An Uphill Task
Lack of availability of certified skilled equipment operators is a major issue faced by construction contractor in India. A combined and organised effort by the equipment stakeholders and the government is needed to meet the future needs for an adequate skilled pool of equipment operators.

Construction equipment operators operate equipment used in the construction and maintenance of infrastructure projects, in mining and quarrying activities and in material handling work. Skill development is of utmost importance in equipment operation and maintenance. This will improve the efficiency of operators and thus adds to productivity and uptime of the machine. With the growing number of construction equipment and new-age technologies, it is imperative that the operators and maintenance personnel are adequately trained to operate and maintain the equipment efficiently and effectively.

Skilled operators for better equipment utilisation
Currently there is a huge gap in the actual requirement and the availability of skilled and certified equipment operators in the construction, mining and material handling industry. At a time when technology is growing, new features are adding to the equipment, project execution norms are getting stringent with more quality and less time for execution, the role of skill is extremely important. An unskilled operator can even cause damage to the equipment. As Virender Saroha, President-HR, Action Construction Equipment, says, "A lot of wear-and-tear related troubleshooting issues occur due to breakdown of equipment by un-trained and unskilled operators, which again impacts the effective execution of various projects." Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the whole value chain of the equipment industry have a bigger role to play in providing adequate training to develop the skill sets in operators and maintenance personnel, thus narrowing down the skill gap in the industry.

Progress of skill development
Skill development activities are progressing in India in an organised way in the past few years with a dedicated ministry at the Central Government and the Prime Minister's prestigious programme of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY). According to Arun Pai, General Manager (Product Support), L&T Construction & Mining Machinery, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and the various sector skill councils are driving the Skill India initiative. In the construction equipment industry, the Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC) was set up by the Indian Construction Equipment Manufacturers Association (ICEMA) to provide quality training and the much needed skill sets to equipment operators and maintenance persons in association with the industry and the government. Many OEMs are providing training courses and certify the qualified participants in association with the IESC. For example the Material Handling Equipment (MHE) division of Godrej & Boyce has started training facility dedicated to MHE segment. GÇ£We registered with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for the Skill Council in the Logistics sector and were the first Indian OEM to receive accreditation as a training partner with the PMKVY to impart MHE operating skills,' claims Anil Lingayat, EVP & Business Head, Material Handling, Godrej & Boyce.

According to Jasmeet Singh, AVP, Corporate Communications & Corporate Relations, JCB India, the government too has been supporting the skilling of labourers, thereby also formalising the unorganised sector. He adds,"In the latest Budget 2020-21, our Finance Minister also highlighted government's support towards bridging the skill gap in the infrastructure industry through NSDC."

Innovations in training
With the technology growing and equipment applications diversifying, innovative methods and tools are being introduced in the equipment training programmes. Apart from hands-on training on machines, there are now trainings in a virtual world using augmented reality, virtual reality etc. Pai elaborates, "The basic requirement for operator training is a machine and a place to operate. However, today this is not enough as an earthmoving equipment is put to use in a wide range of applications. This is a testimony to the innovation that is happening in the industry " a construction equipment has also a big role in demolition. A quarry application and a canal application are poles apart, so is operation in granite or marble, sand loading or feeding a crusher; the skills required are also different and are based on individual application. Now, all such scenarios are very difficult to be created in a training centre. Technology has made it possible in a virtual world with simulators bringing that flexibility." Apart from L&T, there are many OEMs offer training programme on simulators while a few companies are planning to introduce training on simulators soon. Use of virtual reality has eliminated fuel and the entire operating expenses and damage to machine that may happen during learning.

Going ahead with skills
The importance of training is growing day by day due to the growing demand for quality and productivity. While many OEMs are improving their skill development initiative with larger involvement of people and technology, some OEMs are developing training initiatives in their own way to create better and qualified equipment operators. There are also rental players taking some organised steps in association with IESC and other industry associations. Pai adds, "In L&T-CMB, operator training will continue to receive top priority as this directly impacts machine productivity, reliability and durability." Schwing Stetter India is also there to actively continue its plans for a noble cause as VG Sakthikumar, Managing Director says, "We will reach out ourselves to various unemployed educated youth who can be further skilled in equipment operation, etc." Singh elaborates on the future plans of JCB in India, "Going forward, we are keen to increase the number of our operator training centres to create more and more employment and entrepreneurship amongst youth. Gradually, we would also like to introduce simulators, which can eventually fast track the entire training process."

Godrej has ambitious plans to expand its footprint in the training space by opening more training centres across India. At present, Godrej conducts training through its three centres at Chennai, Bhubaneswar and Pune apart from Mumbai."We plan to take forward this initiative across to Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Kolkata etc, to enable persons desirous in making a career in MHE operations," says Lingayat. He further adds, "With a spurt in the growth of the warehousing industry in India, Godrej plans to extensively promote training on articulated forklifts, reach trucks etc. This will add to the skill sets of existing forklift operators, thereby improving their employability." ACE has its own operator training facility in Faridabad as the domestic major plans to do more in the skill development. "We plan to train approximately 2,500 operators and participants through 125 training programmes at our skill development centre in Faridabad,"adds Saroha.

The various skill development initiatives by OEMs, associations, government and other stakeholders of the industry are sure going to bridge the skill gap in the industry.