India Grapples With Crippling Labor Shortage
But even if the labor population remained the same, the demand and level of construction work has exploded in India over the past decade, with no way for the population to keep up.
The other big problem, according to Sandhir at RICS, is the lack of vocational and skills training in the country. “In other parts of the world, vocational training and skills are an important part of the overall education fabric, and what happens is that people with vocational skills end up making as much money or sometimes even more money than professionals,” he says. “But in India, that hasn’t happened.”
Finding a Solution
The solution to this massive labor shortfall problem, according to Mathur, is fairly simple and straightforward. “We have to delink our construction from very high-intensive laborious activities,” he says. “We have to move to more industrial products. For larger projects, I think it’s a given and staring us in the face that we have to move toward prefabrication, industrialization and mechanization.” Indians, he says, are far too attached to customized, handmade things, which, in the future, will be available only at a price.
But Vestian's Rao worries that automation on smaller-scale projects doesn’t work in a country like India. “When the average size of a facility is about a half-million square feet or one million sq ft, to set up the kind of infrastructure that we require adds humongous pressure on the initial investment from the construction standpoint,” he says.
Skills training is a solution that many companies are looking into, individually or with the help of the government. “The problem with India—and I’m talking purely labor—is that there’s nobody training them,” says Rao. “It’s all training on the ground. People work under someone else, [such as] a relative or friend, and then, over a period of time, they learn the trade. So the skill is not imparted in a professional manner in this country. Neither is there certification for an electrician or other such professionals.”
The first step, Rao says, would be for the government and the private sector to get together to come up with training platforms. And that, according to RICS’s Sandhir, is already beginning to happen. RICS, which accredits close to 600 university courses around the world in real estate and construction, has, to date, not been able to accredit even a single course in India, despite having been in the country for over five years. Instead, RICS is tackling the issue in a different way by taking a more hands-on approach and starting an initiative, called the RICS School of Built Environment, to provide interested students specialized education for the real estate and construction sectors.
“The industry has to come forward and say, 'We will support you if you have the skills. You will get employment,' ” he says. “The industry needs to offer skills-training initiatives and certifications, but they also need to give people an incentive for doing them. Only then can we begin to think about meeting the demand.”