Would you please concentrate on what I am saying Mr Patil and keep your chit- chat for the lunch break,” shouts an irate instructor.
Jayawant Patil and his partner-in-crime duck their heads and chuckle. The class, on filing a silver ring, is in progress at the Indian Institute of Jewellery in central Mumbai. But Patil and the 14 others in class aren’t young apprentices being trained in the nuances of jewellery making; they are veterans of the Government of India’s mint, which makes coins.
While most employees in the mint were opting for voluntary retirement, given that there was no work for them (coin-making has become highly automated), the few employees in the medallion department, goldsmiths all, were deluged with work.
Temples across India, including the one dedicated to Balaji at Tirumala and the Siddhivinayak one at Mumbai, and the armed forces commission medallions from the mint.
The mint’s management decided that it would train and redeploy employees from other departments in the medallion-making section.
Patil is one of the chosen few, all between the ages of 35 and 40, who are being trained in a special 100-hour course spread over a fortnight. The students are learning all about alloys, and the nuances of soldering, finishing and polishing. Over the next two years, more of the mint’s employees (a total of 100 employees will undergo training) will be trained at the institute, which is a private entity run by the city’s Jatia family.
Patil, who’s regularly pulled up by instructors for his school boy-like behaviour, says that he has never seen anything like this initiative in his 25 years at the mint.
The mint has 23 departments and employs around 1,300 semi-skilled labourers, but most of them have little work. The mint last hired people in 1985.
Sunil Vichare who has been with the mint for 22 years, says that the goldsmiths here are nearing 60 years, their retirement age. Once they go, he adds, the mint could lose out its expertise in medallion-making, a lucrative business. “These students (being trained currently) can replace them,” Vichare says.
The mint’s top brass decided to train employees after one of them chanced upon the stall run by the institute at the India International Jewellery Show in Mumbai in 2006. In July last year, the government got in touch with the institute.
“Our instructors visited the goldsmiths’ department to devise the course,” says Renu Kapoor, director, Indian Institute of Jewellery. “The mint opted for a short course,” she adds. “If they are encouraged with the results, they may consider a larger programme.”
Ashok Gadhire, the institute’s senior-most faculty member, says that it wasn’t easy devising a programme for the mint’s employees. They were old, and had to be instructed in Marathi, the language with which they were most comfortable. “But they are fast learners and are obviously excited to acquire special skills,” he adds.
Kapoor says that the school “gave the government a 60% discount” and that it will “ensure that they walk away with a feeling of achievement”. The institute usually charges Rs40,000 for 100-hour courses.