Bridging the quality-quantity gap

Bridging the quality-quantity gap

In order to keep pace with modernisation and spur the expansion drive of the cement industry on, we need a huge pool of skilled manpower equipped with the latest tools. To this end, new greenfield projects coming up will be based on high capacity kilns (up to 10,000 tonnes/day), with state-of-the-art technology including computerised operating and control systems. To operate such plants efficiently, the operators need simulator-based training. Do we have such facilities in our country? How critical is the issue of a knowledge gap?
INDIAN CEMENT REVIEW
trains its spotlight on the skill development issues in the cement industry.

The irony is, in a country with a population of a billion plus, the collective failure, or the systemic failure to bridge the knowledge gap is rather alarming. The statistics given by the working group on the cement industry for the 12th Five- Year- Plan (2012-2017) will reveal just how much we lag behind, especially when compared to a country like China which has succeeded in bridging the very same knowledge gap. For a modern cement plant of one million tonnes per annum (1 MTPA), the skilled, technical manpower required is pegged at 400, out of which around 150 are absorbed at managerial and supervisory levels. So the cement industry requires a total of 43,000 skilled, technical workforce for about 108 million tonnes of greenfield expansion; manpower of 17,000 for about 42 million tonnes brownfield expansion and 6,000 for a 3,000 MW captive power plant operation; this means a total of about 66,000 additional technical people, including 23,000 engineers and supervisors, are required to attain the targeted capacity additions. And the requirement for unskilled workers is calculated around 50,000.

What is more, the figures mentioned above do not include the replacement demand of personnel that would arise in plants already in existence. If you zoom in on the demand and installed capacity growth projections and the additional installed capacity requirement for the next 15 years, up to 2027, which is estimated to be approximately 1,035 million tonnes, the demand for skilled personnel is mind-boggling.

There has been a tremendous growth of activities in the Indian cement industry in terms of setting up of new greenfield plants and brownfield expansions, besides modernisation and upgradation of existing cement plants. During the 12th Five-Year-Plan period, the production capacity of the cement industry is expected to increase by about 150 million tonnes. The growth in domestic cement demand is expected to rise between 465 kg per capita and 810 kg per capita in 2050, whereas the projected cement production is expected to reach between 780 MT and 1360 MT by 2050. Expectedly, there is a big shortfall between the availability of trained manpower and demand.

To keep pace with modernisation and spur the expansion drive of the cement industry on, we need a huge pool of skilled manpower equipped with the latest tools. For example, the new greenfield projects coming up will be based on high capacity kilns (up to 10,000 tonnes/day), with state-of-the-art technology, including computerised operating and control systems. To operate such plants efficiently, the operators need simulator-based training. Do we have such facilities in our country? The answer is, of course, in the affirmative; but if you wish to know the number of such institutes in the country, then you are for a shock - in a country of one billion plus people, there is just the one institute: the NCCBM that provides such advanced training in the country! The Ballabgarh and Hyderabad units of NCCBM now have versatile state-of-the art computer -operated simulator trainers for imparting hands-on-training in the operation of modern pyro-processing and grinding systems, and it conducts simulator based training programmes at regular intervals every year.

NCB is the only organisation in the country which has been catering to the training needs of the Indian cement industry, both at the entry level as well as at an advanced level successfully, though to a limited extent, for nearly four decades now. In the present scenario of growing demand for trained manpower and regular updating of technical skills of existing professionals, NCCBM is the ideal organisation to assume the role of trainers to the cement industry in India. Indeed, to match the requirement of training facilities of the Indian cement industry, we need a whole lot of more NCCBMs.

So rapid is the pace of technological changes that are taking place in each and every department of cement manufacture that one thing is clear: we need a strong base of skilled personnel at every level; be it the workers, managerial or the supervisory levels. There is no denying the fact that most of the players in the cement industry have Regional Training Centres (RTCs) located in different parts of the country, providing on-site practical training for workers at the particular plant. Some of the major players have expanded in terms of getting trained trainers and interactive computer based training (CBT) programmes with the technical support of research and consultancy organisations such as NCB. They have developed computer based training packages for specific subjects for training the workers on a regular basis. However, the demand- supply gap continues to be a huge one.

According to Behram Sherdiwala President - Human Resources ACC, "We have our own training institute, the Sumant Moolgaokar Technical Institute, established in 1957 in Madhya Pradesh, to meet our internal requirements. The institute has a rigorous two-year fulltime training programme, which is followed by one year of on- the- job experience. The company has grown rapidly in the last ten years and the SMTI has supported the growth with high-quality students. The institute imparts holistic training not just in technical aspects but also on managerial skills. Students are well trained in matters of safety, ERP and automation tools, SAP, etc."

Fresh engineering graduates, diploma holders and science graduates all entering the industry at the managerial and supervisory level will need detailed orientation courses in cement technology before they actually start working. And there is a pressing need to start degree/post graduate degree level programmes at universities and other institutions dedicated to cement manufacturing technology.

SK Dutt, President & Head - Group HR & CHRO ABG Group, had this to say: " The skill gap is seen on two different levels. One is in what they should know and the other is how well they should know it. Both these issues need to be addressed. The industry is facing a skill shortage on two fronts, in the number of people required and the quality of available manpower. We are not too happy about the quality of people that the colleges and institutes in general are churning out today. To tackle this, we have set up basic training at our facility, where students coming from the institutes are given training to make up for their skills deficiency and to raise their competence levels." He further adds, "We have tie-ups with ITIs where we impart industry- specific training to students; we also give them advanced training at our factory. The training is specific to the industry and is related to the work that they will be doing. The training is focused on improving proficiency levels."

On another front, the skills of the manpower already employed in existing cement plants have to be upgraded in areas such as operating pre-processing technologies, utilisation of alternate and unconventional raw materials and fuels, energy conservation, quality control, pollution control and sustainable development.

"The private sector can play an effective role in helping institutions build a curriculum that make the students employable and build skills in them that can be utilised on the job without too much training. The industry and educational institutions can partner each other to build such programmes where working managers can teach the students and improve their employability," says CB Tiwari, Chief People Officer, UltraTech Cement Limited.

Employment scenario Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu combined together account for 50 per cent of India's total cement production capacity. The employment offered by cement manufacturing too, is in similar proportion. These regions serve as major employment zones; the majority of those employed in the sector are employed in operations related to manufacturing. The technical capability of the absorbed workforce thus, is a major factor for the health of the cement sector. Experts opine that the minimum educational qualification requirement acts as an entry- level barrier.

Even those who get the formal training are not as skilled as they are required to be by the industry. The report prepared by ICRA Management Consulting Services Limited (IMaCS), a multi-line management and development consulting firm headquartered in India, outlines the skill gap very well.

Education system

As the country shifts to a knowledge-based economy, the talent of our workers becomes a key factor in the nation's growth. With the rising demand for a skilled force by the growing industry, the gap between skill requirement and availability is widening year after year. This is looking to become a serious problem.

There are 17 ministries that look after the skill requirement of the country. These ministries have already initiated several vocational training programmes. The training is to be imparted through more than 8400 ITIs set up by the ministry. The Government of India has taken up the task of creating 500 million technically competent workers by 2022. Of this, two- thirds will be created through ITIs and the remaining developed through a public-private partnership model of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).

Experts, however, do not feel that this will suffice as the rate at which the demand for a skilled force is created is much higher than the rate at which these institutes will make it available. According to a FICCI report published in 2010, the capacity of these institutes is sufficient enough to train only three million people by 2022, less than half of what will be required. Besides this, there is a severe need for a qualitative upgradation of these programmes. There is a major gap in the quality of training required and that imparted by these institutes.

Poor quality training

This intense demand for skilled technicians has attracted private players in the education and training field. Today, more than 90 per cent of engineering colleges are privately owned. While private participation will definitely serve to satiate the country's hunger for skilled labour, the existing quality control mechanisms are failing to ensure the talent available is up to the mark. There is a lot that must be done to improve the quality of our work force. Mushrooming engineering colleges and universities are not serving much purpose. None of our universities is listed in the top 100 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2012).

Says KB Sharma, Executive Director, Marketing Loesche India, "Although the quality of talent available is low, we cannot blame the institutes and our academic framework. The rate at which the cement industry has grown from 2006 -07 was unprecedented. Colleges hardly got the time to absorb the growing demand and to adopt their methods to meet the requirement. There was no time to train and develop new methods. It will take some time for the education machinery to expand to the expectations of the newly grown industry. Although increased demand has led to the mushrooming of several colleges, the focus has shifted from the knowledge and competency of students to the number of students who can actually be labelled engineers."

In 2009, a review committee set by MHRD found that 88 of 130 deemed universities are of poor quality. There is also a disparity in the location of these institutes. More than half of the ITIs/ITCs are located in the southern states. Elsewhere, the quality of the training provided, the infrastructural facilities, tools, faculty, and curriculum are not to expected standards. According to the report by the Planning Commission in 2008, privately-run ITCs also have similar problems due to financial constraints of students and lack of a quality- conscious faculty. The Yashpal Committee Report (MHRD 2009) suggests that we must revise curricula, follow a course credit system, promote research and performance incentives to faculty to better our education system.

Lateral competition

Engineering is no longer seen as a lucrative career option the way it was earlier. The discipline is competing with other sectors to attract talent. The entry level package offered in the cement industry is relatively lower than those offered by sectors such as IT. So, the talent is naturally drifting towards these higher paying options.

While the IT sector offers a fast-track career, the cement sector offers an experience based growth. One has better options to train and upgrade oneself in IT and the service based sector as compared to those in the cement manufacturing sector.

Rapid growth

The industry feels that a lot can be done at the policy level to bridge the skill gap. Ratul Chakroverty, Business Head, Mecgale Pneumatics, expresses his views: "The skill shortage is affecting the manufacturing industry seriously. The major focus in the service sector has taken away the skill set available for the core manufacturing sector. The way forward would be to encourage best- in- class private engineering colleges in Tier- 2 and 3 cities."

He further adds, "The focus should be to turn out good engineers from those colleges, as one good and efficient engineer would be more effective than a couple of inefficient degree holders with low skill sets. Of course, it would help if we change the way we look at our education system where quantity always is preferred over quality and there is no encouragement to educated youth wanting to give back through the teaching profession."

According to him, there is lot to learn from China in terms of adding scale and ensuring that growth happens irrespective of diversity of opinion. China has managed to grow in spite of various odds which are quite similar to those in India; there, decisions favouring development are not given the go-by for collective, opportunistic chaos as is the case in India.

Industry opinion

The cement industry has seen a flurry of acquisitions and mergers of late. More than 50 per cent of cement production in India is done by five top companies in the sector. Conversations with such top players have given ICR a clear feel of the ground realities. ICR spoke with some of the leaders in the cement manufacturing industry, and with plant and equipment suppliers to get a sense of what the industry is going through right now. The following pages cover the views, ideas and opinions of these people.

Skill requirement gaps Mining

  • Inadequate ability to liaison and deal with government agencies.
  • Inadequate ability to follow up the status of applications submitted.
  • Inadequate ability to coordinate / assign work to junior mining engineers.
  • Inadequate ability to liaison with the manufacturing / operations departments.

Manufacturing / operations

  • Inadequate ability to lead new plant erection initiatives / expansion initiatives, leading to delays in new plant erections.
  • Inadequate ability to keep track of international trends in the cement industry so as to adopt best practices.
  • Inadequate ability to coordinate between departments / functions.

Supervisor

  • Inadequate ability to manage workmen and maintain discipline.
  • Inadequate technical knowledge, such as knowledge of kiln operations.
  • Inadequate ability to undertake and ensure preventive maintenance.
  • Inadequate openness to working with new technology.

Workman / operator

  • Inadequate ability to understand the technicalities of the work being done.
  • Inadequate knowledge of quality tools / latest manufacturing techniques.
  • Inadequate orientation towards safety / environmental protection.
  • Inadequate ability to practice safety measures when using equipment.

Research and Development / Senior Design Engineer Inadequate ability to identify diverse energy conservation means and thus help reduce energy costs.

  • Inadequate ability to optimise production processes so as to optimise costs.

Junior design engineer

  • Inadequate orientation towards safety and environmental parameters.
  • Inadequate ability to maintain records.

Source: Primary Research and IMaCS analysis

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