Article: Acute talent shortage: Sukumaran P.


Acute talent shortage: Sukumaran P.

Sukumaran P. P, Chief People Officer & Board of Management Member, Gammon India

At Gammon, we primarily look for three different levels of skill sets:

The basic construction skill, which typically is the hands-on skill that the construction worker brings, that is the blue collared part of the civil construction business.

Second are the supervisors or foremen, and the third type of entry level hires are the project managers.

At the level of construction workmen hiring, there is a tremendous shortage that we face both for the company workers as well as for contractual labor.

Most of the contractors are finding it difficult to find people with the required skill sets as well as to attract and retain them.
This is due to the fact that these people are basically from agricultural backgrounds and do not have the skills required in the construction business. Therefore, we rely a lot on the supervisors and the foremen to attract these people, retain them, skill them and ensure productivity within these constraints.

Owing to which, there is also a huge shortage of supervisors and foremen on the contractors’ side across the industry. As far as Gammon is concerned, we have had supervisors and foremen working with us over a long period of time and so we do not face so much of a problem. But as our business grows, going forward, attracting these foremen and supervisors will be a challenge, as there is no talent pipeline in these categories.

Therefore, we are presently working towards bringing in Diploma holders and people from ITIs, and providing them the right induction and training, so that they can be groomed as future supervisors and foremen.

With respect to the project managers, we hire graduate civil engineers from premium engineering institutes and the National Institute of Construction Management and Research (NICMAR). We are able to find fairly good quality of people from these institutions whom we have begun grooming over the last couple of years and they are now becoming a part of the Gammon talent pipeline for the future project managers.

In the past civil engineering was not a preferred option and the limited qualified and/or experienced construction talent had moved to jobs overseas especially to Singapore and the Middle East, which are still preferred location options for many Indians. Therefore, with a shortage of existing civil engineering talent in the country vis-à-vis the sudden spurt in the construction industry, we faced an acute talent shortage.

However, ‘civil engineering’, which was otherwise considered a non-preferred sector, has gained prominence and most people have started considering this as a prime option, which has resulted in an increased number of candidates joining this stream. This is now beginning to give us a good inflow of civil engineers at the graduate and PG level. So, I do not anticipate a major problem in this area in the coming years.

Like any other stream of engineers, these candidates we hire at the entry level, are also not ready to hit the road directly. We need to take them through a process of induction and acculturate them so that we facilitate their transition from the institute to the industry.

Gammon has an extensive 6 months training program, which is a combination of classroom and on-the-job training that strives to bring them up to speed to meet the real time industry needs. In my opinion, they are able to pick up the industry skills very quickly, because they are quite clear on the theory part, which has not changed much over the years for the construction business. So, the challenge is only about equipping them so that they are able to contribute in the area of applying their technical knowledge and expertise to their work.

By and large, these candidates go through an on-the–job training models within 2 weeks of their joining where they start work as an understudy and contribute to productivity. On an average the investment on training is between Rs. 30,000 to 40,000, and the attrition in the first year is about 10-12%, which reduces to 6-7% thereafter and almost nil post that.

Going forward, I foresee a challenge in finding hands-on skilled people, which even the government, is trying to address through the setting up of NSDC. We have also started an institute in Mysore where we are training people specifically for the skills required in the construction business. We are trying to partner with NGOs who are training people through the contractors. So, we are looking at a two-pronged approach where on one hand we are skilling people directly, and secondly, we are also helping the contractors to get people who we then help in training. We also plan to get into partnership with ITIs and engage with them to run an apprenticeship model.

Moreover, as the industry becomes more competitive and the margins becoming thinner and thinner, efficiencies have to improve. So, the leadership role will now have to shift from being merely execution focused, towards finding leaders who are more attuned to looking at work from a profitability angle. Today, project managers need to become P&L heads that are conscious about cost efficiency without compromising on quality or safety. As the industry grows, the need will be to develop and attract business leaders who will drive profitability.

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Topics: Skilling, C-Suite

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