The Changing Face of Technical Education in India

A few days ago I posted about how 3D Systems is partnering with Tata Technologies to upgrade 149 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in the state of Bihar. I also mentioned that this followed a similar initiative where Tata Technologies is upgrading 150 ITIs in Karnataka. Implementation has begun in Karnataka and yesterday I visited the Government ITI at Peenya in Bengaluru to see for myself how everything is beginning to come together.

To set the stage, this upgrade doesn’t involve squeezing in a few pieces of machinery in an existing workshop and installing some software on outdated computers in the ITI. It involves construction of an entirely new building and setting up new labs with brand new workstations that can run the most demanding engineering applications.

It also involves equiping existing classrooms with state of the art commnication systems to enable distance learning.

The new building is equipped with a wide range of equipment from global brands.

Due to this upgrade the ITIs are now able to offer two new two year courses: (1) Advanced Manufacturing, and (2) Battery Electric Vehicle.

I also visited the existing workshops in the ITI and saw students busy working on the existing equipment.

While these basic manufacturing skills serve to give students hands on experience and understand the concepts, the way the world manufactures things has changed drastically. Large scale production no longer happens by cutting tools operated manually by humans. Instead humans program CNC machines to cut metal accurately and efficiently. Companies no longer wish to put their workers in harm’s way to perform dangerous jobs. They use robots instead. Companies are looking at new manufacturing technologies like 3D printing to completely reinvent their design and production workflows. So if a country like India with a young and energetic workforce needs to compete on the global scale and truly become a manufacturing powerhouse, our future manpower needs to be trained and certified in the use of these advances Industry 4.0 technologies like IOT, robotics and additive manufacturing.

I would like to end this post with a personal story. On a recent trip to Ladakh with friends we had to stop due to ongoing road construction work. I got talking to a group of workers breaking stones by the side of the road – the most unskilled labour that anyone can find. In speaking to them I was saddened to learn that each of them received INR 20,000 (USD 266) for five months of work. Yes, you read that right – five months, not one month. That’s INR 4,000 (USD 53) per month or INR 133 (USD 1.75) per day. That too at an altitude of 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) above sea level where the oxygen level drops from 20% to 7%.  Their faces were black. Their skin was burnt by the harsh sun rays at that high altitude. They spent the freezing nights in makeshift tents by the side of the road and tried their best to keep themselves warm using fire choking on the smoke, all night. When I asked them where they were from, the answer was Bihar.

Now imagine an ITI in the remotest corners of Bihar where these men are from. Then imagine the son of one of these men breaking stones on that mountain in Ladakh enrolled in an advanced manufacturing course. Imagine him getting a job at a company where he programs CNC machines and robots or redesigns components to manufacture them using 3D printers. Today I am imagining this. In a couple of years this is going to happen. In my India.

Working at 3D Systems for more than a decade, I have been part of many exciting projects and initiatives. But this one is very special to me. The thought that the son of a man breaking stones at 18,000 feet could use our 3D printers to manufacture innovative products is what has gotten me so stoked.

I firmly believe that nation building is about elevating every citizen’s quality of life and bringing them along with you. In the words of Ratan Tata, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.”