Despite the ongoing skill issues in the technology industry in India, Ashish Gaikwad, President, Honeywell India, is bullish on the opportunities the country offers, including its wide pool of engineers and technicians. The caveat, however, remains the lack of knowledge and training of this potential talent in modern technologies that run the industries. In an interview with BusinessLine, Gaikwad shares his plans to make around 15,000 students industry-ready over the next three years and how these technological skills are pivotal for businesses like Honeywell to chart future roadmap. Excerpts:

Talent crunch has been an industry wide issue for all tech companies. How has it been going for Honeywell in India as you have the second largest employee base here? What are your hiring plans for 2022?

I think there’s no dearth of talent in India, what is required is to orient the talented people into the right streams and technologies, building their skills and competencies so that the talent can be leveraged. At Honeywell, we do regular recruitments. Of course, it is all dependent on how we see requirements and software development. India’s position in gaining more traction in the digital world. Honeywell will be an active part of this.

Honeywell is partnering with ICT Academy to start Centre of Excellence in 50 colleges across cities of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. What are the skills you are looking to impart?

While there is a lot of positivity around the huge numbers of engineers we produce, we also need to ensure that they have the right technical skills. Although we produce so many technicians and engineers from reputed institutions, we have many colleges where the curriculum is not on par with the skills the industry needs.

One of the key focus areas for Honeywell and ICT Academy is to impart relevant training which will be useful to the new digital economy that is going to be important for India and how we bridge the gap between theoretical curriculum and what the industry needs when these student join the workforce. We have to bring this digital literacy to the workforce.

Who are your target students for the courses?

We are targeting people who cannot otherwise afford it and have economic constraints to access education of this sorts. We want to democratise learning of these technologies which are going to be pivotal when they join the workforce.

Creating jobs has been a key focus of the government’s agenda and even for private companies. Secondly, in India, the percentage of women engineers graduating has been quite healthy at 45-47 per cent compared to the rest of the world. But when it comes to them joining the workforce, it is a dismal 18-20 per cent. There is a loss of talent here which is created in engineering colleges with good diversity. We want to educate them, make them confident and more employable so that we can take away any kind of situation where there is lack of diversity in the workforce.

How much are you looking to invest? Will it be available in other States?

It’s a 3-year programme, but we may extend it depending on the outcome. In the first year, starting 2021 we are investing ₹10 crore and our own employees are quite keen to be guest lecturers in the training programmes. We have a team of 13,000 employees in India and right now we are leveraging that strength of Honeywell going by the willingness of our employees to participate in a good cause. We are right now starting in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Depending on response and the success we would possibly expand the programme into other States.

Will you be hiring from these colleges?

We are looking to train 5,000 students per year and a targeted 15,000 by the end of three years. We keep the business and CSR activities separate. If we have a real intent to create real value in the society and uplift people who are not able to access certain technologies, we have to do it without any strings attached. If they join Honeywell through some other route that’s okay, but our design is not to go back to the same colleges and recruit. There should be no bond and they will be allowed to choose their career paths.

Honeywell has been advocating local-made solutions for India as the way forward? What are the core products and services being worked upon in India?

Rather than copying the western solutions or trying to sell them cheaper in India, we are trying to build those solutions from the scratch in India.

We have seen success in not only the large programmes but also smaller products. We have been working on unique programmes such as Smart City projects, finding solutions for traffic management, city surveillance to reduce crime etc., these have been built grounds up in India. These are multi-million-dollar programmes, and again require the same digital skills like AI, ML, multiple sensors and devices for IoT.

The other end of the spectrum is the need for attractively priced camera systems for surveillance and smoke detecting sensors at shops and stores. They are priced at around $20 and don’t need technicians to fit them. The shop owners can then download the app to connect with the sensors. All of these solutions are not needed in the Western countries as they have advanced systems in place of megastore formats. I think for us in India it’s a wide range of solutions from simple sensors to complex technologies like Smart Cities.