Ready-to-hire skills: A long haul for aerospace engineering studies

The Indian aerospace industry is one of the fastest growing markets in the world with civil, defence and space segments showing significant growth potential.

The Indian aerospace industry is one of the fastest growing markets in the world with civil, defence and space segments showing significant growth potential. Increase in FDI limit from 26% to 49% and focused initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ campaign and ‘Buy Indian’ as the first choice for defence procurement has also given a major push to industry players who are buoyed by the new government’s commitment to upgrade its armed forces with indigenous products.

This focus on indigenisation in the aerospace sector will drive the need to build an ecosystem covering the complete lifecycle of products. However, sustainable indigenisation will work only when we are able to lay equal emphasis on high end capability (people, systems, processes, tools and methods) and access to technology and funds. These are crucial factors which drive quality which, in turn, assure product safety.

It’s all about people
There is high demand and competition for good talent across all industry sectors that are dependent on innovation and creative thinking. And the aerospace industry is no different. While India is home to a million engineering graduates every year, it is the industry readiness of this vast talent pool that will play a key role in achieving the vision of creating a scalable and sustainable aerospace ecosystem in India.

The aerospace industry needs engineers with the right technical skills combined with the applicable soft skills that are invaluable for the industry. A background in mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering or mechatronics, materials (for example, composites) and system integration knowledge is only the start, engineering talent need to be trained on the global skills that will make them receptive to international standards of safety and quality.

At the moment, few Indian universities offer courses tailor-made for the aerospace sector and the country is yet to have an established and recognised institute/university specialising in aerospace. Therefore, talent that can be readily hired and deployed on programmes will continue to be a long-term ambition.

Where to begin
To build up such an ecosystem for aerospace, India needs technology and capability to cover the complete lifecycle of aerospace products encompassing R&D, engineering, manufacturing, testing and aftermarket services.

The skills requirement can be visualised in the form of a three sectioned capability or value pyramid. The bottom layer of the pyramid will encompass skills to carry out large volume of low end repetitive engineering tasks where volume, time-to-market and cost arbitrage is the key differentiator with limited focus on product /domain knowledge. The mid-layer will include skills to carry out product development/product support engineering activities with good understanding and knowledge about the products, processes and methodologies where end-user requirements are critical. Skills to carry out core and truly differentiating technology development and potentially research activities will be at the top of the pyramid.

To develop a sustainable ecosystem for the aerospace industry, we need to work towards developing talent to cover these three layers of the value pyramid. Through different business models such as engineering service organisations, joint ventures and captives, we can work towards building capability of the existing workforce and developing a strong pipeline of future talent.

Key talent challenges
Our talent pool requires foundational skills to get them ready for the industry in an accelerated manner. At the moment, only 2% of the Indian population has vocational skills compared to the high 70-100% in Japan, Germany, South Korea and the UK. The industry and government should perhaps focus on tackling these key challenges when thinking about talent development here.

Industry-readiness of the graduates/diploma holders to meet the aerospace & defence industry needs is vital. The local talent lacks the exposure to apply theoretical learning to practical problem solving aspects in their academic life. Professionals need to widen their limited domain knowledge and enhance the soft skills. Unavailability of high-end local domain expertise (lateral hires) of the required volume in relevant fields, with focus on quality excellence, slows down the pace of journey up in the value chain.

An underdeveloped career opportunity in the aerospace industry needs to be tackled to retain experienced technical specialist. In the absence of a significant manufacturing, service and repair base across the entire life cycle in India, our talents do not see clear career progression in the local aerospace industry to leverage their expertise across the value chain. This results in loss of training investment and time to constantly train new batch of talent in cycles.

A bright future
A lot of learning from best practices could be tapped into to develop vocational skills here. What is needed is clear commitment towards building a career and industry path for talent who are interested in developing a career in the aerospace industry.

The government could look into building a framework to recognise industry members who actively develop and implement technical career progression through continuous learning programmes. This will encourage industry players to invest in training and time to develop talent.

Backed by welcoming foreign talent to transfer knowledge and skills to local talent, this could be a successful start to developing sustainable skills development programmes. This could be further supported by putting together and formalising a framework between OEM captives and service providers, which will further drive innovation and encourage IP creation.

Our aerospace capability is full of potential. To ensure success and maximise the development of the industry, it would take the next decade of structured and robust close collaboration between the industry, government and institutions. Once set on the right path, I am confident that the Indian aerospace industry will be globally recognised as a destination for investment and further growth.

By Sreedeep Nair
The author is managing director, Rolls-Royce Operations India Pvt Ltd

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