Bath fittings major Grohe has set out to bring prestige to the plumbing profession so that the industry’s pipeline of skilled manpower doesn’t dry up
What started as a mobile workshop management project as part of Grohe India’s leader grooming exercise evolved into a full-fledged skill development academy, when in 2009 Grohe Jal Academy was established in collaboration with Don Bosco in Mumbai. The Grohe-Don Bosco partnership, under the Grohe Dual Tech programme, implements the German dual track vocational training system that combines practical training with classroom learning, all within the locally prescribed curricula. Since then the institution has trained over 1,000 people.
But managing director Renu Misra, who has been the architect of the company’s skill development initiative in India, is candid enough to admit that to grow in a market like India which is plagued by a shortage of skilled plumbers, the company needed to invest in skill development to ensure supply of quality fitters who could install and maintain Grohe’s high quality products. “Unlike the western countries, India doesn’t have a DIY market and installers are very critical. In the long term, the training programme will give us a lot of mileage,” she states.
In 2012, Grohe Dual Tech won first prize in the Innovation Competition for Professional Education Projects in Developing Countries sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Grohe considers this aid project a meaningful demonstration of its corporate responsibility and, as such, an important pillar of its sustainability strategy.
In May this year the company inaugurated its second skill academy in India, in New Delhi, in collaboration with Don Bosco Vocational Training Centre located in Okhla. Michael Mager, executive director personnel and organisation at Grohe AG, Germany, was visibly pleased with the results of the programme, which “offers the students the prospect of future-proof employment.”
“The foundation of Grohe Dual Tech as an initiative stems from the realisation of our responsibility towards the people and the environment. With this institutional framework we see ourselves contributing to the upliftment of underprivileged children and young people in the poorest regions,” Mager said.
In an interview with Sourcing Hardware on the sidelines of the launch of the Delhi academy, Mager and Misra spoke on the thought process behind Grohe Jal Academy and how they want to take these initiatives forward. Here are the excerpts…
The first Grohe Jal Academy came up in Mumbai in 2009, and the second one is opening in Delhi now. What prompted you to invest in skill development in India?
Mager: It’s a combination of different factors. We wanted to do something meaningful for the society and help the underprivileged people. But on the other hand, we wanted to conduct such activities in a place where we want to grow our business. We started our operations roughly about 10 years ago in India. So, for us it was a new territory and we needed supply of people who will be installing our products and recommending them. The notion was that if we train the plumbers it is most likely that they will recommend our brand. However, the main objective is to train more people than we might require for our internal purposes; we train for the market and in the bargain we get benefited in the long run.
Was lack of skilled manpower the main reason behind Grohe’s decision to invest in skilling?
Mager: I wish I could say yes! But honestly, no. It started with a completely different reason. We had a management programme wherein we trained young managers to become leaders. It’s a steering group and they decide on what kind of project they want to do. There was initially a proposal in nature preservation area. But we wanted the project to be correlated with the business we are in. Therefore, the group came up with the concept of a mobile workshop wherein a mobile van will go from village to village and train people in installing water systems. We did a pilot in India. While evaluating the viability of such project, we saw many obstacles. And we figured out that this might not work. But we liked the overall idea of training people and thought of different types of implementation. And, that eventually led to the establishment of Grohe Dual Tech in Mumbai.
What is the nature of collaboration between Grohe and Don Bosco?
Misra: They are providing the space and we are providing the machines and tools. We are sponsoring the entire programme, be it with the development of curriculum, setting up the labs and providing the necessary tools and payment of faculty. And Don Bosco is taking care of the day-to-day operational part.
What does this training entail? What courses and certifications are being offered at Grohe Jal Academy?
Misra: Training in the field of water installation is a two-stage process. It comprises the basic plumbing training and subsequently the foreman training. Initially the programme was designed to offer a single course on plumbing, but later on we changed the curriculum a bit and added some shorter courses. Green plumbing technology and water saving methods are among the new subjects that have been added to the curriculum. Practical training has been improved through the construction of a mock shower set-up. Two new courses – Gas Pipeline Fitter and Building Maintenance Technician – have been added to the Academy’s advanced training programmes.
According to Indian standards, the qualification measures take between three and twelve months. The final exam leads to officially recognised certificates as qualified plumbers from India’s national certification authority. Students after completing their education from Don Bosco can apply for the course, but they are selected on a referral basis. Basic and proficiency courses are also available for semi-skilled plumbers who are seeking to upgrade their professional standing.
Apart from the technical aspects, the Academy also offers soft skills training which includes the development of behavioural skills in areas such as customer relationship, etiquette and work ethic. The Academy’s holistic approach goes beyond practical training and classroom sessions, focusing as well on participants’ personal growth. Students acquire communication techniques as well as English language and personal computing skills while additionally going on placements with local firms.
How does Grohe ensure that its skill development initiatives do not remain a mere CSR or marketing activity?
Misra: Grohe’s commitment to the project is not confined to funding and in-kind contributions. Rather, the company seeks to work with Don Bosco Mondo on a sustained basis in order to establish a programme, which engages employees on a personal level. It doesn’t come from a mere obligation of spending 2% of revenue on CSR.
My team in India has put in a lot of effort in setting up these academies. Our aim is to create and maintain a win-win situation benefiting the young trainees, Grohe, the Don Bosco vocational training centres and the local economies. Of course, at the end of the day Grohe stands to benefit from the availability of skilled plumbers who can ensure that our premium products are installed in accordance with the highest professional standards and function perfectly.
Are there plans to set up any more training centres?
Mager: The programme is currently being implemented at three sites, namely Mumbai-Kurla, Manila-Tondo, Philippines, and New Delhi. In addition, plans are underway for another training workshop in Egypt.
What expectations do you have from the Indian government in this area?
Misra: I feel for ‘Make in India’ to work, the Skill India mission is critical. During the 70s and 80s, the MNCs didn’t set up plants because of lack of skilled manpower. We had the talent, but proper training was missing. Speaking from a business perspective, if a company has to get manpower from elsewhere and there’s no saving in costs, why would a company set up a plant in India? From that perspective, I feel the government’s target of training one crore youth in three years is a step in the right direction.
However, the challenge lies in changing perceptions! For example, even we could train more number of people. But at the end of the day you have to look at how many people will apply for this course! One of the main problems in getting skilled plumbers is that the reputation of the plumber as a professional is not very high irrespective of the earning potential. And, our programme focuses on resolving this problem.