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HomeBUILDING SKILLSCarpentry is Becoming Aspirational: AK Goel

Carpentry is Becoming Aspirational: AK Goel

Anil Kumar Goel, managing director of Hettich India, is bridging the skill gap in the domestic woodworking industry. He is spearheading his company’s CSR initiative in the form of Hettich Poddar Wood Working Institute (HPWWI), which has been recognised as a Centre of Excellence by National Skill Development Council. The institute is a one-of-its-kind entity that delivers industry-ready workforce, thereby contributing to the process of nation-building.

By Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee

How did the Hettich group decide to set up a skill development institute?

When Hettich entered India in 2001, the company wanted to set up a woodworking institute but there were other priorities and complications that had to be addressed. Nevertheless, the company continued training carpenters for many years even as it established its business in India. We must have trained 20,000 carpenters till date. When the government announced the formation of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, we thought that it was the right time to set up an institute, with the long-term vision to impart knowledge amongst the industry. Thereafter, the Hettich Poddar Wood Working Institute (HPWWI) was established in Faridabad, Haryana as a part of our CSR initiative.

Nearly two years after HPWWI was set up, how do you reflect on its journey?

We established HPWWI in the second half of 2017. The year 2018 has been a learning phase for us. We have fine-tuned our operations and training programmes, and have gained an understanding of the requirements of the industry. We are fairly satisfied, as players from the furniture industry have been approaching us for training and in turn, they are providing jobs to many people.

What key challenges have you identified in this venture, and how are they being addressed?

There were two different challenges. Firstly, we have understood that if anyone undergoes training, he or she is away from work, and therefore loses wage. We are trying to take care of this loss by compensating them with monies arranged partly by us and by the government. But, the trainees will stand to gain in the long term, as they will be able to command higher wages once they complete their training. Secondly, transporting the workforce to the institute is difficult and can be done only for local trainees. Therefore, we have decided to replicate the HPWWI in other parts of the country starting from the end of 2019. By that time, the institute will have attained a particular level of efficiency.

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What are your goals for this year and the next?

This year, our target is to train 25,000 freelance carpenters. The year 2019 seems to be promising, as a lot of people are approaching us to provide them with trained manpower.

What is the profile of the trainees at the institute?

There are five types of people who approach us for training. First, people who want to set up their woodworking business. Second, online home interiors and furniture platforms like Livespace and Urban Ladder; they are into assembly operations and want to train their personnel. Third, independent carpenters wanting to up-skill themselves in modern carpentry, fittings, and hardware. Fourth, trainers who are faculty at various institutes. Fifth, participants of the World Skills competition.

Why is skilling assuming significance for the furniture industry at this point in time?

The furniture industry in India is going through a transformation phase and that is fast impacting the livelihood of carpenters. Firstly, furniture is shifting from being a utility to a lifestyle product. Secondly, conventional furniture is becoming modular and machine-made. Thirdly, functionality and space are becoming very relevant during the furniture buying process. Considering these aspects, we believe that traditional carpentry skills are no longer going to remain relevant. If existing carpenters do not train themselves for responding to these changes, they will lose their jobs. Our institute has the expertise to train carpenters to be able to deliver better furniture in a shorter time.

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You say that woodworking and carpentry are becoming aspirational professions. How is this happening?

See, people who were earlier tailors have become highly respected designers. Similarly, many people who entered the woodworking sector as carpenters are now well-known manufacturers of furniture and interior solutions. Even people from well-to-do families want to be trained in the techniques of woodworking so that they can eventually set up furniture factories. Our classrooms are air-conditioned and fitted with modern teaching facilities, while the workshops are equipped with the latest tools and woodworking machinery. The students are provided with knowledge and training for woodworking processes, the technology, and the tools, all free of cost. Be it a carpenter or entrepreneur, everyone is given access to these facilities. When they are in the classroom, they start realising that carpentry is a profession to aspire for. So, aspiration comes right from the beginning.

How important a role do skill development plays in today’s pursuit of corporate leadership?

Leaders have the responsibility of thinking beyond personal benefit. Similarly, corporate leaders must leverage skill development for benefiting the industry at large. Hettich, which is our parent company, is known for taking initiatives that go much beyond the regular business activity. Our motto is knowledge sharing. Through skill development we aim to create value for every constituent of our industry: the end-consumer, who gets economically priced materials with much better quality; the carpenter who derives a better income for the same man hour, and becomes an important part of the industry; and finally the entrepreneur, who develops a sustainable business, and also provides livelihood to others.

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