“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”
By Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee
“About 97% of the workers involved in furniture sector are school dropouts. Of these, 88% have an education qualification of secondary education or less,” reads the ‘Human Resource and Skill Requirements in the Furniture & Furnishings Sector’ report published by National Skill Development Council and KPMG. The industry, being driven by increasing demand for greater standardisation and modern hardware, seems to be dependent on a workforce that’s literate at best.
But what’s not stated is that of the 3.39 million persons employed in furniture manufacturing, the majority don’t have any degree or certificate that declares them to be trained carpenters. According to the report, in view of the impending growth in the furniture industry, around 2.50 million new manufacturing jobs will be created between 2017 and 2022, whereas the government and private sectors collectively possess a carpenter training capacity of barely 10,000 per year.
This is the context in which Anil Kumar Goel’s helming of the Hettich Poddar Wood Working Institute (HPWWI) needs to be viewed. His mission, which is to make a difference in the furniture landscape in terms of number of qualified carpenters as also to bridge the skill gap that exists between what’s offered by ITIs and what’s needed by the industry, is by no means insignificant.
When Hettich entered India in 2001 and set up its office-cum-display centre at Panchkuian Road, the furniture hub of New Delhi, Goel as its managing director made sure it had a training facility from day one. It was open house for carpenters, and he routinely urged Hettich channel partners and customers to send their fitters to the centre to learn how to use the right tools and fit the latest hardware. “In fact, we have successfully trained more than 20,000 people in the last one decade or so. The training initiatives were initially more of an unorganised effort and not structured. However, now we are trying to institutionalise the process, and for this we have created a separate trust that will manage the whole programme,” he says.
Goel has aligned the objectives of HPWWI with those of the government’s, which are to skill more carpenters and up-skill the existing ones in a sustainable manner. As co-chair of the Furniture & Furnishings Skill Council he has helped set policy, and in HPWWI he has presented a proof of concept of how the required mechanisms should be executed, and possibly replicated by others. Here he talks about how he believes he will skill India…
Skilling has emerged as one of the most pressing issues before the country and serious deliberations are on for finding ways to fill up the demand gap for skilled carpenters. This is a dire need, and the problem is not about the number of workmen available, but about the unavailability of enough people with the right skill set.
Labour costs account for 12-15% of the cost of furniture in India, and more than three million people are engaged in the Rs 1,00,000 crore furniture sector within its industrial units or as freelance carpenters. Our working is based on the assumption that an average workman’s wage ranges between Rs 8,000-10,000 per month. The real problem is not with the number of workmen available in the market, but with their not having the right skills.
The industry is in a transformational stage, we are witnessing a shift from conventional carpentry to modular furniture. This is creating a demand for workers with varied skills including ability to work on modern machines such as CNC routers and beam saws, ability to use modern hardware, skills to assemble ready-to-assemble/flat packed furniture at the customer’s place, and ability to use modern tools and processes and work with different types of wood substitutes. It is evident that if the carpenters are not up-skilled or re-skilled to meet industry needs, their employability will be adversely impacted.
Setting up HPWWI is a path breaking initiative by Hettich India, to address the perennial problem of availability of skilled professionals. The institute is building a skilling ecosystem not seen in the country before.
We want to build a skilled workforce for the industry. Our initiative will benefit end-users, carpenters, and of course the entire industry. If the end consumers get the right material at the right price in the right manner, that is it is fitted properly, they can have quality furniture made at a much lower cost. If the carpenter knows how to fit, drill, what to use and where, he’ll be able to complete the work more efficiently.
In Europe carpenters are paid significantly higher as compared to the Rs 500-1,000 a day in India. It is not that in India the carpenters are underpaid, it is just that they are low on productivity as well as on quality.
Such initiatives need to be kept away from the core business activity of the company, and Hettich has figured it out.
When we conceptualised this initiative we were clear that HPWWI would be independent of Hettich. Therefore it is a standalone institute owned and managed by a charitable trust. It is being run as a vocational training partner (VTP) and a non-profit industry oriented education institution, as its sole objective is to work towards benefiting workmen in the woodworking industry. Apart from Hettich it has a few industry partners including woodworking specialist Biesse and some plywood companies. It has great infrastructure as it is equipped with air-conditioned classrooms, modern machines, tools, audio-video facility, a library and faculty, among others. It is located in Faridabad Delhi-NCR) in Haryana, right by the Metro which is a great convenience to the students. Our plan is to replicate this institute in other areas across India.
Designing a robust and futuristic curriculum is vital, and HPWWI has developed a structure that’s emulative and engaging.
The design of the training programme is comprehensive; it bridges the gap between conventional and modern training. Carpentry has undergone a major change in the last decade or so as modern hardware has become a necessity. For instance, doors were earlier non-auto closing, today we have finger touch, side mounted, under mounted, etc. Therefore trained workforce is needed. All the possible areas for woodworking are being covered at HPWWI. The courseware has been classified as per the need of the industry – assembler, hardware fitment, polishing, sofa maker, etc and the duration of the training is three months. The logic of three months is that it will provide trainees the opportunity to learn more and opt for more courses. At the end of the training they will be certified.
The programme has no course fee, and comes along with free kits, stipend, placement and entrepreneur mentoring.
Admission to the programme is on a first-come-first-serve basis and training is being offered free of cost. During the course the trainees will be paid a stipend, for which we have tied up with the government. Not only will we train them, but we will also help them to get placed or get assignments, and more pay. Besides these, we will also assist those interested in setting up their own production units; we’ll provide them with kits and other help. Apart from the three-month programme we will also offer a three day Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) module. For RPL we will go to different locations across India with town-specific activities. We expect to train about 1,000 students a year under the three-month course, and about 8,000-10,000 under RPL. We also have a ‘Train the Trainer’ programme. All these modules can be replicated with time.