When asked by British Prime Minister Tony Blair what the secret of Germany’s economic success was, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had famously replied, ‘Mr Blair, we still make things’ Having returned last month from the Hannover Messe, there is little doubt that I will visit this trade fair again.
The key manufacturing themes at Hannover were Industry 4.0 (next generation manufacturing technologies), Additive manufacturing (3D printing), Lightweight manufacturing (composites and nano-materials), Energy efficiency (the coexistence of cost-effective and environment-friendly energy sources) and Robotics.
These topics were absent from our parlance just five years ago. Today, they are an essential part of many of our day-to-day discussions. Today, given that manufacturing is being globally revolutionised by technology, it is obvious that India will have to ready itself. Projections made by a recent Boston Consulting Group study state that by 2025, manufacturing costs are anticipated to be 18-33% lower in economies in which robotics and automation are leveraged.
However, while technology can be purchased, technology alone will not suffice. Therefore, if India is to fulfill its dream of becoming a global manufacturing power, it will have to act on several fronts.
First, the development of a well-trained and skilled labour force cannot be just left to the government. It has to equally be the responsibility of corporate institutions.
While the government can facilitate through subsidized institutes, the only way to develop an employable workforce is through ‘apprenticeships’ that only corporate entities can provide. Investing in helping the bottom base of the pyramid and helping upskill them is not CSR (corporate social responsibility). It is nation-building.
Next is dignity of labour. During my trip to Germany, I met several executives and visited some state-of-the-art factories. One common theme that emerged in my discussions was the continued investment and care for the ‘last-mile’ employees. Many felt proud when some of their best workers left to make their mark elsewhere, making room for the next set of trained employees to take over.
It’s a different way of thinking. Most of these organisations are global giants that have sustained over decades and are into their third or fourth generation of workforce. It is such continued diffusion of a trained workforce that, over years, drives a nation’s competitive edge.
The problem is that somewhere down the years, Indian corporate houses got so focused on generic training for the ‘top of the pyramid’ that we forgot who actually needed to be trained.
Till the time we, as large corporates, are sincere in our intent to recognize this ‘last mile’ of employees who actually do the execution, and prioritize investments for their growth and development, we will not be able to build an employable workforce crucial to drive the growth of the small and mid-market manufacturing businesses.
If we get this cycle right over the next decade, India will be relevant and grow as a manufacturing powerhouse.
The government is doing what it needs to do. It is corporate houses that now need to step up and do our bit if we want to provide the dignity our workers deserve. Patriotism is not about past glory. It is about making the present and future equitable for those that need early doors to be opened. That is the dream of ‘Make in India’
[This article of Gautam Adani First appeared with Economic Times. The author is Chairman, Adani Group]
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