The Skilling Challenge
The Skilling Challenge

The Skilling Challenge

The skill challenge of cement industry is only a small subset of the larger national objective of achieving demographic dividend that our large youth population can bring us.

Demographics can change the pace and pattern of economic growth and India has one of the youngest populations in an aging world. By 2020, the median age in India will be just 28, compared to 37 in China and the US, 45 in Western Europe, and 49 in Japan. Thus, India is at the threshold of reaping the demographic dividend, while China has already demonstrated its benefits by achieving spectacular growth trends over the last three decades.

However, the growth benefit of a demographic dividend is not automatic. It is a function of the total number of workers and their average productivity. Although the number of workers is growing in India, labour productivity is near stagnant as most of them are employed in the informal sector.

To reap demographic dividend, India must be able to swell its labour force as more people reach working age. But it is not an easy task, given India is home to the world's largest concentration of illiterate people in the world.

Poor quality of education particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) without emphasis on the employability of the graduating students is the hindrance. It is also the reason even the biggest companies are facing difficulties in hiring suitably skilled employees.

The situation in the cement industry is no different, so, cement industry's skill requirements cannot be seen in isolation from that of the country itself.

The challenge There is hue and cry that educated people are not getting employment. On the other hand, the manufacturers complain that they do not get suitably skilled manpower. Thus, there is a serious gap between what is wanted and what is available on ground. Despite Indian cement industry's immense advancement in energy efficiency, specialised training is essential to overcome certain unique challenges of the Indian cement industry.

'There is shortage of skilled manpower in the cement industry who can handle such emerging skill sets,' say Prof. KN Bhattacharjee and Prof. GC Mishra of Department of Cement Technology, AKS University, Satna. (See - Skill in Demand in in-box) The present installed capacity of cement industry is expected to go up from around 435 MT/year to 550 to 600 MT/ annum by 2025. Besides having very low per capita consumption of cement of 225 kg/ annum compared to the global average 500 kg leaves a lot of scope for capacity growth. Given these two factors, AKS University professors say that it is estimated that the cement industry would require around 66,000 skilled technical manpower for greenfield projects, brownfield expansion and captive power plant operations.

For addressing the challenge of skill deficit in the country, Bhattacharjee and Mishra suggested designing of training programmes which are completely wedded to the requirement of the construction industry under industry-academia co-operation, enhancing skills of the semi-skilled workers for ensuring better quality and productivity, and making a pool of people ready for the future growth of the cement and construction industry.

Already institutions like National Council for Cement and Building Materials (NCCBM) and AKS University are making considerable contribution in this area by conducting various programmes to train fresh graduates, besides conducting graduation and diploma programmes for the industry. They also regularly conduct short term, customised and contract programmes for improving skills of technical personnel for the industry.

For taking skill development across the country in a mission mode, the Centre has launched the National Skill Development Mission in July 2015 with the aim of creating convergence across sectors and states in terms of skill training activities.

While explaining the quantum of skill challenge, KP Krishnan, Secretary from the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, and Chairman of the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), said, 'We want to address the hugely inadequate skill capacity in India; we need ten times the magnitude of what we have today.' The skill mission has three objectives:

  • increasing the country's skilling capacity.
  • enhancing quality and employability; and
  • skills acquisition
The backbone of any skilling programme is the formal vocational education and training system, a network of industrial training institutes (ITI). 'We currently produce something like 16-20 lakh certificate holders per annum: we probably require six or seven times that number. We are increasing ITI capacity massively,' said Krishnan.

Meanwhile, the skill mission has created a very large ecosystem of short-duration skilling programmes with industry participation, which will partly meet the gap in quality and employability.

As for the aspirational part, typically, if vocational education becomes a dead end and if the child does not have any opportunity to go beyond it, skills will not be aspirational. Likewise, if the skilled employee does not get a higher wage, there is likely to be no aspiration. 'Our attempt, in a nutshell, is to address both: educational pathways and bringing about a skill-wage premium,' Krishnan explained.

Another major challenge in the changing dynamics is the firms are offering only contract jobs, even in the areas calling for critical skill sets. 'In majority of the enterprises in India the contract workers are engaged in noncore and core jobs, paid only the statutory minimum wages or marginally higher, while they continue to serve the enterprise for years, just like permanent employees,' says Dr Rajen Mehrotra, immediate past president of Industrial Relations Institute of India (IRII), former senior employers' specialist for South Asian Region with International Labour Organization (ILO).

Looking ahead
Investing in improving the efficiency of people and their skill sets is critical for enabling India to tap into its demographic divided. Thus, failure to address the skill deficit can greatly impact India's economic future. Besides, it would pose a big challenge for existing and potential investors looking to expand their presence in India and would hinder the success of programmes like Make in India, launched four years back.

To improve the employability of graduating students, educational institutions need to coordinate with corporate entities in designing course curriculum and even sponsoring such courses. New technology should be harnessed to accelerate the pace of building human capital, including through massive open online courses and virtual classrooms.

Cement - Skills in demand 

Finding and use of large volumes of alternative material in place of depleting high grade limestone and gypsum
In quest of cheaper fuels industry is venturing into several alternative fuels calling for specialised skills
Waste heat recovery plant operations and retrofitting of energy efficient equipment
Compliance with stricter environmental and safety norms, and
Implementing innovative ideas and methods to keep production cost low and productivity high.
Prof. KN Bhattacharjee and Prof. GC Mishra of Department of Cement Technology, AKS University

B.S. Srinivasalu Reddy

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