India is experiencing unprecedented growth in the aerospace & defence (A&D) industry. Growth in the civil aerospace sector has never been stronger. Initiatives from the Government and a refreshingly positive intent on effective governance and execution, has lent an air of positivity amongst Indian and global stakeholders alike. Further, focussed initiatives such as the ‘Make in India’ and “Buy Indian” as the first choice for Defence Procurement has also given a major push to A&D industry which is buoyed by the government's commitment to upgrade India’s infrastructural sector.
This will push the need for skilled talent to support the growing A&D ecosystem. Currently, India’s talent availability -- more than 3,500 engineering colleges in India producing about 1.5 million engineering graduates annually, is unmatched by any other country around the world.
However the big questions continues to remain - Is the talent readily employable?
Organisations see a widening gap between the kind of high-skilled graduates that are needed and the ones available – raising questions over the future competiveness of the sector. Bridging the skill gaps to meet the growing demand for talent in the A&D industry and improving employability is one area in which efforts have to be accelerated to help India meet its growth requirements.
The skill gap
So what does the skill gap really mean?
Today, due to advancing technology and productivity changes, there is a fundamental shift happening in the growing A&D industry, resulting in new needs for relevant and practical skills that were previously non-existent. This is giving rise to the need for skills enhancement and development.
Firstly, apart from the technical skills, there is an increasing focus on the applicable soft skills that are invaluable for the industry. A background in mechanical/electrical/electronic engineering or mechatronics, materials (e.g. Composites) and system integration knowledge is only the start. To enhance practical problem solving, they need to widen their limited domain knowledge and enhance the soft skills. Engineering talent also needs to be trained on the global skills that will make them receptive to international standards of safety and quality.
Secondly, as high-skills jobs become more specialized, earning certifications is a viable solution for educated workers to hone their existing knowledge. At the moment, few Indian universities offer courses tailor-made for the A&D sector and the country is yet to have an established and recognised certifying institute/university in A&D sector.
Therefore, talent that can be readily hired to plug and play, and deployed on global programmes will continue to be a long-term ambition for the growing A&D industry in India. Furthermore, due to competition from other industries, such as, the mature automotive and IT/BPM and sectors, the availability of talent is on the decline.
Charting the path ahead
It is for certain that the growth of the A&D industry will not happen without the availability of qualified talent. There has to be increased collaboratiuon between all key staekholders - academic institutions, training organisations, policy-makers, and the industry itself to fast-pace development of skills required by the market.
The skills requirement can be visualised in the form of a three sectioned Capability or Value Pyramid. The bottom layer of the pyramid will encompass skills to carry out large volume of low end repetitive engineering tasks where volume, time to market and cost arbitrage is the key differentiator with limited focus on product /domain knowledge. The mid layer of the pyramid will include skills to carry out product development/product support engineering activities with good understanding and knowledge about the products, processes and methodologies where End User requirements are critical. Skills to carry out core and truly differentiating technology development and potentially research activities will be at the top of the pyramid.
To develop a sustainable ecosystem for the A&D industry, we need to work towards developing talent to cover these three layers of the value pyramid. Through different business models such as Engineering Service organisations, Joint Ventures and Captives, we can work towards building capability of the existing workforce and developing a strong pipeline of future talent.
Furthermore, considering the precision of skill required in the A&D industry, focus has to be on rigorous training across the entire value chain to ensure that employees are up to date with technological and commercial advances as well as regulatory changes. For those who have been trained in the automobile industry can be re-skilled to fit the A&D sector.
Short and Long-term Strategies
These are few combination of short and long-term strategies, A&D companies can use, to build employable skills:
- Visible career path: In the absence of a significant manufacturing/service/repair base across the entire life cycle in India and considering that the model of technical career progression is only evolving, our talents do not see clear career progression in the A&D sector. This results in loss of training investment and time to constantly train new batch of talent in cycles. An underdeveloped career opportunity in the A&D industry needs to be tackled to retain experienced technical specialist.
- Evolving technology: Technology is creating new roles and changing existing ones. The training methodologies must keep pace with these developments. Also, today’s workforce are technology natives and not technology migrants, which means, we need to engage with them in a manner which they relate to – meaning greater use of technology in the delivery of training.
- Outreach programmes: There is a need to introduce outreach programs to develop vocational skills, that target students not only at universities, but also in schools, to promote the attraction of a career in aviation. What is needed is to develop a clear understanding about building a career and industry path for talent who are interested in developing a career in the A&D industry.
- In-house education and training: Creating in-house education and training platforms can help build a steady pipeline of talent required to support the organisation’s strategy and vision. Globally, at Rolls-Royce, we invest millions of pounds every year in learning and development to raise the standards of competitive performance; develop business management and leadership skills; promote innovation; help people realise their potential; and contribute to increased customer satisfaction. In 2016, we invested £32 million in learning and completed over 1 million hours in employee training.
- Government involvement: The Government could look into building a framework to recognise industry members who actively develop and implement technical career progression through continuous learning programmes. This will encourage industry players to invest in training and time to develop talent. Backed by welcoming foreign talent to transfer knowledge and skills to local talent, this could be a successful start to developing sustainable skills development programmes. This could be further supported by putting together and formalising a framework between OEM captives and Service Providers, which will further drive innovation and encourage IP creation.
Skills and knowledge are the driving forces of economic growth and social development for any country. It’s clear that to address the emerging requirements of the Indian A&D industry, particular emphasis needs to be put on skill development and enhanecement. Proactive measures needs to be taken to create a bridge between academic institutions and organisations, reducing, or even solving, the employability challenge.