How important is skill development of equipment operators?
Skill improvement can never be over-emphasised. On one hand, the complexity of the job requirement is increasing and on the other, equipment are becoming more and more complex with the introduction of many operating modes, advent of mechatronics and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools. However, the basic educational requirement for an operator is still not defined. A school dropout is perhaps one who is willing to become an operator, as this is not a sought after profession and does not elevate one in society. A young man will prefer to be a cab driver than an excavator/loader or even a tipper operator. Thus, the only method to enhance the capability of the operator is through training and skill enhancement to make it attractive. For example, a skilled motor grader operator is the most difficult to get. If he cannot grade the road properly, not only the number of passes will increase for the desired surface finish, but also it will cost the contractor more time and money. Also, operating the equipment safely to minimise accidents in the most essential facet of operator skills. Hence, there is no substitute to regular skill development activity.
Could you brief us on the prevailing skill gap in the construction, mining and material handling industry in India?
While it is very difficult to exactly quantify the skill gap in the construction and mining equipment industry, one can confidently say that, with over 20 per cent year-on-year (YoY) growth in the market in the last few years, the demand for skilled operators is exponentially increasing. Since operator skill certification has not yet been made mandatory in the industry, the number of formal operator training schools or certification courses is very limited, and not keeping in pace with the market needs, making the gap in skills required against available widen at a faster pace than the industry growth. The current and accepted method of skill acquisition by on-the-job experience is outdated, and in our opinion, the government has to make it mandatory for all machine operators to undergo a government recognised skill certification programme, under the aegis of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY). Our industry related sector skill council, Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC), will have to play a bigger role in getting this mandated.
How do you assess the government support in skill development?
The Skill India Mission (PMKVY) is a welcome step in the direction of skilling and certifying people in the sectors that did not have any formal skill evaluation mechanism. It is time that all construction equipment operators should possess operating licence. Gone are the days when these machines were used only in quarries and projects away from human habitation. Today, these machines are extensively used in urban settlements and we need to take a lot of safety precautions to be followed. Once made mandatory, customers who are taking the easy way out will be forced to recruit qualified operators and this will change the knowledge, skill and attitude of people who operate these machines. Well, the first step has been taken in the right direction and the next should certainly be quickly in the forward direction.
An earthmoving machine operator training school, requires high capital expenses as the cost of equipment and simulators are high and equally high operating expenses due to rising fuel and lubricant costs. Trainees will find it difficult to pay for the fees. This is one more reason why operator training schools are fewer. Government support is essential to the trainees to pay the fees to institutes. Similarly, government assistance is required to counsel boys to take up these trades if they are struggling in school, and recommend them to either OEMs for training under Skill India Mission.
Could you elaborate on your operator training activities?
L&T Construction and Mining Machinery Business (L&T CMB) has the Central Training Centre located at Kanchipuram and four regional training centres attached to Service Centres, in Bahadurgarh, Durgapur, Nagpur and Kanchipuram. Initially, the operator training takes place during machine commissioning, when the service engineer briefs
the key features of the machine to the operators.
There are 10 dedicated operator trainers, who spend over 20 days a month at jobsites doing fresh training or refresher programmes. They use tailor-made evaluation sheets and record the operator's response and assess the operator. The master operator spends time with each operator to see if the errors committed by the operator has been rectified.
All our operator trainers are accredited by IESC to conduct NSQF Level 3 and 4 operator training on products - we sell and support. Some fleet owners have got their operators certified under the IESC - RPL/PMKVY programmes.
L&T has been a leader in skilling operators under the Skill India mission and the efforts have been recognised both by the government and by the industry.
What are your future plans on training activities?
L&T CMB will continue to train operators at site for the customers and support the IESC/PMKVY- RPL-4 scheme that is launched this year. We will be extending our training for the special project under National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) for the North Eastern region. Training operators to optimally use equipment and save energy and make the best use of the available features will remain our main objective. This year, we have opened a Service Centre in the coal belt area of Singrauli, where we would also be shortly adding a training unit. Overall, we have planned a substantial growth in the number of operator certification in FY2018-19, and we plan to maintain this growth trend in the years to come.