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In a classroom of construction firm Larsen & Toubro s
training center outside the Indian city of Mumbai,
an instructor lifts up a tool and shows it to his stu-
dents: "Clawhandle," he tells them. "Clawhandle,"
chant back the young men, gathered under a picture
of Vishwakarma, the Hindu god for craftsmen.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is depending on such young
people to realise his dream of turning India from a country
of IT professionals, security guards and low-paid chauffeurs
into a manufacturing and export powerhouse through his
"Make in India" initiative.
India has too few skilled labourers thanks to decades of
neglect in training and it desperately needs electricians,
bricklayers and plumbers.
The shortage means India could squander the potential
demographic dividend of 12 million people joining the labor
market a year, just when China s workforce is expected to
lose 6 million over the next decade because of its aging pop-
"India, so far, has been a country that celebrated knowledge
and intellect. Skills are not celebrated," said Rituparna
Chakraborty, president of Indian Staffing Federation, which
represents the country s employment agencies.
China became a manufacturing giant by steering secondary
school students into formal skilled training programs.
By contrast, in India, students who do not go on to tertiary
education have few vocational options other than govern-
ment-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) that executives
say are poorly managed and often outdated.
For example, the ITI syllabus for car mechanics includes
considerable training on carburettors, which were widely
phased out of cars in the 1990s.
The scant training available means that India only has 3.5
million workers undergoing skills courses a year, compared
with 90 million in China, according to Indian government
The lack of proper training is compounded by prejudice
against manual labour under the Hindu caste system, which
has traditionally left jobs that might get your hands dirty to
the lowest of the low.
As a result, only one in 10 workers in India s construction
industry are skilled, according to government data.
Private companies fill the gap
The government has a goal to provide at least some skills
to 500 million people by 2022. But private companies such
as the Godrej Group are taking matters into their own hands,
recruiting and training workers themselves to be ready with
skilled labor when an economic recovery comes.
"I always say that there is no unemployment in India. It s
only unemployability," said Adi Godrej, whose businesses
range from consumer goods to real estate and infrastruc-
Larsen & Toubro (L&T), the country s biggest construction
company, says it could face a labor shortage next year, just
when it plans to ramp up investment after two years of slow
It hs gone out to rural areas to find recruits and bring them
to sprawling training centres---such as the one in the outskirts
of Mumbai, where young men practice bricklaying and putting
up scaffolding---from which up to 20,000 students graduate
a year, many of them joining L&T.
Yogesh Devdas Dudhpachari, 24, is one of L&T s recruits.
An unskilled motorcycle mechanic, he attended an ITI to
learn carpentry but ended up back at his village without a
job before being taken on by L&T.
"Skill and time is valued here," he said during a break in
India's 'Make in India'
drive lacks skilled labour
his training. "We were not doing anything in our villages."
Even then, companies struggle to find volunteers.
Most young people eschew building and manufacturing
jobs in favour of less physically strenuous work, despite
data showing that wages for professions with acute shortages
such as plumbers and electricians are higher than even
low-level IT engineers.
At L&T s training center in Mumbai, 25 per cent of
people who joined this year have left the three-month
"There is a bit of reluctance ... to join this kind of trade,"
said Ajit Singh, executive vice president of L&T s Corporate
Infrastructure and Services. "The rural youth are used to
staying in their comfort zones in the villages and don t
want to move out to the project sites."
Analysts say the biggest push needs to come from the
government, which has already started easing decades-
old labor rules and is trying to centralize a hodgepodge of
bodies that over-regulate employment.
Modi has also vowed to make skills training a major
plank of his "Make in India" initiative, passing through
parliament a programme that will make it easier for employ-
ers to hire apprentices for two years.
Economists say India needs to go beyond numerical
targets for skills training by lifting the quality of ITIs and
working with the private sector to improve apprenticeship
"The initiatives are in the right direction," said Chetan
Ahya, Morgan Stanley s Asia-Pacific chief economist.
"However, alongside focusing on the quantitative aspect
of skilled labour force the policy makers will also need to
focus on the qualitative aspect of the skill programmes."
India, so far, has been a
country that celebrated
knowledge and intellect. Skills
are not celebrated
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