Operator Training: Need of the Hour
Skilled and well-trained operators is the most pressing need of the booming infrastructure sector. Anand Sundaresan, Chairman, Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC), and Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Schwing Stetter India, writes more on the importance of skill development initiatives.

These are good times for construction equipment industry. Orders have gone up, thanks to a revival in the economy fuelled by government's affirmative actions to nurse the infra development sector back to health. During the current year, India's GDP is expected to grow at 6.7 to seven per cent, according to the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.  The recovery path of Indian economy coupled with the steady growth of exports (30 per cent growth registered in November 2017) will also increase the overall jobs in the country. Together with the 'Make in India' drive and stronger infrastructure push, the future is bright in terms of job creation.

Among the new jobs to be created, many lie in the much-happening construction world, where the latest in global technology is now moving mountains, desilting lakes and constructing entire new urban landscapes. Machines are nothing without the people running them. India needs a large number of talented operators with the best skill sets. Only these able hands can drive the change the country is working to see.

Let us see the major factors that have resulted in increased need for trained operators:

Industry trends
The real estate market is expected to grow on all fronts. The outlook for the industry in 2018 is promising, with rising purchasing power, expanding aspirations and push for urbanisation. The Housing For All by 2022 scheme is ambitious and is expected to boost the Indian real estate industry in a substantial way. The government's other projects such as Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and the limelight project Swacch Bharat Mission would also significantly contribute to the growth of Indian CE industry. Clearance for construction of highways, expressways and metro rail lines would expand affordable housing pockets in all Indian cities. 

The Indian infrastructure sector is opening up significant opportunities. Growth in roads and railways have also been on the upswing. Also, government's focus on irrigation projects would require a substantial addition of construction equipment to desilt lakes and construct dams. The  government's push to develop new Metro rail lines, mining, irrigation, power, and urban development projects have revived the growth story of Indian construction equipment (ICE) industry, which is recovering from a four-year slump in the last two years. The ICE industry grew at a CAGR of seven per cent in the decade of 2007 to 2017, and is expected to grow further, at about 10 per cent in the coming years. Factoring in this growth, the ICE industry would double in its value to cross $10 billion by 2022 and all of these machines rolling out of our floors would require the best hands to operate them.

Skill development
The CE industry has always been in deficit of skilled operators and mechanics for various reasons. In anticipation of the projected growth and resultant demand for skilled personnel, the Indian Construction Equipment Manufacturers Association (ICEMA) promoted and supported the formation of Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC) in 2014 as an apex body to spearhead the skilling of workforce in the industry, focusing initially on training and certification of operators and mechanics.
The IESC has come a long way since its inception and built a strong foundation for the skill eco-system in terms of developing standards covering over 80 per cent of the workforce, accrediting training partners and empanelling experienced trainers to deliver quality skill training pan India. While the Government, (Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship) has encouraged and supported the skill development programs through its flagship scheme, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) a lot more needs to be done.

Since the cost of establishing facilities and conducting skill programs on construction equipment is very high, the onus is on the equipment manufacturers, who are the major and most affected stake holders in this, to support this initiative by firstly, expanding its in-house operator training schools and secondly, supporting private training organisations who have the passion to drive this change.

Technical skills
It is important to train operators in both maintenance and troubleshooting. Training modules on sophisticated construction equipment operation would be a great value-addition. Operators have an outsized potential to impact quality and economic performance. Also, it is a known industry secret that about as much as 80 per cent of unscheduled production downtime in all industries are from the preventable operator errors. Skilled operators with sound technical knowledge is therefore the make-or-break factor in the long-term success of several industries, more so in the highly time intensive, labour intensive construction equipment applications. Robust evaluation and certification of operator skills are huge success factors. 

Fastest way to impart skills
As much as classroom orientation, lectures and soft skills training, giving the trainees ample hands-on training time to practice in near-industry conditions on a variety of equipment under simulated conditions is crucial. Technological aids such as simulated environments would remove all mental blocks from novice operators and make them bold and confident to face the real world. In an industry where attrition and job rotation is high, new entrants should be equipped with the right skills set from early on - to stay focused and confident to continue in the profession. 

Need for a humane approach to training
While we give importance to designing speedy training modules to prepare the necessary workforce, what differentiates them on ground is the indispensable human-oriented training. Operators should not only be readied to physically drive the equipment and perform their tasks within tight deadlines, but should also be trained on the ethics in the first place. More than the technical expertise, soft skills and ethics go a long way in attaining and sustaining real growth. Modules on soft skills is
a definite must.

While the government has been pushing hard, the best way to achieve the nation's growth story is by equal and proactive partnership from the private sector, through institution-building and public-private partnerships in skill development initiatives.