LEARNING AND EARNING!

FLYING HIGH: You cannot aspire to touch the sky as a pilot or a steward or even repair an aircraft engine unless you acquire the necessary skills. It is ironic that Goa which has six engineering colleges has to import an outsider for the job of chief electronic engineer

BY RAJAN NARAYAN

Unless we update our skills in Goa we will be reduced to doing menial jobs at higher wages in more developed countries. There is equal dignity in washing floors in Heathrow and in Dabolim airport. We need to upgrade our skills so that employers like the Mopa airport cannot claim that Goans are not eligible for jobs because they do not have the appropriate skills. With technology taking over we need to learn to not just co-exist but master technology

At least in theory we learn to attain knowledge. To know more about ourselves and the world around us. We learn because we want to be considered wise. But the bitter reality is that mostly we learn because we want to earn. Unfortunately our education system is not equipped to give us the skills or knowledge necessary to earn.
It is not difficult to earn a minimum wage. It is not difficult to earn if we are not concerned about how we earn. It is easy to earn if we are willing to do any and all kinds of jobs — wash the floor, clean toilets, etc. If you are willing to work in the construction industry as a skilled or unskilled worker there is no shortage of jobs.
Unfortunately the ego gets in the way. Most people do not want to do what they consider menial jobs. Many who would not have any problems cleaning toilets at Heathrow airport in London will not be caught dead cleaning the toilets at Dabolim airport.
There is of course a big difference in compensation. Washing toilets or sweeping roads in Goa is not likely to pay more than 500 to600 per day. Whereas menial work in London and New York could garner you 800 to1,000 per hour! Of course the cost of living in the developed west is very high and you may have to live like migrants do in Goa, in tiny rooms with minimal facilities. But at the end of the day you are able to save enough money to either make more money abroad or come back to your home country.
The principle that employees will go to whichever part of the country or the world where the wages are highest does not apply only to blue collar jobs. It applies equally to jobs in the information technology (IT) industry.
In the case of IT, it works both ways. There are many highly qualified jobs in IT involving artificial intelligence and big data for which qualified employees are not available in the United Kingdom or the United States in sufficient quantity. This is partly because high quality technical education is very expensive in developed countries. While it will cost you less than `5 lakh to complete your degree in IT or electronics in the Indian Institute of Technology, considered the best technological centre in the country if not the world, an equivalent degree in MIT or Harvard can cost as much as million dollars.
IT grew in India through what is referred to as body shopping. Suitable candidates are recruited in India and sent to hi-tech industrial units in the US. Over 60% of top employees in companies like Google and Facebook, not to mention hardware giants like Microsoft, are Indians.
On the flip side, big companies in the US have set up call centres in India to look after their backroom work. It becomes very expensive for a consumer durables company or an automobile company to set up a regular office or call centre in the United States to attend to the queries and complaints of clients. It is much easier and cheaper for them to set up a call centre anywhere in India — could be in Bangalore or Pune or even in Goa. The client may have the impression that he is talking to his next door neighbour in the US, unaware that he is actually talking to someone in India with a fake American accent.
Similarly specialised outsourcing centres have come up in the area of medicine and law. Many hospitals and even individual doctors may find it too expensive to hire additional staff to do routine work, for example paper work which is essential for insurance reimbursement. So medical BPOs are set up in countries where wages are much lower to do the back office work. Similarly, busy firms of solicitors in the UK or the US might find it more economical to hire lawyers in India who will do research work, coding or even drafting.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

It all comes down to skilling. In every country, the amount you get as salary will depend on the level of your skills. In the absence of good training centres, Goans are time and again rejected for jobs on the grounds that they are not qualified.
The tragedy will repeat itself. Three or four years from now when Mopa is ready, GMR (which has got the contract to build Mopa airport), will say it cannot offer Goans any jobs because they do not have the required skills. At that time there will be no point of Goans complaining that GMR is not willing to give them jobs as aircraft maintenance technicians or ground handling staff if they don’t have the requisite qualifications and training.
I told the Chief Minister and the Labour Minister that they should get GMR to set up a skilling centre now so that when the airport is ready there will be sufficient Goans with skills. I even offered them the services of semi-retired aeronautical engineers who will set up training facilities for them.
We need the government to think of future skilling requirements if things are to change. However, most Goan mantris are more concerned with supplying three water tankers to their migrant voters than setting up long term training facilities. It is a case of instant gratification.
Unlike even a decade ago we have six engineering colleges in Goa. But there are no jobs available for graduates of these colleges. Forget about jobs there were no takers for more than 500 seats in the engineering colleges. Not surprisingly there is no demand for mining engineers because mining is dead. There is only demand for electronics and civil engineering.
Even in the case of electronic and civil engineering the gap between what students learn in their colleges and what the industry expects of them is very wide. I recall several industrialists telling me that those who have passed the Indian Technology Institutes or Polytechnics from Goa cannot even use a calculator. This is probably true also of engineering where it is all theory and no practice. It is certainly true of journalism as none of the subjects you learn in the BBAs in Media are any use on the job. Xavier Institute of Communications (XIC) in Mumbai is a rare exception.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

There are two challenges to be met. We have to start planning with the end in mind — the job. We need to find out what kind of jobs are needed on the shop floor. For instance if under government pressure and due to the demands of climate change it is insisted that all automobile manufacturers should switch to electrical engines. This will automatically require a change in the syllabus to manufacture of electrical engines instead of mechanical engineers. So skills have to match not education institutions but jobs and changes and patterns in jobs.
To give an example a large software company which employs over three lakhs employees kept getting enquires about leave and other details. Besides costing the company money to hire unproductive labour to asnwer these questions, it became a nuisance. The company built a bot and fed all the information to it. In turn it would answer the queries more efficiently. The company saved money because of this innovation.
Besides matching skills to jobs it is necessary for states like Goa to attract employers and industries with jobs that match skills that are being developed. There is no point in having an Infotech corporation if you do not have adequate experts in Information Technology, just as there would be no point in complaining that Goans have not got any jobs in Mopa because no skills were imparted in aeronautical engineering and ground handling.
The world has turned upside down. The new skills that are required probably did not exist ten years ago. You would not have imagined a decade ago that you would buy a ticket on your smart phone or work from your smart phone. Similarly, one would have not imagined that through artificial intelligence you can monitor your blood pressure in real time and even various appliances at home like your washing machine and your air conditioner.
It is not necessarily true that the new jobs will mean fewer jobs all around. When the traditional textile and other industries closed down they were replaced by the IT industry which initially was offering over ten lakhs per year. Conventional building methods are expected to be replaced by 3D printing. This is like building a house in modules like children do with logo bricks. But you still will need people to design and produce the modules. Jobs don’t disappear into thin air. Only the nature of jobs change.
What we urgently need to do in Goa and India is upgrade our skills to match the requirements of business and industry. Who would have thought even a few years ago that instead of going for a restaurant you could contact Swiggy or Zomato to give you your meals at home.
It’s a changing world which requires more and more sophisticated skills. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the younger generation seems to be very comfortable with smart phones and artificial intelligence. What is lacking is that they upgrade their skill levels in a planned manner which will lead to an increase in both salaries and quality of jobs. If we do not improve our skills we will be reduced to competing with migrants for the higher-paying unskilled jobs.

EASE OF GETTING DOCUMENTS IN GOA…

Because daily wages are very high migrants from all over the country are attracted to Goa. Unlike Goans who go to London, migrants who come to Goa get jobs immediately. They have no problem getting the documents necessary to continue to stay in Goa like Aadhaar cards, or voter IDs or residential certificates and even ration cards as they become part of some politician’s vote bank. The agents of the politician, in return for their votes, arrange for them to get the necessary documents.
I was quite surprised when my maid ask me where she could get a Pan Card. I asked her why she needed a Pan Card and learnt that her employee offered Provident Fund. A Provident Fund is applicable to all employees who have more than ten workers whereby 8% of the salary is cut from the wage of the employee and an equal amount is cut from the salary paid by the employer and these are paid into the fund to be used by the employee in the future in times of need. This is India’s version of social security to its employees.
In theory companies which employ more than ten people also have to offer Employee State Insurance. Under this scheme a token amount is cut from the employee’s salary against which he is entitled to reimbursement of expenses if he falls sick. Under the ESI scheme an employee is even entitled to reimbursement of wages for days he could not work because he was not well. In practice of course very few employers who are liable pay their share of either the Provident Fund or the contribution to the Employee State Insurance Corporation do so. And relative to government hospitals the quality of health care in ESIC hospital is very important.

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