Nikunj Sanghi: 'Skilling people is not about giving jobs. It is about keeping them employable for tomorrow'

by Ujal Nair 30 Apr 2019


Nikunj Sanghi, chairman of ASDC (Automotive Skill Development Corporation)

On World Labour Day, Nikunj Sanghi, chairman of ASDC (Automotive Skill Development Corporation), speaks on the need for collaborative content that would remain relevant in a dynamically changing Indian automotive industry which is experiencing paucity of skilled workforce. Sanghi, who is a veteran automobile dealer and Director-International Affairs of FADA,also speaks on the role of assessment institutes to uplift the standard of the entire skilling process, creating an online listing platform for employers, employees, trainers and trainees, and also initating a study with E&Y  to identify the skill gaps – the present as well as the upcoming ones – at vehicle and component manufacturers and also dealerships.

How can the blue-collared jobs remain relevant with the fast changing dynamics of the Indian automotive industry?
The entire auto industry has seen some disruptions in the past two years and is going to see a lot more disruptions in the next couple of years. A lot of them are because of the upcoming regulations in emissions and safety standards.

Disruptions in technology change a lot of jobs that exist today and also create new ones. Therefore, it is extremely important that the present workforce be relevant by either reskilling or upscaling themselves. The entire industry needs to collaborate towards the training of the blue-collared employees or else they would become irrelevant over the next five years.

In an interview with Autocar Professional two years ago, you had said: ‘ASDC’s goal is to fill the skill gap and to make unemployable people employable.’ What is the success rate since then?
It is not a very high success rate because we realised that there was a huge gap between industry expectations and what ASDC is doing. So if we look at just plain numbers, then in the last two years, ASDC has certified almost 350,000 people in various job categories starting from the manufacturing process and after sales and so on.

However, when we look at the employment data, we find that either we don’t have the employment data or even if we do, very few of the people who have got certified have got employed. This was an extremely rude shock for ASDC and when we started getting in touch with the industry in terms of why the industry has not been employing the people who have been certified by ASDC, which is an industry body, created by the industry, we found that there was a huge gap in what the industry expected out of the certification and what ASDC was doing.

What ASDC was doing was that it was concentrating on government-funded schemes and certifying candidates as required by the government within the framework. We were never expected to provide jobs but we were expected to make people employable. So, unless that was fulfilled, unless people were getting employed, obviously something was missing.

When we started engaging with each member of the industry to find out the gap we found that Maruti Suzuki India was doing a lot of training by itself, but was not looking at candidates who were certified by ASDC. So we engaged with Maruti, in fact, with very senior members of the company to became a part of the senior committee at ASDC so we would get direct feedback in terms of Maruti’s expectations.

Similarly, we engaged with Tata Motors for commercial vehicles and with Hero MotoCorp for two-wheelers. We identified these as industrial leaders with a sizeable market share and we knew that unless we took their inputs, we would not be doing the right thing. The major thing that came out of this interaction was that somewhere our assessment process was either not transparent or was not the way the industry had expected it would work. It was tthen that we realised that we needed to have an assessment agency to be free from any kind of bias and that agency would certify on behalf of ASDC, saying that this particular person is skilled for the job profile in which we are certifying.

We saw that the best people who could do it for us was TCS Ion. Ion was doing all the assessments for IITs, IIMs and even for UPSCs. All the IAS officers, IPS officers are undergoing assessment that is undertaken by TCS Ion. TCS Ion is a subsidiary of TCS not just nationally, but internationally as well. TCS has, in fact, designed an absolutely seamless digital assessment process that is free of any human intervention and in the last few months they have conducted some 800 pilot assessments, the results of which ASDC has shared with all its industry partners and also  its training partners and assessment partners. We know the gaps in assessment and we know the gaps in training and hence in the future, ASDC would only be looking at people certified through this digital process.

In May 2019, we are conducting a Partnership Summit with both our training partners and our assessment partners. We will sensitise them with the new method of training and certification and how they will need to upgrade to the new standards, which is both for our training and assessment partners. I am sure once that is replaced, the people who get certified will be the people who will be not just employable but will actually get employment by our industry partners.

Are you making some investments in infrastructure upgradation and also getting these new learning tools for the students?
ASDC is not expected to make any investments by itself in terms of infrastructure. But we are investing in some of the initiatives which I have already shared. We are also investing in making a listing platform for employers, employees, trainers and trainees where the entire data would be transparently shared with industry partners, with trainee partners, with assessing partners and with people who are looking for skilling and with people who are already skilled.

For instance, if the company is Ashok Leyland and has tied up with 300 machiners, it will put the details of the locations where it needs the machiners on the platform. Thus, the partners would be constantly be able to see the locations where the machinists are required and training partners within that geography will then train the machinists only in those locations. In this manner, people who then get certified will easily get absorbed.

Once the listing platform is ready, it will be a huge filling of the skill gap in terms of what the industry requires, what the training module needs to produce and where the trainees can get their job.

We are also investing in what we call Digital Learning Hub which, again, will be available on the ASDC portal where the training partners, assessment partners and the students would be able to directly download the industry-certified content. When I need a technician, I will also ensure that the training content that is available on the portal suits the requirements and the people who get trained are the people I am looking for. Over the next six months, our listing platform and the learning hub will be ready. ASDC will back them up in terms of giving them standard content, standard processes and standard practices. 

The majority of the content will be available for free, but we are engaging content providers who would like to take a fee for providing content. There is a process where you can digitally pay online and then download the content. I am talking to Mahindra & Mahindra, Toyota Kirloskar Motor and Tata Motors and a lot of them are willing to share their content free of cost. I think all that content will come on the training hub and that training hub will be available to everybody absolutely free of cost.

With electric vehicles slowly making a presence in India, what kind of training do service personnel need?
No, we don’t have anything for electric yet. We are yet in the process of collaborating with certain global skill councils like the one in the UK. We have PWC helping us to engage with both industry partners and global institutions which are  giving content for the programmes for EVs.

We have shared some of it with our industry partners, so we will first make the content standard for the EVs. Once it is approved, we will have training partners. We have recently invited SMEV to nominate people on our governing council so that they become a part of the skilling ecosystem.

Connectivity and in-vehicle electronics are driving the hi-tech vehicles of today. How does this open the market for youth in India?
A lot of vehicles already have connectivity in them. Most of the new launches that are coming in now are partially connected vehicles and we have upgraded our training systems to look after the present modes of connectivity. The way forward is our entire training programme is under review by industry partners. We have expert groups in R&D, manufacturing and in aftersales. These expert management groups comprise senior management group from the industry. They are in the process of reviewing all our occupational standards and upgrading them, not only for the present but also for the future. Once the NSDC approves the module, we put it up on our website.

What is the real-world gap of skilled workers for India Auto Inc. direct and indirect?
What we had realised was that there was no serious dedicated study done to identify this skill gaps that are present today and which would be required for the future. Six months ago, ASDC had engaged in research with EY (Ernst & Young) who were engaged with all the industry partners, whether it is vehicle manufacturing or component manufacturing or the dealerships in identifying the skill gaps – the present as well as the upcoming ones.

We are expecting  the study to be finalised in the next two months. Once the study is ready, we would be able to not just give you an idea but give you reasonably fair numbers in terms of the skill gaps that have been identified. I think that skill gap study also helps.

Our training partners would decide the training courses that they need to run. We have people ready with the future skills that will be required. The students will decide what trainings they need to take and the manufacturers will be absolutely sure that when the skill is required, people would be available for it. So this skill gap session is something that we have undertaken and we are expecting some healthy returns from the skill gap study.

What is your view on the entire training/skilling operation, even about the ones that you undertake at your own dealerships?
I wanted to start it as a skilling centre and get the people prepared for jobs. And as a future initiative, we started a very small modern training centre within our dealership which we call Aadharshila, for which we did not take any government grants, either State or Central. All that we did was that we asked manufacturers to help us develop the content and to train the people within the dealerships to become traders.

We started training people in two domains -- sales consultants for passenger cars and service technicians for passenger cars -- because we felt that the largest volume of manpower requirement come from these two segments. In the last two years, we have rolled out around 12 batches comprising 160 students. Over 130 of them are today employed by dealerships and not just of dealerships that I represent but by the entire industry. Today, this programme is being replicated across the country. We have people who got trained as sales technicians and within two years they have become managers of dealerships.

Also read: Preparing for tomorrow today | How the Japan-India Institute for Manufacturing in Mehsana, Gujarat is skilling youth successfully

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