparts training in technical and non-technical skills like office administration, retail sales, pump and motor repair. In FY 2017 the lender spent about Rs 75 crore on its skill development programmes.
Automaker Maruti Suzuki for example is engaged with 143 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) to improve governance, upgrade infrastructure and equipment, and impart soft skills to students and teachers. It has also set up automobile skill enhancement centres through partnerships with 63 of the institutes. The company reportedly spent about Rs 17 crore in FY17 on skill development initiatives. Tata Power through its skill development endeavor, TPSDI has trained 13,527 people in FY18, thereby enhancing their employability prospects.
Prominent construction and mining equipment manufacturers like JCB too have been at the forefront of skill development. As an extension of its localisation programme the company has been a pioneer in skilling machine operators. Beginning with its first operator training centre at Ballabgarh in the early 90s, JCB’s skilling efforts have led to the creation of 15 centres across India where almost 25,000 have so far received training on how to operate machines safely and productively. Also very unique to the company’s Make in India exercise is the very strong involvement of its woman workforce in activities like welding and heavy engineering work such as production of machinery like excavators. “JCB is filling the gap in a major way. Our investment on skill development is an ongoing thing and a very vital component of our participation in the Make in India process,” says Jasmeet Singh, Head, Corporate Communications and External Relations, JCB India.
Bosch, a leading supplier of technology and services in the areas of Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, Energy and Building Technology, has posited that the 'hard and soft’ skills programs developed by it to address demands of India's manufacturing and service industry has reached a combined beneficiary strength of 11,000 over the years. As of December 2016, around 3,500 individuals passed out of its long term vocational training program imparted at the Bosch Vocational Center, with around 25 per cent finding employment outside of India. The company has developed a new training program at its two state-of-the-art training facilities in Bangalore and Nashik focused on producing high quality artisans like carpenters and electricians As many as 7,500 youth have graduated from BRIDGE (Bosch's Response to India's Development and Growth through Employability Enhancement) program, a short-term,'soft-skills' model targeted at employing the youth in the service industry. The company is now looking to raise the profile of this programme to 10,000. Soumitra Bhattacharya, Managing director, Bosch Limited & President, Bosch Group India, is led to comment, “The skilling initiatives taken up by the company are well attuned to the requirements of the industry."
Schneider Electric is already executing a programme under which it has trained more than 50,000 electricians across the country and is familiarizing people associated with the electrical equipment trade on safety, energy efficiency and new generation products. The company runs over 267 skill training centres as part of its CSR activities in collaboration with 33 firms. It recently set up a Centre of Excellence in Bangalore focused on vocational training programmes in the fields of electricity, automation and energy management. Venkat Garimella, CSR Head, Schneider Electric India, explains, “Our efforts are intended to address the limited number of trainers available in the area of skill development.”
Technology continues to be a key transformational lever not just for India, but for countries across the world. Last month global technology giant IBM launched what has been dubbed a first-of-its kind “New Collar” curriculum in partnership with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) to build the next generation skills needed for the country. The two-year Advanced Technical Diploma Programme, which underscores the company’s deep commitment to up-skilling India in an era of digital inclusion, will be offered at Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) across the country, beginning with Hyderabad and Bangalore and one women’s-only ITI in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. The programme will include industry-relevant courses on hardware maintenance, web development, cloud-based development and deployment, analytics and soft skills training and students can seek admission post Class 12.
Siemens Limited, one of the leading producers of technologies for power generation, transmission and distribution; infrastructure solutions for Smart Cities and transportation; automation and software solutions for industry, meanwhile has been pioneering the German Model of Dual Education in India. The focus of its programmes is to prepare students with industry-integrated skills in areas like electrification, automation and digitalisation. Siemens Scholarship Program, a flagship program of corporate citizenship at Siemens India, has inducted another 150 meritorious engineering students from economically-disadvantaged families. Based on the German model of Dual Education, the program moulds youth to become industry-ready. Now in its fifth year, the program has 435 scholars from 49 Government engineering colleges across 22 states in India. Sunil Mathur, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Siemens Limited, said, “The program has been successful in producing and placing industry-ready technicians and engineers, which is helping fill the skill gap.”
Schindler India, in line with the government’s Skill India Mission, has set up a training centre at its 12,000 elevators a year capacity plant in Pune to help engineering pass outs become techno commercial executives capable of handling major projects, communication and project management. Schindler University helps employees boost their skills and achieve a level of expertise needed to provide efficient service to its consumers. Besides technical skills, trained expert at the institution impart basic etiquette to workers at the project site. The training centre building, contains not just conventional class-rooms, but also places where technicians are engaged in actual installations in elevator shafts. Around 300 people are trained every month in batches of around 25 depending on the module of training. Technical personnel hone their skills in maintenance and trouble shooting on simulators. The training facility also helps equip engineers with skills to become project managers. Schindler India, recognising the importance of a highly skilled workforce has invested in four, full-fledged, state-of- the-art training centres at Mumbai, Bangalore, Noida and Pune. “These world class training centres are providing the best skilled workforce to install and maintain our products. This exceptional value is making Schindler the first choice of major developers and builders in India,” says Vincent Pinto, Senior Vice President – New Installation Business, Schindler India Pvt Ltd.
Indo-Russian all weather ties, which finds reflection in the construction of Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, could further pave the way for expansion of technology exchange programmes to facilitate skill development through 2018. In 2017, the 70th year of the friendship between the two nations, the engagement was taken forward with the establishment of the Center for General Engineering and Technical Training in Ranchi – a joint venture project between “CNIITMASH” a sister concern of Russia’s ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation and India’s Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited (HEC). Experts from CNIITMASH will train 200 engineers in in the area of machine-building and other fields, and enable them to raise efficiencies of production in energy and engineering sectors. All the courses offered by the institute are designed for continuity, which in the future will allow building up skills of workers of various engineering enterprises in India. Incidentally materials designed in CNIITMASH (steel grades, alloys, spatters, cooling fluids etc.) and process technologies of machinery production have gained widespread acceptance in areas like power, transport and petrochemical machinery building plants. Last July, ROSATOM supported by Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Energy—as part of a drive to encourage global technology vision and skills – organised a the summer camp Forsage-2017 at Kaluga. The event saw 650 people including 160 Russian and international companies participating. Likewise the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students took place in Sochi during October 14-22, 2017. As many as 25,000 participants including representatives of non-governmental organizations, academicians, power industry workers and journalists from 185 countries took part in the festival. Professionals and students belonging to India’s premier educational institution, Jawaharlal Nehru University, were part of the programme. “Our focus is mainly to encourage youth with interest in science and technology”, explains Andrey Shevlyakov, Acting CEO, ROSATOM South Asia. Another very prospective area of cooperation between two great countries lies in the field of higher education. Indian students are already studying nuclear engineering in Russia and ROSATOM has plans to offer scholarships to deserving candidates. Russian Universities have come forward to offer five full scholarships for Indian students taking up post graduate programmes in nuclear technology. Students with under graduate degree in science, preferably in atomic physics with 50 per cent marks are eligible to take up the test. Meritorious students are eligible for scholarship, which includes waiver of tuition fees and hostel accomodation. The scholarships will be offered by the National Research Nuclear University.
Assuredly with India’s built environment undergoing a radical shift, skilling of the national workforce will become inevitable with all stake holders – the government, public and private sector construction and infrastructure players, suppliers of building material, consultants, and training institutions – contributing to the transformation. Developing skills in all aspects of building technology - architecture, civil, mechanical, electrical and electronics, communication, IT – should engage the attention of national constructors thus creating employment opportunities which can reduce the current talent deficit. In terms of solutions there is a need to incentivise industry to set up training institutions in PPP mode in industry clusters to facilitate availability of trained manpower for big and MSME units or to adopt existing government ITIs and Polytechnics. Obviously the scale of the problem is too big requiring huge resources. The need of the hour is consolidation of resources at all levels and the creation of a national training fund which can be accessed by all but operated by the Central Ministry on a priority basis. Industry bodies like CII, FICCI and NASSCOM will have to aggressively promote skilling initiatives across the nation to create the necessary ecosystem for national take off.
It is going to be a long road ahead before India becomes the world’s ‘Skill Capital’ – of that there should be no illusions, despite the political pronouncements.