Manufacturing sector – Dearth of technically skilled workforce

One of the priorities for the new government as per Mr. Jagdish Khattar, Managing director, Maruti Udyog Ltd. (MUL) must be “education, particularly in developing technically skilled workforce”. Mr. Khattar must be having the present standard of the students that are graduating out of the technical schools in his mind. I agree with him whole-heartedly. Somehow along the way, we seem to have dropped the ball when it came to imparting good quality technical skills attained and knowledge in our schools.

I can certainly relate this in the fields of Mechanical and Manufacturing engineers. I used to interview fresh graduates quite often during my professional career. Don’t get me wrong. These boys and girls were and are extremely sharp in computer-related skills. But their exposure to fundamentals of the subjects they are presumably majoring in is very limited. Perhaps it’s lack of interaction between the teachers and the industry that employs these students. Many a times, we see instances of course materials being woefully outdated. An increased exposure of the new technology in use in a high-tech industry is essential. Teachers must regularly update and refresh their knowledge to provide the knowledge of technology as well as management techniques used on shop floor. Moreover, the workshop facilities in workshops in some of these colleges are really limited. The way I see it, every manufacturing engineering student must have a practical and hands-on knowledge of at least five types of machine tools.

Here are a few ideas:

  • An engineering course – Manufacturing engineering and management must be encouraged. This graduate level course must include design and manufacture of tooling, tool engineering, and quality control techniques as well as inter-personal skills. I tried to propose the course with some of the institutes during my professional life, but with little success.
  • We have a large number of technical schools in every state that teaches different trades and offers diplomas in the trades. These students become the first level operatives and the junior supervisors in a manufacturing company such as MUL. As a rule, the students are given some theoretical lessons in trade schools followed by practical training and exposure in a sponsoring company. Unfortunately, none of the curricula as well as training is taken seriously either by the teachers or the sponsoring companies. The onus is completely on the student to learn and earn the skills of the trade. I propose that some of these trade schools, if not all, be attached to better staffed and equipped engineering colleges of the state such as IITs, Regional engineering colleges or other similar institutions. The parent institutes should keep a watch on the quality of education being provided to students. I feel this model might work.
  • Along similar lines, various states have State funded tool rooms – some Indo-German, Indo- Danish, and Indo-Swiss. These tool rooms train students in tool making and tool design. The engineering college can go in collaborations with these tool rooms and use its workshops that are pretty-well equipped. While the tool rooms will be provide better practical working skills to the graduates, the teachers of these engineering colleges can give better theoretical knowledge of the subjects. A lot of duplication of investment in machine tools and equipment can also be eliminated.

    Some of these tool rooms are already manufacturing for industry. These tool rooms can easily become the nuclei for setting up a larger tool room and die making companies for catering to different industries. If necessary, these tool rooms should even be privatized. I think it’s inline with my desire of making India a manufacturing hub of world-class tooling manufacturers.

  • By tooling I mean, all jigs, fixtures and dies for all metal-forming industry. India is way behind in this area. Even countries such as Taiwan, Malaysia, and Thailand are having many world class tool-making companies. Thanks to the growing auto industry (more than a million per year of passenger cars), auto-component industry, other white goods and brown goods consumer industry, the business scope will be very high. Potential for export is always there. For an example, for any new model of a car, a company invests about Rs. 600 -1000 crore in new dies and tooling. Because of the nature of the industry, the employment potential is also high. Its profit margins are also high. With flexible machine tools available for manufacturers of the dies and tooling items, the investment will be justifiable. Like almost everything else around us, Tool manufacturing today is highly computer-based with CAD and CAM applications and India’s IT superiority will put us in good stead.

I dream of at least 10 more IITs and IIMs for a country of the size of India. I also dream that one day our manufacturing sector will grow and become the best in the world in cost, quality and delivery. Our manufacturing engineering sector’s contribution must be at least 100 billion dollars in our export. It’s a tall order, but then, I think it’s worth aiming for.

I propose to continue writing on India’s Manufacturing sector. If you’ve something to add, I would more than happy to listen

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