Lack of qualified people in our education system is by far the most critical problem
Lack of qualified people in our education system is by far the most critical problem

Lack of qualified people in our education system is by far the most critical problem

Sanjay Kumar Sharma
Assistant Vice-President (HR and Admin)
Wonder Cement
Sanjay Kumar Sharma strongly believes that it is the responsibility of those experienced to help others in their career path by giving proper guidance, proper motivation and by sharing expertise. In this time of skill insufficiency, those with the expertise must come ahead to help the nation prosper by training those around them. He shares his ideas and suggestions to improve the situation while interacting with ICR. Excerpts from the interview.

At what level are organisations in the industry grappling with skill shortage?
The shortage is more of experts with technical skills, with practical experience and with intricate know-how of the process. Opinion on this shortage varies from some referring to it as a ´haemorrhage´ putting the industry in a critical state, while others are looking at it as a small hitch on the way that could be tackled without much effort. Either way, the industry is aware of the issue, though at varying degrees. What is really a reason to be concerned is the inevitable loss of experienced minds as they retire. The question is how do we ensure that the expertise stays back even when the expert leaves the shop-floor.

Which types of skills are in short supply?
It seems like the gap is wider where generic skills are concerned. Basically, there is deficiency in skills pertaining to people, organisational and technical matters. While academia develops the individual´s broad technical expertise, intellect, effort, analytical and problem solving capabilities, the industry values very specialised technical abilities and more importantly, interpersonal and communication skills, personal qualities, judgment capabilities and vocational experience. Still, there is an increasing awareness that skill development is an outcome of a combination of theoretical education and work-based experience.

What is causing this shortage?
University courses often do not offer sufficient practical experience where students can see engineering theories in application. This might be more due to budgetary constraints, for example, projects not being taken beyond the design stage. Often university lecturers are hired for their research projects, which attract funding for the university. Teaching is seen almost as a secondary duty. This is affecting the quality of candidates coming out of the university. At times the courses seem to be outdated, lacking practicality in the real environment.

What do you suggest to improve the situation?
Efforts must be taken to ensure that universities understand the needs of the industry, and that this understanding is reflected in the curriculum. To do this degree courses or modules must be jointly developed by the industry and the university. Incorporation of the subjects such as business and communication skills into the syllabuses would help broaden the appeal of engineering and produce more rounded graduates.

How much of the attrition is on the account of poaching?
The term ´employee poaching´ can be defined as an act of enticing key employees to move from one firm to its competitor. It has emerged as the biggest HR challenge for the industry, both big and small, across all the industry verticals.

The demand for trained and competent manpower is very high. Poaching has become very common. The rise in the number of placement agencies has led to a boom in poaching. Most of the organisations have employee referral schemes, which encourage people to spread the message and refer known candidates from the previous companies and also to earn in the process.

Poaching has become rife in the cement industry where talented hands are lost to reputed competitors. It is more or less accepted by everybody. Employee attrition is a part of every manpower-intensive business. But what is inexplicable is losing your skilled employees to the very same industry nearby. It´s not only a breach of trust but is also an unfair trade practice.

How are you dealing with this shortage?
In a tight labour market, one can maintain adequate workforce by:
Redesigning work processes and introducing new technologies to increase efficiency, effectiveness and employee satisfaction, and
Retaining existing workers, including those who are about to retire, while attracting a new generation of workers.

The most common strategy is providing enhanced development opportunities to the current staff, redefining job descriptions or enhancing the benefits. Other strategies include implementation of different work models, such as offering flexible work arrangements or redesigning current task procedures, while exploring alternative talent sources such as older workers, young aspirants, or moving work where the talent is not hard to find.

Is our education system up to the mark?
Our education system is not up to the mark and it will not improve, develop or evolve into a dynamic field unless the problems inherent to it are identified and solved. I have observed a few loopholes in our education system. Lack of qualified people in our education system is by far the most critical problem. For our education system to be dynamic and viable, it must have qualified educators in the first place. School personnel must put efforts in learning the needs of students and understand them well to spread knowledge effectively. The burden of this responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the educator. It is high time they realise their responsibilities.

The government of India must look at the education system and its impact on the country´s growth more seriously. If schools are set-up and run properly in remote areas then education will be available to everybody and will help uplift the national skill level automatically. Right from the beginning the focus should be on practical training rather than on mere rote learning. Our education system must be revamped and made accessible to everybody.

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