Skilling and Upskilling

Bridging the manpower gap in the power sector

India has the world’s largest youth population, with more than 62 per cent of its people in the working age group and over 54 per cent below 25 years of age. However, the biggest impediment to the seemingly favourable demographics is the absence of the right skill sets. Only 4 per cent (or nearly 480 million) of India’s workforce has received some kind of vocational training before entering the job market.

The skill gap is a key area of concern for companies across sectors and the situation is not so bright in the power sector either. As per government estimates, only 3-5 per cent of the total blue-collar workforce employed by the power sector has some formal training or is certified. This deficit of skilled personnel is even more daunting, given the major expansion that the power sector is set to experience over the next few years under initiatives such as 24×7 Power for All, the Smart Grid Mission and the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS). As per industry projections, the additional manpower required in the power sector by 2027 would be of the order of 1.65 million. According to experts, the manpower requirements will, in fact, be  even higher considering the needs of the renewable and power equipment industry. Besides, the power industry is experiencing a shift towards a more digital and technology-driven platform, thereby creating a new set of jobs and rendering some existing ones redundant. All these factors point to a need to equip the additional workforce that is employed in the sector over the next decade with better speed and quality.

A look at the manpower needs of the power industry, the challenges in the changing scenario, the training initiatives under way and the way forward…

Current availability and future needs

At present, the total manpower employed in the sector across the generation, transmission and distribution segments is close to 1.55 million, with replenishment happening at a rate of around 20 per cent on account of mid-career changes, retirements, etc. This includes around 1.2 million technical and around 0.37 million non-technical workers. According to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the total manpower requirement across diverse activities such as operations and maintenance, engineering, procurement and construction, and project construction, as well as downstream activities such as street lighting and domestic solutions will be around 1.65 million by 2027.

The skilling issues in the sector can be classified under four broad areas. The biggest issue is the growing skill gap at the bottom of the pyramid. “This is because at the senior management levels, the numbers are limited and hence market forces take care of demand and supply. However, at the bottom levels, the volumes are high while skilling standards and qualities are uncertain as employers are reluctant to invest in skilling, which eventually impacts the quality of work,” explains Vinod Behari, chief executive officer (CEO), Power Sector Skill Council, an industry-led and industry-focused body promoted by the Ministry of Power, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy  and the Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers’ Association.

According to a CEA report, even though there are a sufficient number of engineers, managers and diploma holders passing out each year from technical institutions, there is a gap at the lower levels owing to a dearth of industrial training institutes (ITIs). ITIs cater to numerous skill sets such as welders, fabricators, fitters, binders, electricians and linemen, who are required in huge numbers for erection and commissioning activities for thermal, hydro and nuclear power plants, as well as for the transmission and distribution segments.

Second, ensuring the availability of trained and skilled manpower for new high-growth areas will be a challenge. Currently, the power distribution segment has the largest skilled manpower requirement (nearly 1.2 million). However, the demand for skilled personnel has also been growing in the downstream segments for last-mile electricity delivery, such as for street lighting and energy efficiency projects and for meeting domestic consumer needs. Programmes such as the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, IPDS and Power for All have led to large-scale electrification of rural and semi-urban areas including the strengthening of the distribution and supply network. The estimated incremental requirement of a skilled workforce in these areas up to 2027 is about 800,000.

Third, assessing the skill-preparedness level of the workforce before their entry into the sector is a challenge. Experts say that the employment landscape in the power sector has been getting fairly complex with the infusion of large-scale contract and outsourced personnel, flexi manning solutions, etc. As a result, assessing the exact demand and supply shortfall of skilled workers has been a challenge.

Fourth, the absence of a supportive ecosystem presents a major challenge for skilling. “Skilled workmen in our country do not enjoy social recognition; consequently, skilling has low aspirational value among the youth. An electrician or a plumber always figures low in the social strata as compared to an engineer or an MBA, irrespective of one’s contribution to the economy or industry. This  proves to be a daunting challenge,” says Behari.

Initiatives under way

At the pan-Indian level, multiple agencies are involved in skill training. One of the most important programmes under way at present is the Skill India Initiative launched by the government in 2015. Under this initiative, over 500 million young people are expected to be trained by 2020 to make them more employable. In 2015-16, around 10.4 million youth were trained and the target for 2016-17 is 15 million. The government has also created a dedicated Ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. The National Skill Development Agency and the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) have also been created with the objective of coordinating with all central government ministries involved in skill development initiatives.

For the power sector specifically, one of the key agencies involved in training is the CEA. Apart from setting standards for mandatory training for various skill sets, more than 74 training institutions under public and private utilities have been recognised by the CEA. In addition, companies like Larsen & Toubro (L&T), ABB and Siemens have set up training institutes to meet their local and customer-centric requirements. The Power Finance Corporation is another key agency that provides training to state power utilities. Further, many power sector organisations have collaborated with institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management  for providing necessary knowledge and skill inputs to personnel.

In the renewables sector, where a sizeable number of people are involved, both in the organised as well as unorganised segments, facilities for imparting training in various trades are available with some major manufacturers. Apart from this, state renewable energy agencies are organising short-term training programmes.

Apart from the agencies mentioned above, the Power Sector Skill Council (PSSC) has been created to meet the manpower needs of the sector. One of the key initiatives taken by the PSSC is the development of Qualification Packs/National Occupational Standards (QPs/NOSs) with reference to key job functions in the sector that have high employment potential. These QPs/NOSs extensively map the job deliverables and performance criteria for job holders along with the skill sets, competencies and specific knowledge inputs required. The PSSC has so far developed QPs/NOSs with regard to 37 major job functions across the power generation, transmission, distribution, renewable energy and downstream activities, covering nearly 80 per cent of entry-level employees. These are accepted by the industry across power utilities and they represent uniform occupations and skilling standards. Further, the PSSC develops standardised and high quality learning content along with trainers’ guides, assessment and certification tools, etc. These are subsequently rolled out in partnership with training providers. In its first year of operations, overcoming teething issues, the PSSC skilled and certified close to 5,000 workers, mainly in the distribution segment.

Going forward, the PSSC plans to align its QPs/NOSs to global standards with a view to facilitate customised training and targeted job placements abroad. Moreover, it will cover downstream activities, where the requirements are huge.

Industry’s role

In a bid to address the skill gap concerns, corporates are investing heavily in training programmes/modules to prepare new employees and upskill existing ones. The new Companies Act, which came into effect in 2014, requires companies to invest 2 per cent of their annual profits on skill development and corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, and a number of companies have taken this on. As per the India CSR Outlook Report 2016, almost 31 per cent of the total CSR spending by nearly 250 companies across various sectors in 2015-16 was towards education and skill development.

NTPC Limited, the country’s largest thermal generator, is supporting the Skill India Mission and has an MoU with the NSDC and the National Skill Development Fund. “The company will help develop a large number of multi-skill centres and provide vocational training to around 30,000 youth across NTPC’s business units with a special focus on the eastern region to help them become employable. Around 50 such centres are already functional. In order to develop professionals in specialist domains, NTPC has set up the International Institute of Information Technology at Naya Raipur in Chhattisgarh,” says a senior spokesperson of NTPC. NTPC was among the second largest CSR spenders in 2015-16, according to the India CSR Outlook Report 2016.

In addition, private equipment major L&T Power is undertaking a number of skill building initiatives. “At our Hazira plant, skill building is a continuous process. Supervisors ensure that welders, fitters and machinists attain a higher degree of skill on the job, in the workshop and at sites. At our power project sites in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, construction skills training centres have been set up to train the rural youth in trades like masonry, bar bending and formwork.

We also have the L&T Power Training Institute (PTI) at Vadodara in Gujarat to train fresh engineers in all aspects of power plants. The institute also runs specialised courses for power project professionals, both internal and external. Recently, PTI was recognised as a Category 1 training institute by the Ministry of Power, making the personnel trained at PTI eligible to operate and maintain thermal power plants. Our L&T Institute of Project Management runs various courses for project personnel, both internal and external,” says Shailendra Roy, CEO and managing director, L&T Power.

Conclusion

There is little doubt that the skilled manpower requirements of the sector are significant.  Both the government and the industry will have to make greater efforts to address this challenge. Some of the key industry recommendations in this regard are  specialised training in areas like renewables, augmentation of the existing training facilities, higher budgets for training, reduced costs of training, alignment of the wage structures with job roles to match student aspirations, and availability of good quality trainers.

Net net, synergistic efforts and resources are the way forward to tap the vast talent pool in the country and ensure that the demographic dividend pays off.

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