Pratima Sheorey, Director, SCMHRD (Symbiosis Centre For Management and Human Resource Development) shares her views on the challenges that lack of skilled manpower has thrown up.
By 2022, the Indian infrastructure sector is likely to have a shortage of around 3 million project professionals. How does the government plan to meet this skill shortage?
By way of the National Skill Development Council, the government wants to give an extra impetus to technical and vocational education. This philosophy is also very evident by way of wanting to improve employability by promoting the manufacturing sector and the ´Make in India´ campaign. More or less the gap for technical staff can be met by these measures, this will also improve overall employability. However, these measures will not resolve the issue of trained manpower in terms of project managers, planners and infrastructure management professionals. This gap is very challenging and is increasing over time. One would expect the current government to increasingly look at engineering colleges, where engineering skills are amply available. But what has been overlooked is the development of management skills to prepare project managers for the future.
In relation to the above, how can India´s vocational education and training programmes be revamped?
The need of the hour is to look at what the industry needs and make the training programs business-oriented. Industry does not have time to train people. They expect the employee to start on day one. Hence, it is essential that the programme focuses on making the learning process more ´experience´ oriented. Developing research and learning parks where industry and academia co-exist will be the utopian solution, however, building realtime experience alongwith conceptual models has become a necessity.
Are we placing too much reliance on the Public-Private Partnership model for infrastructure projects?
PPP projects in the infrastructure sector are important for the expertise and financial soundness that the private partners can bring in. However, at the core of such partnerships, rests a clear map of responsibilities and the expectations from each other. Even while such partnerships hold much promise, such projects today are burdened with various impending issues. Most of the PPP projects get entangled with issues like land acquisition, environmental clearance etc. These clearances delay the project and almost all projects exceed their budget and schedule. However, with the newly formed BJP government, the focus is slowly moving towards evolving the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model into a people-public-private partnership (PPPP), or the 4P model, that will involve citizen groups, professionals and retired experts in designing, implementing and monitoring public service projects. The Urban Development Ministry has proposed new concepts such as twin cities, satellite towns and 100 smart cities. Looking at the recent trends and efforts by the BJP-led government, the time is right to have an optimistic outlook.
Which are the project management tools that can be adopted to control schedule and cost overruns?
The tools most extensively used are MS Projects and Primavera. Our students are provided sufficient exposure to such tools, so as to ensure that they get hands on experience, and are able to use them effectively when the need arises.
What are the major reasons for the time and cost overruns across major sectors in infrastructure projects?
Given the data, one can say that the single most deterrent to projects today is land acquisition. Apart from this, several other factors contribute to delay in projects, namely :
1. Delayed environmental clearances.
2. Lack of availability of funds.
3. Contractual issues, such as non-adherence or deviations.
4. Less emphasis on pre-planning before beginning the project.
5. Delay in decision-making and implementation of approved decisions.
6. Unexpected increase in material and labour costs during the course of the project.
7. Shortage of skilled labour required to complete the project in the prescribed duration.
Looking at these facts, and the issues in the sector, the current government has initiated various steps to address the issue at hand, and we are hopeful of a quick turnaround in the sector.
There is a need to enhance the quality of vocational education and training as per the demands of the infrastructure sector. How do you see the programmes offered by you helping the infrastructure sector?
The planning, design, construction and maintenance of infrastructure are crucial for economic growth. The role of skilled professionals is to maintain the ageing infrastructure, integrate new infrastructure into existing systems, and expand infrastructure. And it must be done in a way that is socially, environmentally and financially sustainable. The MBA in Infrastructure Management will equip students to meet these important challenges. Our programme enables students to gain knowledge in the fields of infrastructure contracting, implementation of PPP models, advance project feasibility analysis, as well as taking a deeper look into the infrastructure project execution issues. In addition to classroom learning, the learning process is also supplemented by site visits, so that our students understand the ground level issues, first hand. Our efforts in designing this programme have been to align the course in response to the growing need for engineers, with advanced knowledge of infrastructure management, including its technological, economic and social impact. This on-campus course is aimed to create managers for tomorrow, who will undertake asset management for the country at various levels.