Forget "Make in India", even "Make for India" is a mirage

FedEx, the bulge bracket MNC courier company, bites the dust when it services the Indian market. They take seven days to ship a document weighing less than 500 grams from Bangalore to Mumbai. Incidentally, there would be more than 25 daily flights that reach Mumbai from Bangalore even after the demise of Kingfisher Airlines. So it’s not as if connectivity is a challenge. They often take more than three days to deliver a lightweight packet within Bangalore. My three year old grandson could do better on foot.





One pays top dollars to FedEx on the assumption that such consignments would be delivered within 24 and a maximum of 48 hours as the service is touted as an “overnight” one.

Someone I know has been struggling with a Siemens washing machine that rips through shirt fronts and counterpanes for almost a year without a credible assurance of repair or replacement. She has had to call the Regional Service Manager of Siemens (Karnataka) from different phone numbers as the person has been evading her calls that emanate from the number that is registered with the German engineering company. One would wonder whether Siemens follows the customer service practices of a blade company like Saradha or Rose Valley by having its service personnel duck calls from an army of dissatisfied customers. Or is it their SOP for India alone?

Let’s not even go anywhere near Indian companies that have built their early fortune during the license raj period and still remain unresponsive to and often dismissive of customers. I recently visited a Godrej “Interio” showroom in Bangalore where about half a dozen shop staff refused to make eye contact with me for almost ten minutes as if I had carried an IED with me when all I had in mind was to locate a top end ergonomically designed executive chair that would support my ageing back. When I finally raised my voice to be heard, the oldest employee was the one who finally condescended to raise his head from a sheaf of papers that could not have been anything like the nuclear secrets of India that needed such poring over. His curt reply to my query was that retail orders could take upwards of a month to execute and to rub it in, he mentioned that orders of two dozens or upwards would interest him. I realized that I was not at all welcome in what appeared to be a retail showroom but had people managing it who were not groomed to deal with individual customers in flesh and blood. It might have been better for Godrej to put all the products displayed (in the showroom) on an e-commerce site and dispense with this expensive showroom and the under trained employees.

One of India’s pioneers in infrastructure financing companies has been trying to skill modestly educated Indian youth through its education vertical for several years now with the virtual guarantee of a job to dovetail the skilling program. At the helm of this vertical is a former bureaucrat who has a deep sense of the skill gaps that exist across both urban and rural India. But none of that seems to be cutting much ice with the targeted trainees in interior India who prefer “cool office jobs” to the sweaty shop floor. A neighbour of mine who runs a garment factory in the industrial area of Peenya in Bangalore laments the marked disinterest of local youth in factory based jobs whereas there is a disproportionate clamor for the clerical office centric jobs that incidentally pay lower. He has not been able to fill about twenty open positions in his factory for over a year now. Recently, Bosch had to give in to the trenchant demands of its Bangalore factory workers whose monthly salaries were eventually increased from INR 70,000 (USD 1,100) to INR 90,000 (USD 1,500). Obviously, Bosch could not find younger technically equipped staff to replace some of these ageing employees who cost a lot more. By the way, these Bosch workers are not engineers; they are merely diploma holders. Is Indian labour really cheap any longer?

So, who will “Make in India” and presumably for overseas markets? The indolent youth who is reluctant to enrol for a heavily subsidized "skilling" program run by the infrastructure major? Or the over the hills technical workers whose costs are no longer competitive but managements still have to make do with them due to the skills crunch of India? Will most of Indian youth continue to covet the services sector which fails to deliver a consignment (between metros) within 48 hours? Whether “Make in India” or “Make for India”, the accent is clearly on the lowest end of the employment pyramid whose constituents usually queue up outside the government run employment exchanges that only have hopes to sell but no jobs to offer. Isn't the man behind the machine more important? Why is it that most Indians prefer cheap Chinese products despite the Dragon being our most lethal strategic adversary? Simply put, Indians have failed miserably to make for India all these years. Can a mere slogan enthuse Indian workers to surpass their best ever to make products that are coveted by overseas clients? More critically, are Indian entrepreneurs about to invest in a workforce that is both low on skills and attitude? Let the front pages of pink papers report opening of new factories rather than software development centres in South India. Only then one will be convinced about these slogans that have merely raised the noise level in corporate India rather than generating any energy .





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