In the past decade or so, the automotive industry has been undergoing a paradigm transformation. Most of the changes are driven by the dynamics of digitalisation and Industry 4.0, which are impacting the entire auto value chain. Industry 4.0 has accelerated the deployment of digital tools, increasing its importance for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), dealers, suppliers, captive finance players and other entities operating in the mobility segment.
By deploying ‘phygital’ power – connected digital and physical technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, 3D manufacturing and cloud computing, to mention a few – are helping companies become more agile, flexible, responsive and efficient. All of these are transforming how autocompanies operate businesses, engage customers and ensure timely delivery of products and services.
Shortage of skilled talent
However, even as this happens, major challenges confront automotive entrepreneurs and their employees. The foremost is the rising shortage of key talent who can plan, operate and maintain these new digital systems. As a result, companies are being nudged to review talent-hiring and employee development strategies.
Since the talent pipeline is lean, companies are left with no option but to reskill and upskill employees. Also, there is a greater requirement for investing in internal and external training to benefit both existing and prospective employees. Such measures can ascertain that the sector’s short term and long-term needs are addressed.
Broadly, two reasons predominate for adopting the technology:
1. Raising productivity levels
2. Improving workplace safety by automating all hazardous tasks
In such cases, automation may also be beneficial for workers since robots, and automated systems will undertake risky tasks. Nonetheless, there are concerns about the job losses even if the numbers are not high currently. Significantly, highly repetitive, and manual tasks will be the ones easily automated.
But this puts the focus on the criticality of workers undergoing upskilling or reskilling training to retain their relevance in the automotive landscape. Conversely, jobs requiring high degrees of creativity, cognitive ability, robust sensorimotor skills and empathy won’t be automated, at least in the near future. In the case of such employees, too, some degree of upskilling and reskilling is needed to stay ahead of the technology transformation curve.
Challenges in skilling
Thanks to the steady shift in the future of mobility from traditional modes to sustainable systems, the skillsets in demand are also projected to change. In India, skilling is undertaken at different levels. These include government-led skilling initiatives, private players’ third-party services, university courses, industry association programmes and inhouse sessions offered by companies.
Against this backdrop, the World Development Report 2019 highlights a three-pronged strategy that can transform the skilling ecosystem: early time investment, tertiary education and external adult learning with the focus on lifelong learning and skill development.
As per projections, the coming years will witness rising demand for engineers specialising in advanced technologies, such as robotics, AI, ML and cognitive solutions, among others. Particularly for companies connected with global value chains as exporters or importers or export-oriented units operating under the aegis of ‘Make in India’, the impact of technological changes could be more pronounced.
Taking these factors into account, the auto sector will need to foster a collaborative learning ambience while developing retraining or refresher courses across all levels for organisations to be future-ready in managing novel roles, such as automobile analytics engineer, sustainability integration specialist, 3D Printing and cyber security expert.
Another key element accelerating the challenge of hiring talent with new-age skills is the emergence of electric vehicles (EVs), which require wholly different skillsets, unlike manual vehicles. Given the centre’s intent for transitioning most vehicles to the EV category by 2030, together with the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’ missions, there are multiple reasons why the auto sector is eager to address the skills gap, especially in the case of blue-collar workers.
Going by the current situation where the new-age talent pipeline looks lean, the industry players must ensure that skilling programmes can cater to existing employees as well as the future workforce. For the former, retraining and upskilling would be crucial in ascertaining the workforce remains industry relevant.
Superseding disparate programmes
Meanwhile, although the transition towards digital has been underway for some years, the pandemic has hastened digitalisation. This has seen the advent of multiple trends, such as autonomous vehicles, mechatronics, robotics, Augmented Reality and more, in the manufacture of automobiles, triggering a shift in the dynamics of jobs driven by technology. Consequently, auto components, vehicle servicing and other subsectors are slated to bear the brunt of the job changes and demand for tech-savvy talent.
Considering the fast-evolving new-age skills scenario, the Central Government and industry bodies are collaborating to address the skills deficit. For instance, in a joint initiative with Automotive Skills Development Council (ASDC) and allied industry associations, the centre is undertaking multiple skilling programmes. Apart from others, these include apprenticeship schemes such as National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras (PMKKs).
The changes in consumer demand patterns and the speed of technological transformation raises the prospect of a greater skills deficit in upcoming years. To address the demand-supply mismatch of workers with Industry 4.0 skills, market analysts concur that apprenticeships programmes are the best way forward to meet the needs of automotive players.
Presently, only OEMs and auto component makers in tier-1 and tier-2 geographies are offering apprenticeships programmes. The advantage of such apprenticeships is that they are based on industry demand. Therefore, the probability of mismatch in the skills imparted and the workshop requirements remains remote, which is not the case with similar skilling programmes provided by schools, industrial training institutes or polytechnic institutions.
Nevertheless, industry analysts believe the disparate initiatives are inadequate in meeting the sector’s overall skills shortfall. These specialists assert that rather than disjointed programmes or the formal training of academic institutions, which are outdated sooner or later, the industry should shift focus to providing lifelong learning, reskilling and upskilling opportunities.
In an era of constant technological innovations, workers’ skills should always stay abreast of ongoing changes in the workshop and manufacturing segments. If not, both employees and entrepreneurs in the automotive industry risk being left behind in the wake of digital disruptions. Change, as our ancient seers said, is the only constant in the cosmos. The automotive industry is no exception.