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Companies search for talent at upgraded training institutes

Companies search for talent at upgraded training institutes

Over a concrete ramp, four young boys in bright red jumpsuits lean over a bruised car door, knocking away at dents and scratches, marked in circles with a pen, with a steady movement of their hands. The Toyota logo is printed on their sleeves. The hammering continues well past noon when, as in an assembly manufacturing line, they disperse quietly for a half-hour lunch break.

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These boys, all in their early 20s, are, however, not manning a factory shopfloor. As students of the Sir C.V. Raman Industrial Training Institute in north Delhi’s Dheerpur area, they are getting their first taste of a modern workplace, immersing themselves in the latest auto repair techniques, intricacies of car painting and shading with the aid of computers.

In November, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd, maker of the Corolla and Camry sedans, signed an agreement with the four-decade-old institute to introduce a new teaching programme for car maintenance. The joint venture (JV) between Toyota Motor Corp. and the Kirloskar group offered to train instructors and equip students with the latest teaching tools and gear, including safety shoes, uniforms, protective visors and goggles, worth close to Rs40 lakh. Toyota has also promised to select candidates completing the one-year course for written tests and job interviews, says Lok Pal, the institute’s principal.

This partnership between a private company and a government institute is a small sign of the country’s belated attempt to reinvent the industrial training institutes (ITIs), the blue-collar equivalents of the elite Indian Institutes of Technology. Both groups of institutes were set up in the 1950s and early 1960s, the high noon of the Nehruvian period, when the government realized India needed trained engineers and shopfloor workmen to create a modern, industrial economy in a predominantly agricultural country.

The ITIs have gone to seed in recent decades, but the economic boom and the entry of millions of young Indians into the workforce revived the old view that people need skills before they can be employed by companies. The government plans to spend at least Rs5,000 crore to make ITIs more relevant to the needs of companies.

The ITIs have been caught in a time warp: ancient curricula, outmoded teaching tools and teachers who themselves need to be trained.

India needs at least 40,000 trainers to man the current and planned institutes, according to Sharda Prasad, director general of employment training at the Union labour ministry.

The consequence of the government’s laid-back approach is reflected in its poor statistics: India trains 3.1 million people every year through a patchwork of at least 17 ministries, even as 12.8 million new people enter the workforce annually.

Low skill levels ensure that companies have had to retrain diploma holders from these institutes afresh at a cost, or take on new workers for training, which, in turn, means that principal Pal and his colleagues often had to struggle to get companies in for campus recruitment.

“I wrote to 100 companies three years ago. None replied. I thought companies did not require trained people and relied on untrained manpower," Pal says.

But with the economy on the rebound after the global slowdown and India’s manufacturing output showing higher-than-estimated growth, the Dheerpur ITI, which has introduced a number of initiatives with government assistance, is seeing a reverse trend.

Last week, Tata Motors Ltd knocked on its doors for car painters, says Pal. In January, executives of Honda Siel Cars India Ltd stopped by, selecting 37 students for deployment at its Noida factory. And last month, North Delhi Power Ltd (NDPL), a joint venture between Tata Power Co. Ltd and the Delhi government to distribute electricity in parts of the city, hired nine boys for maintenance of power transmission lines.

Demand for skilled workers is growing as recruitment is picking up in sectors such as telecom, retail and manufacturing, says Neeti Sharma, co-founder of staffing company TeamLease Services Pvt. Ltd, which last year ventured into skill training.

Last year, the Mangalore-based Labour Exchange, which her company manages for the Karnataka government, placed 200 welders at Suzlon Energy Ltd, the country’s biggest maker of wind turbines, she says

Larsen and Toubro Ltd, the country’s biggest engineering and construction firm with a staff of 35,000, plans to hire 5,000-7,000 workers this year as it embarks on multiple businesses, from setting up a nuclear forging plant in joint venture with Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd to building a greenfield shipyard in Chennai, according its spokesperson.

“We plan an increase of 20% in production in 2010 (roughly 61,800 cars)," responded Toyota to an emailed questionnaire.

The jobs revival is good news for students at Dheerpur ITI, who mostly belong to poor families.

“I’d love to work for Toyota. If that doesn’t work out, I’d try in some other company," says Deepak Rajput, the 21-year-old son of a greengrocer.

Many students here are products of government schools. They have had little by way of career counselling. Students such as 22-year-old Amrit Lal have pursued private coaching in computer hardware and marketing, spending Rs7,000 and Rs5,000, respectively.

“We have little knowledge of what to study and where to knock for opportunities. But I am hoping that this course will get me a good job," says Lal, a son of a railway gangman.

Dheerpur ITI’s new course on auto maintenance costs Rs3,100 a year, but will be half of that if a student belongs to underprivileged communities.

The government is hoping the new courses will open doors to employment. The effects of manpower shortage will manifest more sharply when the economy grows at a faster rate for a longer period of time, says an economist.

“What we have today is more of a skills mismatch. While there is a skills crunch in sectors such as financial services, there is excess labour in other areas like agriculture," said Dharmakirti Joshi, principal economist at credit rating agency Crisil Ltd.

Currently, the Dheerpur ITI trains nearly 600 students a year to become welders, electricians and draughtsman.

Three years ago, the institute received Rs2.5 crore as World Bank assistance to convert part of the campus into a centre of excellence dedicated to the electrical sector. Students of the two year-training course have been sent for advanced training at companies related with the electrical business, such as Asiatic Electrical and Switchgear Pvt. Ltd and NDPL. Around 50% of the 86 students have found placement last year.

“The training course is helpful because most workers in India do not have professional training and pick skills from a relative or a friend," said a human resource manager at NDPL, who declined to be identified because of the company’s media policy, but said the firm plans to return in April to hire more workers.

While cheap labour is often seen as one factor that makes India an attractive manufacturing destination, there are concerns on whether revival of growth will increase quality employment opportunities.

Dheerpur ITI principal Pal says salaries offered to the institute’s candidates are often “too low".?Workers take home Rs2,500 a month for an apprenticeship course at a factory, he adds.

Calling it as another “low-end trap", Ashim Roy, general secretary of the New Trade Union Initiative, says the trade-off in the current industrial vigour will be in favour of low-quality employment. “Rise in output actually means increase of worktime for workers. They will continue to be deprived of social security, thereby, increasing the burden on exchequer and society at large."

Photograph by Ramesh Pathania / Mint; Graphic by Paras Jain / Mint

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