07 August 2020


The construction industry is witnessing a paradigm shift because of our skills development programme for workers.


Kushal is a joint venture project between CREDAI Pune Metro and the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC). Established in June 2012, Kushal was formed with the objective of improving the skill sets of the construction workforce in India. Being a pioneering on-the-job skill-training programme for construction workers it aims at upgrading the skills of 100,000 construction workers over the next 10 years. Very recently the organisation has announced that it would be looking to take the initiative pan-India and would extend the construction worker training to contractors. SHRIKANT RAO spoke to KAPIL TRIMAL, JOINT SECRETARY, KUSHAL, on the challenges of the unique construction worker skills development programme and its future.


Give us an understanding of Kushal’s genesis, its objectives and relationship with the construction sector?  


The National Skills Development Corporation, which is under the Ministry of Finance, has as its objective the target of upgrading the skills of 500 million people by 2022. To achieve this they have taken the Public Private Partnership route and are mainly partnering with vocational training providers, and with industries that have the ability to train people on a mass scale. That is where construction comes into the picture. A very large number of construction workers are employed in the cities and that gives organisations like us a huge ability to address the skills gap by offering a large number of skilled construction workers. However, three and half years ago, when J P Shroff, Chairman, Credai Pune Metro, met with the board of NSDC in this connection, they were skeptical. This was because at that point of time there wasn’t a single construction worker training programme in the country.  He, however, convinced them that we could make it a successful venture and could provide large numbers of skilled construction workers. The challenge they gave us was to train 20,000 construction workers. So we took on this pilot project in grant form because construction workers are not someone who have the ability or willingness to pay; we know they get daily wages, so to forgo those wages and actually get them to pay for the skills and to learn was, of course, difficult. Therefore we started it on a grant –  the total amount initially was Rs 4 crore for three years beginning mid-2011, which has now been scaled up to Rs 20 crore.


Surely convincing the construction worker to learn must have been a huge challenge?


It certainly was. I think the most critical part where we started off on the right foot was “earn-while-you-learn”. We knew if anyone expected to get the construction worker out of his workplace, go to a classroom, forego his wages, and learn, it was not going to happen.  We have had a lot of people at NSDC partner meets who have tried to take on construction worker training programmes.  The simple reason they didn’t succeed was they tried to take the construction worker out of the programme. We got the essence right by reaching out to construction workers and training them at the job site itself. Ours is an 80-20 model, which means that 80 per cent of the training is practical while 20 per cent is theory. We have trained about 12,000 people as of now.  


How easy or difficult has reaching out to all the stakeholders been?


Basically, when we started off, the developer was not enthusiastic about this. The contractor was very pessimistic about what we were doing.  The workers thought this was a gimmick.  At Kushal we do training in 6 trades— tiling, plumbing, masonry, shuttering, bar bending.  So what we decided is that when we start a program at a site, we’ll do a launch program wherein the Kushal Committee, the developer, the contractor, the supervisor and the workers will come together and we will talk to these workers about what is the value that Kushal will bring to them. So when you had the owner coming face to face with the workers, which had never happened before, people started to take it seriously.  When we started we had a huge dropout rate wherein workers  who had signed up left the programme.  That was simply because of the pessimism of something new, something that wasn’t known. So we started having these launch programmes which really had the workers enthused and they started attending these programs.  The first thing we did at the site was to send one of our persons to the site for a primary evaluation. So he met with the contractor and tried to understand how many people were working with him, how many people there were in each trade. He came back with intelligence of the number of people in masonry, or bar bending or in shuttering.  Now, once that was done, before the start of a training programme, the trainer evaluates the worker based on certain questions which we have made for him and classifies him of a certain level of skills based on what level he is currently at and from where he will be required to be taken to the next level.  These categories of skills are like Unskilled, Semi-skilled A, Semi-skilled B and so on.  Not every worker is skilled so we have talk a little bit about the course work that we develop. All the course work that is presently in the market is for engineers, supervisors, which is very technical in nature.  If you look at construction workers, they don’t have the ability to understand that.  So we developed the course work right from ground zero.  So if it’s a 2-month training program, the trainer has a hand book which gives him details about what he’s supposed to teach on Day 1, Day 2, Day 30, Day 45 and so on.  He is absolutely crystal clear about what he has to teach the worker on each day. We have developed the course work in Hindi, English, and Marathi.



What dictated your choice of teachers?  


We realised that when you’re talking to a construction worker you need someone who has the ability to have some chemistry with him. Engineers, for instance, are not the kind of people who will give direct instructions or recommendations to the workers directly. They would rather offer that to the mukadam or contractor. So we decided that it had to be the contractor – people who have come from up from the bottom, done things hands on for years. Those who perhaps don’t have the ability to do that anymore but have the knowledge and the ability to pass it on to others and can communicate well with the workers.  That again was a second very critical aspect other than the “Learn while you earn” that we got right.  Our trainers are someone who the moment they get into the training program gel with the workers instantly because there already exists a rapport – their entire life would have been spent communicating with construction workers.


Take us through the process of deployment of teachers for these construction workers?


Once the interview is done we have an orientation program for one month.  We take a trainer, train him for a few weeks, and for one month we deploy him on the site. So we work alongside an existing trainer to see what the site dynamics are like.  When he goes out to the site, he is a little lost, but if he works with current trainers, he realises how it is to be taught considering people are all over the place, getting theory lessons etc. So that’s how the trainer gets deployed.  


Tell us about the course work and certification?  


It is a two month course to upgrade any construction worker from the level of say, Semi Skilled A to Semi Skilled B. To take someone from Semi Skilled A to Skilled B is another 2-month program.  So we do an initial skill mapping where we know at the start of the program that he was a Semi Skilled B and we have to take him to Semi Skilled A.  He’s given training accordingly.   What we believe is that if Kushal is doing the training it is not fair that we do the certification. That would be like we’re doing the training and we ourselves are taking the test which could lead to a sort of credibility loss.  Therefore we have partnered with a lot of national reputed construction agencies and the Builders Association of India.  We do the training, and they do the certification for us at the end of the day and don’t think twice before flunking anybody.  So, if we have trained 13,500 people, they’ve certified 12,000 people. In the process we have people who have left the training for their own reasons or because they have not passed.  That lends credibility to the training.


The 12,000 people you mentioned as trained by you, are they all thoroughly certified and completely competent?


I wouldn’t say they are thoroughly competent, but whatever level of proficiency they were at, they’ve been taken to the next level.  Within the 6 trades we have multiple levels, so we have taken them from one level to the next level of proficiency.  The proof of the pudding: when we were given the money they said that if you train the worker and make him more proficient, you are making him better off, so his salary should go up.  So how do we find out if the construction worker’s earnings have gone up?  At the end of the training programme where the worker gets a certificate from us we give him a postcard which has our address and contains his name, his ID number, his trade number and all information about him – we have a very robust database with information about 20,000 construction workers which includes their age, their address, where they are from, how much they are educated and so on – and ask him to post us details of any rise in income levels.  After 3 months, if he sends us the postcard with information about his wage – he could be earning the same wage, or might have received a wage increase – we give him a top-up of Rs 50 on his cell phone. So that is how we get information about wage hike.  Out of the 12,500 people we have certified, we have called more than 7000 people by phone and have phone recordings asking them questions about their salary rise.  We are dealing with government money and this is to ensure transparency and maintenance of proper records.
Does Kushal negotiate with builder-developers for higher wages on behalf of the construction worker?
We haven’t done that because we want the contractor to increase wages only if he sees value in the worker. If we enter into an agreement wherein we tell the contractor you have to increase the worker’s wages – contractors have predetermined contracts – it becomes difficult for them. But what has happened is contractors are very happy to send people for training. Since their output is going up they’re willing to increase wages.  A city like Pune faces a worker shortage of 40 per cent. Developers are happy to increase the salary simply because they have someone who is trained and can do the work better and faster. Having someone trained is a huge asset today.


An important feature of your training programme is its emphasis on social skills development. Could you expand on that?  


What we are dedicated to do is not just make this a training program. We want construction workers to be better off as people.  So there are two very important things that we’ve done.  All the people who undergo training have to undergo social skills training.  So we have a social skills trainer on board who teaches them about hygiene, behaviour, education, medicals. We want to inculcate good habits into them. We have a lot of worksites where construction workers have quit tobacco.  We have also tied up with the Bank of India for bank accounts for construction workers.  It has never happened that a construction worker has a bank account. These are people who take the money, put it in a box where they store their daily supplies, and the money gets spent on alcohol. In what could be a first for the construction sector we’ve helped 1400 construction workers open accounts with the Bank of India. The bank on its part says if you are a Kushal certified worker, we’ll open a bank account for you.  


You mentioned talking to contractors and real estate developers.  How you really been able to make a dent in their mindsets?  


One more essence of this program is to get the construction worker himself to pay for the training. As of now they don’t.  For any program to be sustainable in the long run, the end user should pay for the training. I get asked time and again: Why doesn’t the construction worker pay? What I tell them is— please see the change we’ve brought about in the last two years.  When we started off, the worker thought it was all a gimmick, the contractor thought we were someone who is going to train workers and is going to force them to pay more, the developers thought these people are going to come to the site and waste their time while the work is going on.  Over the past two years, what we’ve done is we made the worker so enthusiastic, that any site we go to – we have a wait-list of 30-40 sites on any given day – the contractors today are happy. They see there is a genuine value offered by us and that this is not some gimmick. They see that we are genuinely providing labour in such a way that the work done by seven people previously is now done by five.  So they’re very happy to be on board.  The developer at the end of the day is seeing that the work happening on his site is of quality, he sees that the workers are being taught, he sees that they are actually doing things in the optimal way - whether it is in painting or laying brick or shuttering.  Another very important thing is the course content we’ve created - we’ve made trade films. If you understand the construction worker, he’s not someone who has the ability to sit in a classroom and can ask things.  It has to be very animated and it has to be something that’ll capture his attention.  So if you say how to lay a brick we’ve got a video showing a very technically strong mason laying the bricks, showing how the bricks are being laid, and there is a video with a voiceover explaining what he is doing.  We’ve got this in English, Marathi and Hindi for all the six trades. These were created on site. We have lessons on various aspects of the trade with most intricate details like how to tie a knot, how to lay a brick. All these things are probably difficult to explain by theory


What are the changes witnessed because of your training programme?


The construction industry is now seeing a paradigm shift. It can be seen that contractors with skilled workforce can produce more with less, developers now have construction sites where wastage is minimal. It has also found reflection in higher quality of construction and content customers.  


Very obviously your whole objective is to bridge the construction worker’s skill deficit gap. With India facing the huge challenge of infrastructure development give us an idea how you are approaching the issue nationally?  


Poor worker skills lead to bad quality of construction. In Pune, for instance, the requirement of construction workers is around 400,000  at any given time but when we have 300,000  people doing the work quality suffers. The construction worker skills gap exists everywhere in the country.  There is a shortage, and because of the shortage anyone who comes with a chisel in his hand and says ‘I’m a worker’ has become a part of the industry. That has caused the industry to suffer.  We’re now in the process of replicating the experiment which we successfully did as a pilot project in Pune, elsewhere.  We have had a long discussion with NSDC as to how to replicate this model. We are trying to bridging that skills gap by talking with various governments.  





To provide training to 100,000 construction workers in the next 10 years and ensuring quality while achieving the numbers. It also intends to improve the overall quality and outlook of the construction industry to the benefit of all the stakeholders by pursuing the following objectives.
•    Providing quality training to construction workers that will help them progress in their field and earn better remuneration
•    To uplift the morale and make construction workers professionals like their counterparts in developed countries
•    To improve the quality of life of the construction workers through improved social skills
•    To ensure that material wastages at site go down and a high quality product is delivered
•    To create a learning environment that is willingly embraced by construction workers from all over the country that will help them progress and prosper.


Trainee Name: Shankar Shamrao Shinde
Training Site: Blue Ridge, Hinjewadi, Pune.
Trade: Painting
I have been doing painting for the last 10 years but I worked like a machine, doing my job without any real understanding or taste for it. After undergoing training at Kushal I have been able to understand from my instructors that painting is not just a skill but a science.  I have learnt the smallest of things in great detail like what is a primer, how to prepare it, the uses etc which I did not know of earlier.    



Trainee Name: Mohan Ramrup Saha
Training Site: Lilavati Greens  
Trade: Painting
During the training at Kushal I learnt everything about painting like how to mix paint and how to use the brush effectively. I would advise all my colleagues to participate in the Kushal traning programme and improve their knowledge and professional skills.   



Trainee Name:  Fakad Dashrath Wagh
Training Site: River Residency
Trade: Masonry
There is a lot of change in my approach to work after I joined Kushal. Both the quality and pace of my work has improved. Because of the training I have received here my wages have gone up by Rs 100.



Trainee Name: Maruti Vithalrao Murarkar
Training Site: Marvel Isola
Trade: Tiling
Because of the Kushal programme I have picked up skills in tiling and want to make more progress in that field in the future.

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