India has only 3.52 lakh skilled, but uncertified, plumbers, for its 135 crore population. This means that only one plumber services 3,833 citizens. Indian Plumbing Skills Council (IPSC), the Sector Skill Council execution partner of the government and industry-led initiative of National Skill Development Corporation of India (NSDC), is aiming to change the equation to one plumber for 1,500 people, by skilling and certifying 12 lakh technicians by 2022. IPSC vice chairman Vinay Gupta takes SH to the edge of skilling tide that is sweeping the country.
By Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee
What has led the industry, government and customers to realise the greater significance of skilling in the plumbing sector?
The industry is changing immensely since the last few years. I have witnessed three changes: from bathrooms being located outside the house, to bathrooms inside the house, and then to their becoming part of the bedroom. So, the whole idea of the bathroom is different now. And so are the bathroom products. People want a comfortable and beautiful bathroom. So, skilled workforce is essential for building such bathrooms. Skilled plumbers are required to be able to fit the latest products and systems.
In this day and age, plumbing products that are launched in Europe are rolled out in India within just six months. Sometimes, the products are launched simultaneously in Europe and India. So, the country needs a trained workforce to be able to appreciate and install the cutting-edge products that are available in India in no time. At present such a skilled workforce is not available. An unskilled plumber may ruin such expensive during installation itself, and end up providing a bad experience for the customers.
It should also be noted that about 90% of the government buildings suffer from water dripping or leakage. Fire and water can be hazardous for buildings. But while the fire in buildings is sudden and is immediately known, water is a slow poison that gradually decreases the lifespan of structures. According to the United Nations, preventable water-borne diseases claim almost 31 lakh lives per year, and most of the people who die are of age less than five years. Of these, about 16 lakh die from diarrhoeal diseases which are caused due to a lack of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Skilled plumbers can address these hazards that water poses to buildings and human life. That is why skilling is very important in plumbing.
Which areas of the construction sector will trigger demand of skilled plumbers in the coming years?
The government has embarked on a slew of construction programmes such as ‘Housing for All by 2022’, 100 Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, among others. These projects will require the installation of plumbing in housing, roads, sewage & drainage, water treatment, and industrial waste management arenas. It is estimated that the demand for plumbing products account for about 10% of the total construction sector cost. Therefore, the demand for skilled plumbers is imminent.
IPSC says that it will endeavour to bring the skill levels in the country to world standards. How is this being done?
We have mapped countries such as England, Canada, the US, Australia, Malaysia, and South Korea on best plumbing practices. This exercise has given us a fair bandwidth to understand the prevailing standards in skilling, and also the steps that we should be taking. We have signed a MoU with Australia’s QSEC for a three-year course that can be imparted partly in India and in Australia with on-the-job training. The QSEC certificate is internationally accepted, which means that Indian plumbers equipped with the certificate are qualified to apply for plumbing jobs anywhere in the world. We have identified another related area: India has a lot of manufacturers of plumbing products. How do we get them to rise to international standard? There is no testing facility available in the country. It is rather painful for an Indian manufacturer to send a 400-kg pump or a bathtub for testing abroad.
This means the manufacturer is incurring huge transportation costs which are probably higher than the testing cost itself. So, we have signed a MoU with NSF (National Science Foundation), which is a global leader in setting water and food safety standards, for setting up a testing laboratory in collaboration with IPSC. This lab will not only test Indian products to international standards but will also certify them. Once the lab comes up, domestic manufacturers will be able to export products in a more cost-effective manner.
Plumbing is not viewed as an aspirational profession by sections of our society. Does that make your task of training plumbers challenging?
Yes, that is a challenge. We are using case studies to explain to people that there is a bright future in plumbing. We are trying to show them how much plumbers earn overseas. Plumbers in countries such as the UK and the US earn more than many doctors. Besides, our survey reveals that apart from new housing construction, there exists a vast refurbishing market. The upper middle class changes their bathroom every 10 years, the lower middle class does it every 15 years, and the strata lower in 25 years. High net worth individuals (HNIs) spend about Rs 15 to Rs 20 lakh, and the upper middle-class shells out Rs 12 lakh on each bathroom. Almost every time these socio-economic classes redo their bathrooms, they upgrade to the next price bracket. The demand for new bathrooms is fascinating. Earlier, the bathroom cost was Rs 20,000, so plumbers could earn only Rs 2,000. Now, the bathroom cost has gone up to Rs 4 lakh to Rs 20 lakh, so the plumber can demand Rs 20,000 as the construction calls for high-end plumbing skills.
I also believe that the ‘ease of doing the job’ has risen because cutting-edge tools and new materials in plumbing have reduced the time required to complete piping work from four days to four hours. So, plumbers have to invest less time in a job; that means there is greater opportunity to take up more work. The mindset of people will change only when they see a plumber shifting from riding motorcycles to driving cars in three to four years. I think that as our society evolves, plumbing will be seen as a dignified job.
How difficult is it for you to tell contractors and plumbers about the need for formal training, considering that they have been doing their work without it till now?
We mobilise plumbers from construction sites and contractors. Earlier, contractors did not want to let their workforce engage in training. They felt that training was a waste of time, manpower and earning. We also heard from many plumbers that they were not paid well because contractors and others said that plumbers did not know the job. So, plumbers were not keen to take up training. By doing test runs to demonstrate that training can bring savings of materials and better output from plumbers, we were able to convince contractors. So now contractors, plumbers, and others have started to appreciate the need for training and the benefits of skilling. We are also now trying to work out the cost of doing a particular job – such as installing a WC, basin, faucet, etc – and will soon put this information online. Such information will bring value to the ‘trained plumbing’ job and we feel that plumbers will be paid adequately. Contractors and plumbers are realising that skilling can indeed deliver quality work by decreasing labour cost, improving service, and saving time. The outcome is efficient and productive work.
What plumbing needs have you factored into your curriculum?
It is not that we did not have trained plumbers; they have not been trained through a formal system. So without certification, there was no way to ascertain if they were good or bad. Through the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) process, we assess the skill gap between plumbers, train them accordingly, and then test them for issuing the certificate.
We have differentiated skill levels for varied kinds of plumbing jobs. We have courses from Level I to VI for normal training, and Level VI onwards for supervisory courses. For example, a Level II certified plumber is good enough to service 10 taps in a housing society; one does not need a plumber who knows piping; quite like one does not need a bus driver to drive a scooter. The biggest advantage of this process is the flexibility to offer jobs to plumbers as per their knowledge. That is how we are trying to ensure that everyone is employed and gets a quality job.
How are you building the skilling infrastructure?
We have tied up with manufacturers, universities, and institutes. We are asking manufacturers to partner with us. The corporates are spending monies from their CSR budgets for RPL and other certification programmes as well as for training facilities. As their knowledge partner, we are guiding them on building and operating skilling setups, to ensure cohesiveness in the entire industry. This streamlined approach is bringing about uniformity by using the same tools and techniques across the country and doing away with wasteful expenditure. The government too is spending on training partners and other skilling needs under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY).
There has been a lot of action on the ground, including setting up of a plumbing laboratory at Chitkara University; Jain Irrigation Plumbing Training Facility in Maharashtra; plumbing labs at Sri Ramakrishna Advanced Training Institute in Coimbatore and at College of Engineering in Pune; Grohe-Don Bosco Jal Academy in New Delhi; Kohler Plumbing Academy in Gurugram; Jaquar Plumbing Training Lab at Skill Development Centre in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh; Jaquar-Don Bosco Plumbing Training Lab in Bengaluru, Karnataka; Jaquar Plumbing Training Lab in Manesar, Haryana; and Ashirvad Plumbing School in Bengaluru. Jaquar Group is setting up almost 50 micro and macro labs across India in partnership with IPSC. We will be setting up our own Centre of Excellence at Bengaluru, Pune, and NCR.
How are you ensuring employability?
A lot is being done in this area. We have launched a mobile plumbing application- Plumber Konnect – which is a consumer-centric app. It effectively connects the demand to the supply and enables consumers to hire a plumber at the touch of a button. It has two outcomes: self-employment for plumbers and convenience to the public. We have also signed a MoU with ITEC for placement of the Indian workforce in UAE/GCC/MENA regions. We have training partners such as GM Shiptech, HR Technical Trade, and Quivan Skill Empowerment to facilitate overseas placement in Singapore, the Middle East, and East Asia. We are also working with migration agents to aggregate demand for overseas plumbers’ placement. Besides, we are embracing innovative methods to aggregate demand by adopting Google Form that can be submitted through computers, tablets or even mobile phones. We have opened a placement cell in Dubai with an industry partner.
How are you deepening your engagement with the industry?
We are creating regional chapters along with industry partners to increase our outreach. Another initiative that we have taken is to host plumbing excellence awards or honours to promote more and more participation from all segments of the plumbing industry. We have undertaken mass marketing campaigns which are aimed at employers, urging them to hire skilled manpower trained through the initiatives of Skill India. Another interesting initiative of IPSC is to upgrade plumber meets into RPL activities through the corporate commitment model, wherein the industry provides recognition to the plumbing workforce.
What is the scale and speed of your training programmes?
We want to certify 12 lakh plumbers by 2022. We have already certified 70,000 of them ever since the launch of the Skill India mission in July 2015. In the first two years or so our focus was to build basic infrastructure by designing the curriculum, roping in training partners and assessment agencies, etc. Now, we are scaling up. We are planning to certify 2,25,000 existing plumbers and freshers this year. Thereafter we want to plumbers 30-40% growth rate every year.