Many industries complain lack of skilled hands; rural scheme plays spoilsport

This Diwali may have been the brightest for some stock market investors, but for jobseekers, it offered no fireworks.

Employers across sectors adopted a cautious approach on hiring at a time when the economy was slowing down, while some companies even cut jobs. The only reprieve in terms of hiring came from large public sector undertakings.

The Monster Employment Index, which gauges the health of the job market in India, dropped nine per cent in September, compared with the corresponding period a year ago.

“The annual decline in the Monster Employment Index is reflective of the current uncertain economic/political scenario. Employers continue to adopt a cautious approach while hiring in view of this prevailing scenario,” says Sanjay Modi, Managing Director, Monster.com (India, Middle- East and South East Asia).

Indian economy grew 4.4 per cent in the June quarter, a four-year low, and 5 per cent in the year-ended March 30, lowest in a decade.

However, economic slowdown is not the only factor that keeps employers away from hiring.

Lack of skilled workforce is the basic problem, say many companies. According to them, job profiles have undergone a sea change today, calling for varied qualifications.

For instance, look at the real estate sector.

Weak economic sentiments have hit the industry, trimming the need for white-collar workers such as project managers, procurement heads and engineers. However, since companies are focussed on executing existing projects, the demand for semi-skilled and manual workers such as plumbers, electricians and construction labourers is rising rapidly, says Navin Raheja, Chairman of the National Real Estate Development Council (Naredco), an industry body.

Rohit Raj Modi, Director, Ashaina Homes Pvt Ltd, agrees. Labour shortage is forcing builders to delay projects by seven to nine months, he says.

According to estimates, of the close to 5 crore people employed in real estate, construction and infrastructure, only 2 crore are professionally qualified.

Similar issues are dogging the garments industry, too. With the economic environment improving in the US and the EU, two major markets for Indian textiles, exports are rising. But this sector is unable to find skilled workers to fulfil the demand.

“In the textiles sector, we already employ about 70 million people. This demand is on the rise now. There just aren’t enough workers to meet the demand, especially with exports increasing,” says A. Sakthivel, Chairman, Poppy’s Group of Companies, which exports textiles and garments to around 50 countries.

Interestingly, the Government’s much-touted rural employment scheme appears to be playing spoilsport. “Many migrant labourers prefer to stay back home and get employment under the Government’s scheme,” says Gautam Nair, a Gurgaon-based garments exporter.

The situation is dismal in the auto sector as well. “Owing to slowdown conditions, hiring in the auto industry is seeing a marked impact. The downtrend is likely to affect campus hiring, too, this year,” says a spokesperson at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, the country’s largest carmaker.

On the other hand, the pharmaceutical sector, plagued by the frequent changes in the Government’s regulations, is realigning its job specifications. “We are constantly reinventing ourselves and questioning the status quo to keep pace with a rapidly changing external environment. For instance, with our stakeholder base now widened to include the Government, stockists, trade channels and industry bodies, it wouldn’t be prudent to operate only in the traditional way. Pfizer has realigned job specifications to address this new landscape,” says an official in the talent acquisition team of Pfizer Inc. Even after hiring, recruits need to be equipped with new technologies and tools on a regular basis, the official adds.

Engineering procurement and construction company Lanco Infratech Ltd is cutting its workforce. From 5,000-odd employees at the end of June, it had about 4,500 workers as of September 30, a company official said.

Glimpses of hope

But the situation in public sector companies is slightly different. Energy companies such as Indian Oil Corp Ltd, NTPC, NHPC and PowerGrid Corp of India Ltd are all on a hiring spree. They have advertised to recruit engineers based on the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering, which would be held between February 1 and March 2, 2014.

“Indian Oil would hire 300 officers and 150 assistant officers this year. This would be in addition to campus recruitment,” says a senior official. Last year, Indian Oil had hired about 350 engineers.

NTPC, the country’s largest power producer, hires 200-300 fresh engineers every year across streams. PowerGrid hires at least 40 engineering graduates every year. In addition, experienced professionals are recruited according to requirements, says an official at PowerGrid.

Similarly, a Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) official adds the state-run steelmaker would continue to hire. Annual average recruitment done by SAIL, in the last three years, stands at 2,450.

“The recruitments are undertaken for meeting the requirement of skilled manpower in expansion or modernisation area as well as for selective recoupment against superannuation,” adds the official.

Though the company’s total manpower count has dipped to 98,423 as of September 30, from 101,878 at the end of March, this change is attributed to retirements.

(with inputs from Siddhartha Saikia, Bindu D. Menon, Shishir Sinha, Amiti Sen, S. Ronendra Singh, and Aesha Datta)

(This article was published on November 3, 2013)
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