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How to bridge the engineering skill-gap in India?

  • 01-May-2019
  • Articles|Technical Articles

From remote controlled valves to corrosion detecting software, the skills of today require a higher comprehension of instrumentation and technology-based aid. Hence, employees (new and existing) need to be skilled so that they can adjust to new processes, says Jaydev V Sanghavi.
We live in a time when every industry is being changed around to meet new standards and alter processes according to technological advancements. The manufacturing industry is no exception to this, and has, in fact, already seen amongst the most significant changes in operations and processes. Efficiency is what drives most of these changes, streamlining and speeding up processes to better utilise the available time and resources. To effectively implement these new changes, however, the talent that will be operating them needs to be familiarised with them, and trained for them, in advance. 
There is abundant talent in the country with several thousand engineers graduating each year, but the majority of these people lack hands-on experience in their fields, making it more difficult to orient themselves towards a dynamic professional environment. Those involved in, and aspiring towards, engineering and other technical jobs need this practical exposure to be able to adapt and adjust effectively to new IT and automation-based work. Through this, these professionals will have skill sets that are up-to-date and at par with the required industry standards, which will, in turn, ensure a secure place for them in the industry for the long run.
Emerging technology is changing the professional landscape
Technologies such as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are making it possible for robots to carry out the tasks that human teams have so far been involved in. These machines are also able to carry out the tasks at a fraction of the time that it takes human teams to perform the same, whilst being highly efficient too. They are able to take on heavy labour that is repetitive or predictable in nature, and the more data that is fed into them, the more they learn over time. In China, a large factory has replaced 90 percent of its staff with robots. As a result, it has seen increased productivity and efficiency, and has been able to reduce the number of human employees from 650 to 60, thus cutting costs.
Another area where AI technology is being implemented is in ‘connected cars’ and driverless vehicles. This is where, through the use of emerging technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), cars are able to determine distances, locations among other factors to make these vehicles more self-reliant and increase their efficiency as a result of this. The agriculture sector, in particular, has seen this technology being implemented in tractors to be able to increase output. According to recent reports, robots are expected to replace nearly 40 percent of the workforce across industries by 2020.
Skill gap amongst fresh graduates due to lack of exposure 
Though AI is on the path to converting a major chunk of human jobs into robot jobs, this doesn’t mean that AI is getting rid of human jobs. Instead, it is creating new job roles and functions for which people will have to realign their skills. Without doing this, skills that were once highly useful will become redundant in the long run, and render employees unproductive. A World Economic Forum report states that emerging technology will create 133 million jobs by 2022, despite wiping out a significant number of existing roles.
At present, India has 1.5 million engineers graduating every year, but only a tiny share of these people are directly employable. If nothing is implemented to tackle these issues, this gap is only going to widen when emerging technologies take over these processes. As a result, there could be a reduced hiring of staff due to a lack of employable talent based on the skill-gap. Hence, companies and senior level executives must take it upon themselves to nip these issues in the bud, or prevent them altogether.
The need for a customised framework
This can be achieved through preparing employees by familiarising them with a freshly designed framework in advance for the new wave of jobs. Modern management techniques including SAP, Spine and Tally can be used to effectively carry out ERP solutions along with stores management, spare parts inventory and record keeping. The major hurdles for management at the moment are planning out a framework as well as learning and adopting a new system that works for their manufacturing units. To make this a smooth process, both current and potential employees should be given the right training for skill-sets that are relevant to the new system.
The initial financial investment pays off in the long run, due to the scale and scope of the manufacturing industry with large refineries, petrochemical plants and automobile companies. Therefore, figuring out a framework and specific training that is tailored to cater to each sector will contribute to the ultimate growth and productivity of the company.
Reskilling and upskilling for new technology
The talent pool that is currently available is highly skilled across engineering specialisations such as electrical, mechanical as well as welding and fitters. Now, with the rising demands in the use of automation, 3-D printing, digital and cloud technologies, there is a need to realign existing skills to make them more relevant to the new requirements. There are only a handful of educational institutions that teach these subjects and their application, thus limiting the scope and extent of the skills these engineers are able to apply. 
It is majorly due to this factor that there is a skill gap that will only continue to grow unless addressed immediately. To make use of talent and resources in this new-wave, there is a need for academia to join forces with experts in the field and design course curriculum according to a new skills framework which is relevant to the current industry demands. 
Through this, current professionals will be able to demonstrate increased productivity and meet new standards of quality. Additionally, potential professionals will come readily equipped with skills that already familiarise them to the current professional environment and help them to adapt to it. 
From remote controlled valves to corrosion detecting software, the skills of today require a higher comprehension of instrumentation and technology-based aid. Employees that were previously engaged in these tasks will need to be reskilled accordingly, where they will oversee the functions that are carried out by this technology, while being able to focus on value addition and creation in other aspects of their job functions.
The road ahead begins with education and training
There is a state-wide socio-economic divide due to access to and knowledge of these new processes and their adoption. Therefore, establishing dedicated IT focused institutes in each state will help cater to training professionals to equip them with the skill-sets for these technical jobs. The courses will need to focus more on practical exposure and continuous mentorship from industry experts and faculty, so that students and young professionals are well versed with what to expect once they enter the professional realm and can utilise these skills to effectively contribute to the industry for the  long run.
Similarly, existing employees need to be reskilled so that they can adjust to new processes. This can be implemented by introducing a few small tweaks in processes, instead of a pivot in the system. This will enable employees to learn while on the go, enhancing their skills and contributing more effectively to the advancement of the organisation almost immediately. 
The engineering skill gap in India requires the combined effort of organisations and educational institutions to focus on a gradual reworking of systems while implementing emerging technology in order to bridge the gap. The implementation, however, needs to start immediately, so as to keep them ahead of the curve. Hands-on experience for students, as well as existing employees through training programmes at various levels and time periods are what will drive this change. With this, organisations will be able to function with technology-aided processes, increasing overall productivity and facilitating scalable growth in the long run.
About the Author:
Jaydev V Sanghavi is the Executive Director of Aarvi Encon Ltd - a leading technical manpower outsourcing company in India. He has been with the company for 25 years, and has been instrumental in getting multiple strategic tie-ups in place, as well as in establishing the company’s temporary Staffing division, which he heads currently. Having seen Aarvi Encon through from its inception to its current phase of robust growth and expansion, Sanghavi continuously strives for the company’s consistent growth and expansion across various industries.

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