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Defence alarm

Manasi Mithel        Print Edition: Sep 30, 2012

Jailendra Kumar was part of India's defence and aerospace sector for over a decade. After a long stint as a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist, he was Director of Technology, BAE Systems India - the Indian division of the world's largest defence contractor - for two years till end August 2012. Kumar remembers that the biggest challenge before him in those years was to build teams with the right man for the right job. "These are not simple technology projects and there is no one qualifying degree to be eligible," he says.

Human resource firms would provide him lists of possible candidates from which he handpicked talent. Kumar would painstakingly sift through resumes of mechanical, technical and electronic engineers among others, but would often return empty handed.

Indeed, a dearth of talent continues to weigh on India's nascent defence and aerospace industry. "Sourcing talent for the sector is going to become a bigger challenge now because a lot of defence related programmes are drawing to a close," says Kunal Girap, Director, WalkWater, a talent advisory services firm.

India raised its defence budget by 17 per cent in 2012/13 alone to $38 billion. About $16 billion has been allocated this fiscal year for long-term asset creation, which would include modernisation of the armed forces and procurement of weapons.

The Indian government is increasingly trying to source material and equipment locally for the defence and aerospace sector (about 70 per cent of the industry's requirements are currently met through imports). Foreign companies can bid for Ministry of Defence contracts - only they have to set up an operational base in India through a joint venture (JV) with Indian companies.

For instance, BAE Systems India has a JV each with the Mahindra & Mahindra Group and the government owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. This is slowly and surely creating a big need for trained manpower. The industry needs engineers with a background in mechatronics (mechanical and electronic engineering), composites (combination and strength of materials) and system integration knowledge. Few Indian universities though offer courses tailor made for the defence and aerospace sector . "Theoretical knowledge that a candidate must possess in areas like basic design, for instance, are covered by organisations like DRDO and a few select academic insitutions. But this is a sector where a lot of changes happen and the educational system has to keep up with the developments," says M.V. Kotwal, Whole-time Director & President (Heavy Engineering), Larsen & Toubro (L&T).

The industry thus is trying to fill the gap by recruiting from heavy engineering and automobile companies. There is also a demand for exarmed forces personnel. Most companies in the sector also have inhouse training programmes. L&T, for instance, has talent development programmes and works in association with organisations like DRDO and Indian Space Research Organisation. Punj Lloyd is hiring fresh recruits into its defence manufacturing division and is grooming talent internally. "On the manufacturing side our engineers are trained in precision machining of exotic alloys, at times several times bigger than they had machined before," says Namit Kapoor, Group President, HR, Punj Lloyd.

Most sunrise industries face a talent deficit, notes Uday Chawla, Managing Partner at Transearch India, an executive search firm. "Talent was not available because there was no need for it. But need is now being created," he says.

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