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The manufacturing fraternity must overcome its challenges of a lack of available skilled labour in the Indian economy

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Indian manufacturing sector Skill development & industry-academia relations

Jan 8, 2018

The Indian government aims to increase the manufacturing sector’s growth to 25% of the country’s GDP by 2020. To achieve this target, the manufacturing fraternity must overcome its challenges of a lack of available skilled labour in the Indian economy. In this context, this viewpoint section explores the initiatives being taken by academic institutes to bridge the skill gap and enhance the industry-academia relations to achieve this objective. Excerpts…

Our academic institute, IIT Bombay, has various outreach programmes to address the challenge of skill gap in manpower in the manufacturing sector. The continuing education programmes, opportunities for working professionals to enroll for degree programs and industry-specific curricula constitute the outreach framework.

In addition, QIPs for college teachers are aimed at bridging this gap in the skillset by enhancing the quality of instruction in the engineering colleges. Thus, the problem is addressed at two levels—by educating the educators and educating the professionals. For a wider outreach, a number of courses delivered by the IIT professors are available on the internet. Also, IIT curriculum is updated regularly. Inputs from alumni from the industry are taken and faculty interacts with the industry. Professional advice and long-term engagements of faculty with the industry have led to productive outcomes. Dissemination of research outcomes from the IIT are documented regularly for the benefit of the industry as well.

— Dr P P Date, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Bombay

According to recent statistics, only 5% of students passing out of the engineering colleges are employable and another 15% need to be trained and then employed. The remaining engineering students are just not employable suitably. This is going to be a big issue at a national level. Academic institutes need to ponder on several critical aspects to overcome this challenge, such as, is there a staff available to impart adequate knowledge, is the teaching material adequate for the student to take up the activities needed to run the business model in the industry, does the manufacturing industry have a clearly defined training plan to upgrade the knowledge of the students so as to integrate them in their business activities, etc. There are lots of industries who recruit fresh engineering candidates and use them for a period of their production work on a very low payment.

In this era of the internet, we need to approach the teaching activity aggressively. This will require high speed connectivity. Even the practical industrial training to the students should be under the supervision of an industry expert and the college teaching member, funded preferably by the industry (may be with tax concessions from the government) and must be result-oriented. The final year of the students must be reserved exclusively for project work, again sponsored by an industry. The student will have to work for a minimum of 48 hours a week within the industry for at least 280 days of the year with a progress report for every 15 days.

This will require colleges to squeeze the teaching activities for 2 years and 8 months only. It will teach not only the students but also the teaching staff to be on their toes throughout the teaching period. The access to internet will make this possible as there are lots of free training programs available and will reduce the strain on the teaching staff.

— Kishore Karandikar, Retd Assistant General, Manager - Electronics, Tata Motors

The emerging era of the manufacturing sector in India will have to depend on highly skilled workforce and have access to technology professionals, who are endowed with the necessary technology and domain knowledge so that they are instrumental to the success of the manufacturing companies in the years to come. Thus, the country’s challenge is two-fold—propel the growth of the manufacturing industry and improve the availability of skilled workforce. On both of these fronts, broad policy initiatives are already in place but much more needs to be done to achieve the goals.

Policy initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ programmes are geared to meet these twin objectives. The ‘Make in India’ programme aims to make the country a manufacturing hub and push the share of the manufacturing industry up from the present 15% – 25% and in this process, create millions of jobs in 25 industry verticals that include automotive, cement, metal, mining, electronics, drugs and pharmaceuticals, power and others.

The ‘Skill India’ initiative aims to train over 400 million people in India in different skills by 2022. The Instrumentation Automation Surveillance & Communication (IASC) Sector Skill Council constituted by the National Skill Development Corporation is responsible to identify and develop skill manpower development plan for the instrumentation, automation, surveillance and communication sectors that broadly encompasses OT and IT domains.

While these policy initiatives provide the necessary framework for propelling the industrial growth and creation of skilled workforce, for the economy to grow and for job creation, the best way is to take a holistic approach that includes in its ambit the educational system, on-the-job training, certification by professional and industry organisations, company or industry-initiated skill development programmes, and above all, the workforce-commitment to continuous learning. The industry expects the engineering colleges and other technical schools to equip technology professionals with the basic entry-level technical knowledge. The way forward is for the industry, the academia and OT/IT professionals to come under a common platform to evolve the most appropriate syllabi and training programmes.

— Rajabahadur V Arcot, Industry Analyst & Business Consultant

These are exciting times for the Indian engineering and manufacturing sectors due to the launch of the ‘Make in India’ movement. Manufacturing is critical to this initiative because of its widespread utilisation in all sectors of a vibrant Indian economy including aerospace, automotive, defense and healthcare. The advances required in manufacturing to tackle global planetary crisis, such as climate change and resource-scarcity, and also issues local to India are possible only when academia is up to mark in terms of both research and teaching advanced skills.

The various excellent institutes in India including IIT-Madras (& other IITs), IISc and IIMs, to name a few, possess the wherewithal to undertake this challenge and are doing so currently. Advanced degree programs (MTech, MS, PhD) at IIT-Madras and other institutes are geared towards achieving excellence in engineering and sciences through active research and are also imparting skills for solving complex problems in manufacturing, which is employed in critical sectors such as aerospace, energy
and healthcare.

Such advanced degree programs at IIT Madras have been set up to train our current and future skilled workers in areas such as robotics, 3D Printing, AI, Big Data, sustainable development and other state-of-the-art areas that have an influence in manufacturing. In fact, these areas will revamp manufacturing and will accordingly require new skills on part of the Indian workforce to survive in engineering in the future. We have one of the best faculty in these and other areas and are preparing the workforce for advanced manufacturing activities in various sectors.

Moreover, research activities at our institute is further enhanced by our world-class research park, where companies and public sector entities are engaged with our faculty and experts on research that spans several critical areas including manufacturing. Last but not the least, Indian institutes, such as ours, also attract the best talent in the country and train them to possess advanced skills for solving various challenges in engineering including manufacturing.

— Dr Balkrishna C Rao, Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Design, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras

In the current times, the concept of Internet of Things (IoT), which integrates the cyber-physical systems, artificial intelligent systems and cloud computing in the manufacturing field has revolutionised the concept of industrial manufacturing by several folds. This has shifted the significance from the machine operation to the development of smart machines wherein each and every operation and the self-correction of the parameters is controlled by the computer software.

This adoption of IoT for Industry 4.0 has necessitated re-thinking of the skills required by the operatives. It will result in replacement of lower skilled jobs by higher skilled jobs through automation. It is expected that a number of skills that are not considered to be significant in today's context will form one-third of the desired core skill sets of most occupation by 2020. With such a shift in skill requirements, the basic education level and teaching models are bound to change. All engineering colleges should now train the mechanical engineers on the basics of IT to know how each movement of the machine is controlled by the software.

Mechanical engineers (better known as manufacturing engineers) should be taught the manufacturing skills strengthened by the IT skills to the required extent as demanded by the latest trends like Industry 4.0. Special attention must be given to train the staff in this direction before or even during the changeover of the weightage. Regarding the industry-academia relations, the need remains the same, if not more, because institution must keep updating the syllabi and method of skill imparting to suit the industry’s requirements, especially in these days of industrial upheaval. It should be made mandatory for every institution to have two or three industrial leaders in their Board of Directors.

— Prof D R Kiran, Principal (Retd), PMR Institute of Technology

Achieving the required level of skillset for meeting operational excellence is one of the challenges in both manufacturing and IT sectors in India. Initiatives must be taken to bridge this gap of industry and academia and the scale of these activities should be increased. This can start with updating the academic course curriculum with inputs from the industry to incorporate the latest trends during the final year of the course work. The academic institutes need to have a balance of fundamental courses for a particular stream and still add the latest courses. Deemed universities and autonomous institutes have some advantage in this regard.

Next, independent organisations such as The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), The International Society of Automation (ISA), and The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) play a role in bridging this gap through their student chapters and specific societies in the colleges. They arrange guest lectures and trainings on the latest skill set required for operational excellence. The colleges in metropolitan cities have the advantage of having access to industry professionals to conduct these trainings and bridge the gap. Other colleges should take the advantage of internet for arranging these lectures/trainings remotely.

Alumni can also play a role in bridging this gap, which is a scalable solution for the academic institutes in finding the talent pool to increase the skillset of their students to be industry-ready. Academic institutes should encourage their students to do internships. This is not happening at a large scale now but should increase in future. IIIT Bangalore is a front-runner in all these aspects of keeping an up-to-date course curriculum, giving flexibility to students to choose their specialisation, providing internship opportunities to students and enhancing strong industry collaborations.

— Sunil Kumar Vuppala, Principal Scientist, Philips Research

Image Gallery

  • Dr P P Date, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Bombay

  • Kishore Karandikar, Retd Assistant General, Manager - Electronics, Tata Motors

  • Rajabahadur V Arcot, Industry Analyst & Business Consultant

  • Dr Balkrishna C Rao, Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Design, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras

  • Prof D R Kiran, Principal (Retd), PMR Institute of Technology

  • Sunil Kumar Vuppala, Principal Scientist, Philips Research

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