Stepping up Skill Development
The Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council is partnering with the key stakeholders in the construction equipment industry and state governments to strengthen the skill development initiatives in the construction equipment sector. HS Mohan writes more on the skill development initiatives and the way forward.

The availability of skilled operators in India and the actual requirement in numbers shows a huge gap. At the outset, it needs to be emphasised that over 65 per cent of our industry falls in the unorganised segment where getting factual feedbacks has always been a challenge. While the demand for skilled operators can and is projected based on the sales volumes of equipment, at the scale of two operators per machine, the availability on ground has always been a grey area in the absence of any systemic documentation.

The industry has joined hands with the equipment manufacturers to establish the sector skill council to set industry standards and to meet the growing demand for trained and certified operators.

Further, the industry needs to come forward to engage trained and certified operators as per the standards approved by the manufacturers and the end users. These standards are matching with international standards to equip the operator to carry out operations of the high-value and technologically advanced machines sold globally. By paying "a little more", the contractor "earns much more" with less downtime with safe working conditions.

How is it progressing?
The skill development initiatives which were initially being implemented and monitored by the Central Government has now been passed on progressively to the state governments who have now over the period established their own Skill Development Missions to take this forward.

In our opinion, this was a step in the right direction as the states are better equipped to prioritise their programs based on local conditions and needs. The Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC) has signed MoUs with most of the key states in this regard.

Besides, various industry stake holders like Crane Owners Association of India (COAOI), Aerial Platform Association of India (APAOI), Earthmoving Equipment Owners Association, Tata Projects, Adani Skill Development, Sterlite Skill Academy, and L&T P&M Division have formally joined hands with IESC to help in training and skilling their equipment operators.

Is government support enough?
While the government has been supporting skilling initiatives through various schemes like Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), this has met with limited success only as the extent of funding still does not make it economically viable for a training partner to take up operator programs.

Also, since the job markets in our sector are yet to open up to the desired levels and with no assurance of a ready job on conclusion of training, it is also not possible to make the candidates pay even partly for the cost of training. The operator career progression is non-aspirational.

IESC has put up various proposals to facilitate operator training like utilising existing infrastructure of ITIs to reduce capex costs, establishing Centres of Excellence in various parts of the country utilising resources of public sector units (PSUs) and mandating only certified operators to handle equipment similar to the MV Act. However, these proposals are under various stages of examination by the concerned Ministries of Central Government and are yet to fructify on ground.

New technologies in training
The training and skilling of operators is perforce "hands on" with nearly 70 per cent of the duration spent outdoors/practical and only 30 per cent indoors in classroom/theory sessions.

Since most infrastructure equipment are costly, many training partners especially OEMs have introduced simulator training for many of their products, notably wheel loaders, excavators, backhoe loaders, graders, cranes etc. All operators have to clear this phase before they begin the live equipment training phase.

Likewise, since operator training covers basic trouble-shooting, this training is also imparted through fault finding simulation boards which deals with common faults that an operator is likely to come across at the job site like inspecting and replacing a fuse or changing a headlight bulb etc.

It is heartening to note that the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) is encouraging the implementation of "value engineering program" to promote the use of new technologies. With these developments, construction equipment market is likely to witness rise in technology demand with enhanced safety, faced with automation and digitalisation concept, coupled with increasing demand for higher productivity.

IESC: future plans
Since operator training is involved with high capex and opex, it is only the OEMs and select corporate training organisations which can take this up. Since training of operators is being done by all equipment manufacturers at the time of commissioning or installation of the machine, IESC is preparing a blue print whereby these on-site training during delivery can be formalised and certified by IESC. We hope to overcome the systemic challenges like minimum batch size and assessment protocols etc.

Besides, IESC is also collaborating with equipment finance as well as insurance companies to provide used equipment at affordable rates and payment terms to training partners and institutes to facilitate operator training. Further, deployment of skilled and certified operators by these organisations will enhance the overall control and monitoring of these equipment to ensure payment of EMI and safety, not only that of operator, but also on machine scheduled maintenance to avoid down time.

HS Mohan is CEO, Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC).