Good Fit. T. Venkatesh signed up for training program after reading about it in a newspaper.

Almost as big as Califor-nia’s population, India’s construction work force is vast but largely untrained. The questionable quality of much work testifies to the fact that only some 15% of India’s estimated 30 million construction workers has been through structured training, according to the Mumbai-based Construction Industry Development Council.

The problem is exacerbated by Indian contractors reliance on simply mobilizing large numbers of workers. Paying them about $5 a day, contractors compensate for low productivity and limited equipment with big crews. But as construction demand grows with increasing investment, "there’s a limit," says K.V. Rangaswami, senior vice president of the engineering construction and contracts division of Larsen & Toubro Ltd., Mumbai.


L&T is gnawing on the training problem with its own skills development program, in the absence of any national or government courses. "As a big organization, we have a social responsibility to the industry," says S. Natarajan, head of training at its well ordered and spacious Construction Skills Training Institute, close to the firm’s corporate headquarters in Chennai.

L&T has trained about 1,500 workers at its purpose-built center since it opened 10 years ago. As the skills curriculum has widened, trainee numbers have risen, reaching 331 last year. To help set up the program, L&T paid for three months of advice by two experts from U.K. contactor Henry Boot plc, Sheffield, in 1998.

The center cost about $770,000 to build and L&T now has added another, near Mumbai. Four more training centers are due to open at a combined cost of $1.6 million, requiring a $450,000 operating expenditure, says Natarajan. Altogether, the six centers will have the capacity to train 1,500 workers a year, he says.

To join the centers, candidates need no qualifications except the right attitude, says Natarajan. But around 60% of applicants fail on these grounds, he points out. Training lasts three months, or as long as it takes for workers to reach the required standards. Courses are 20% theoretical and 80% practical and now cover most trades, from bricklayers to electricians.

Learning. Center provides needed construction skills for maturing industry.

Trainees live and look after themselves in dormitories at the center, supported by company stipends. Graduates have no obligation to work for L&T, but about 40% stay on, estimates Natarajan. Among these is S. Ravis, who has worked on eight L&T jobs since leaving the center seven years ago, he says. He returned this September as a demonstra-tor while training to become an instructor.

Among his charges is T. Venkatesh, a 21-year-old trainee. He traveled 450 kilometers from his village to join the Chennai center after reading about it a newspaper, he says. He already knew the name Larsen & Toubro, which is something of an Indian institution.

Venkatesh had learned the rudiments of brick laying informally in his village since leaving school in 2000, he says. Scheduled to complete the course early next year, he has no plans to go home, but says he may stay on with L&T.

(Photos by Peter Reina for ENR)

Special Report: India
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