Over the years the automobile industry in India has changed dramatically. Cars have become more complex with a large number of electronics and factories becoming more and more automated. The country’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki, has had to keep up with the changes while increasing its efficiency of production to protect its market share. In our cover story for October 2018, Fortune India wrote about how Maruti Suzuki plans to fend off competition in the future. A key part of its strategy will be its workforce. A.K. Tomer, executive director (corporate planning) at Maruti Suzuki India, in an interview with Fortune India talks about how the company is skilling the manpower in the country to stay in step with current trends in the automobile industry. Edited excerpts:

Could you tell us some of the steps Maruti Suzuki is taking to ensure a steady flow of skilled manpower at its factories?

By 2030, India’s passenger vehicle market will be 10 million units per year. What we have realised is that demand for skilled manpower will increase at a rapid pace. Our team has realised that the skill sets taught by various institutes are no longer the same as what is the requirements of the industry. The courses and curriculum in the government’s industrial training institutes (ITIs) are nearly 30-40 years old. Today, technology has changed. We are entering the era of electric vehicles, greater automation in factories. Keeping that in view, we have collaborated with the government of India and adopted 125 ITIs. We are also a chair member in the National Council of Vocational Training where we are helping the government bring the curriculum up to date with the industry’s requirements. Now, there are new courses aligned with what we need as an industry at many of the government and private ITIs where we have collaborated.

A K Tomer, Executive Director of Corporate Planning, Maruti Suzuki      
A K Tomer, Executive Director of Corporate Planning, Maruti Suzuki     
Image : Narendra Bisht

Where does the Japan-India Institute of Manufacturing (JIM) fit in with this whole plan? What was the genesis of this institute?

So, we went further than just collaboration with the government and private ITIs. We have also developed a new institute called the Japan-India Institute of Manufacturing. This was inaugurated in 2017 in Mehsana, Gujarat. It is a partnership between the governments of Japan and India. There is also another private partner but Maruti Suzuki is essentially running the institute. We have people who have worked at Maruti Suzuki for nearly 30 years teaching at this institute. At JIM, what we have done is totally aligned the set up with what we do at Maruti Suzuki’s factories. For example, there is a small vehicle assembly line similar to what we have at our factories. Therefore, when people who learn vehicle assembly at JIM, join Maruti Suzuki or any other company in the industry they are well-versed with the modern vehicle assembly lines. Similarly, there are smaller versions of many other factory functions that are being taught at JIM. The other thing that we have focussed is softer skills. Traditionally, operators at the factories feel distant from management. We do not want them to feel different, rather make them understand that we are all a team. The softer skills are to develop their management skills, so that they feel close to the management team. The third thing that is taught at JIM is modern safety procedures. The first batch of students from JIM graduated last July. All of the 254 students who graduated found jobs within the industry in less than a month after course completion. We now want to increase the number of JIMs. We are going to set up one in Gujarat, one in Haryana and maybe one more in another state.

While JIMs and ITIs take care of the new workforce joining the industry, are there any steps that the company is taking to upgrade the skills of the existing workers?

For upgrading the skills of the existing workforce we have the Maruti Suzuki Training Academy. Here we train not only our staff but also workers of our vendors. The prime objective is to reskill or upskill the existing workers in the industry. First we started giving training to our own workers; now the set up is so good and so large that we are also inviting workers of vendors and dealers. Reskilling and imparting new skills is very important for us. We know in advance the new technologies that will be brought in three or four years later. We select people in-house, at dealerships and with vendors and the new skills are then taught to these people. For example we have announced in 2020 we will come with an electric vehicle. To back that up, our designers are being trained. Operators at factories are being trained, the workers at dealerships are being trained how to service electric vehicles. This is the way advance reskilling is being done for new technologies.

How are these initiatives helping in bringing up the efficiency rate at Maruti Suzuki’s factories?

Since our training centres have a smaller versions of various functions of our factories, the workers are able to familiarise themselves with how they move to assemble the vehicle. It goes down to the level of which hand is best suited for picking up a part from the bin. There is also a sort of gamification at the training centres where the students are judged on how fast they can assemble certain parts in the safest manner. This is being done at our own training centres plus we have something called DOJO Training Centres at our vendors. Also it doesn’t mean assembly is fast with defect. We work on a zero-defect policy. Therefore, even a fingerprint on the reflector of the headlight is not allowed.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube to never miss an update from Fortune India. To buy a copy, visit Amazon.