A year ago, an online classified ad by an infrastructure major in India offered $300,000 (Rs 1.5 crore) per annum for the post of chief engineer to lead a tunnels project. The fat pay packet reflected how desperate firms have been for talent given that the supply of skilled engineers has been drying up.

For some time now, engineering grads have ignored the core sectors—construction, manufacturing, power, and heavy engineering—preferring the glamour and compensation of IT instead. According to research firm Indicus Analytics, project management staff is likely to grow to 215,187 by 2012. Nearly 78% of this is expected to be in IT.

In 2010, Research by the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy found employment (that includes unskilled workers and nontechnical staff) in construction, power, manufacturing, and mining sectors to be 8.86 million. The industry will need at least another 5 million architects, engineers, surveyors, and engineering technicians by 2026, according to the Indian Institute of Job Training and TeamLease, a staffing firm.

Core sector companies and engineering bodies are trying to train talent to fill the gap. In September, Bosch Power Tools set up a Rs 5 crore facility in Bangalore to train 5,000 people each year. Besides offering hands-on training to engineering students, it will also have modules for its own trainers and those from clients across the construction, energy, and infrastructure industries.

Project Management Institute India, an association for the project management profession, is working with Larsen & Toubro’s Institute of Project Management to conduct workshops for college faculty to upgrade their skills. It also gets industry professionals to interact with students.

Also, they are emphasising the stability of a career in traditional industry, in contrast with the fast growth but subsequent flattening of salaries in IT. E. Balaji of consultancy firm Ma Foi Randstad says: “Core engineering companies have managed to become competitive for entry-level talent in terms of salaries and compensation.”

Shekhar Sanyal, country head of the Britain-based Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), adds: “We don’t have enough people to manage capacity now, leave alone in the next 10 years.” IET is set to launch a power engineers’ panel here, to be chaired by Prakash Nayak, head of ABB Power Systems. The panel has planned initiatives from 2012 that include internships with power companies. Students will be selected through a competition at engineering universities.

If these efforts do not produce results in the coming years, industry experts draw a gloomy picture for core sectors. “Either, we’ll have to get engineers from outside India, or the growth story could come to a screeching halt,” says Sanyal.

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