Operator training is a necessity today
Wirtgen India revived its training school almost one-and-a-half years back to give training in its pavers range. Ramesh Palagiri, Managing Director & CEO, elaborates more on the company's views on skill development and the way forward.

How do you look at the skill gap prevailing in the construction, mining and material handling industry in India?
In the last three years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of construction equipment in the market. So, naturally there is a huge gap between the requirement and availability of trained and skilled equipment operators and technicians to operate and maintain these machines. There was a gap earlier also, but these days, it has become evident because of increase in construction activities and growth in the number of equipment in the market.

What is the importance of skill development?
If you look at the sophistication and cost of the machines in the last few years, it has become important that a skilled operator is required for operating the machine. Even the contractors are now convinced on the requirement for skilled operators. The trained operator will ensure that the customer gets optimum production and machine availability. Most of the projects are now running at almost two-three times faster than that was a couple of years back. The contractors want to complete the job ahead of the schedule and get the bonus. So for them, it is not only productivity but availability is also important, where a skilled operator will play a major role in the availability of the machine. If any machine maintenance arises at project site, depending an OEM service person to come and solve the problem will take more time. In most of the cases, the operator himself can solve the issues, which saves a lot of time and reduces the machine downtime. This is what we are planning to achieve through our skill development initiatives.       

What are the operator training initiatives taken up by Wirtgen?
For us, operator training is one of the most important factors and is a necessity today. 
For paving products, we have started our operator training school and have trained almost 260 operators last year. Most of them are now employed with our customers. We are continuing this and added milling stream this year to our operator training school.

As far as our asphalt and concrete pavers are concerned, the final right finishing of the road depends on how effectively our machines are being used. In this scenario, we have revived our training school almost one-and-a-half year back. For our paving products, we are taking fresh ITI candidates and train them at our training school for almost two months on various aspects of concrete and asphalt paving. Then another almost four months training is given on our machines at various projects with our service engineers. In all these six months, we provide free training and accommodation to the students. Also, we provide them stipend so that they are motivated to continue with the training. We also assure them job opportunities and continue stipend till they get a job. After the candidates attain the desired training, we approach our customers for recruiting them at their various projects. They can start with the second line operators in the project sites. Now most of our leading contractors are looking for good operators to handle these expensive and sophisticated machines. Majority of them (about 80-90 per cent) are getting jobs. In case there is a delay in recruiting, we will keep them at our fleet for a month or two. We found the success rate of retention is about 70 per cent in the people whom we have given job with our customers, which is a good sign.

We are also doing a lot of site training and skill upgradation programmes in association with the Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC) for operators who are already there at project sites. We have a team of four people to go to typical road project sites where our machines are working and we do a training session with the operators working with these paving, cold milling and other equipment, just to upgrade their skill sets which they already owe. These are the two major activities we are doing as far as upgradation of skill sets is concerned. Our training schools are operating in Pune and Talcher. 

How do you assess the government support in skill development?
Primarily, skill development is an industry responsibility. Government support is needed in the area of bringing in some regulations on minimum skill set required to operate a machine. Apart from the government, the equipment financing agencies also can insist on a certified operator only need to operate the machine to avail finances. I think many contractors are following this direction now while other will follow soon.  

What are your future plans on skill development?
We currently provide training to concrete paving, asphalt paving and milling machine operations. We will continue our efforts on providing training in these areas and plan to open a training facility in New Delhi. Going forward, the concept of operator training and certification will definitely pick up. Meanwhile, we have a suggestion that the ITI students who do a three-year course, must be attached to an OEM for at least one year so that by the time the course is completed, he will be skilled with the machine operation.