Gurinder Singh Arora of Autocreates will start a Drivers’ Training Institute in Panvel, Maharashtra soon. Apart from the training they receive, the drivers will also undergo an image make-over lest they be treated in a crude manner on the highways by traffic inspectors, RTO officials and the police.
It is no secret that India’s biggest challenge from the viewpoint of trade and commerce is going to be a huge deficit in terms of drivers to ferry goods across the vast length and breadth of our country. Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training estimates that there are approximately six million trucks operating in the country with a heavy requirement of 7,00,000 to 8,00,000 truck drivers every year. Considering the fact that a lion’s share of India’s freight moves on roads (and not on rails), the challenge gets more daunting, points out Gurinder Singh Arora, Chairman, Autocreates.
For Arora, a fleet owner specialising in finished vehicle moving business, shortage of trained drivers is a daily issue. Autocreates owns more than 100 fleet to ferry ready-to-market passenger cars of almost all automotive OEMs from their respective plants to the dealers’ showroom all over the country. Arranging finance to acquire new vehicles, each costing approximately
र30 lakh, is far more easy than hiring trained drivers. “This, actually, led me to think of finding a viable solution not only for my own sake, but for the industry as a whole,” he elaborates.
So, Arora came up with the idea of setting up a Drivers’ Training Institute (DTI). To launch any such initiative, there are certain imperatives: primarily, adequate space. In this regard, he is lucky to own 17 acres of plot in Panvel – on the Mumbai-Pune highway. He has been operating a stockyard for Tata Motors export vehicles for years and there is adequate space capacity to build up a separate block for DTI. The second need is access to trained personnel to impart education. He has been running Unitech Automobiles, a 100% Tata Motors dealership business focused on selling all types of the heavy and light commercial vehicles trundled out of the country. Therefore, his access to Tata Motors’ training crew as part of their sales and marketing strategy is a big plus. Added to that is his access to a crew of more than 150 drivers on his own rolls with attendant cleaners/assistants.
These cleaners/assistants will be converted into full-fledged proper heavy commercial vehicle drivers through imparting theoretical and practical training. By and large, few fleet owners pay for assistants/cleaners and their ‘earnings’, if at all any, come from the pockets of drivers. Many illiterate youngsters take to becoming cleaners/assistants with the hope that they would get trained by senior drivers through trial and error method in two to three years and then they might become eligible for a ‘driver’ slot that will fetch them regular monthly income. But the training they receive is crude, and not structured.
Arora’s individual initiative, with no government assistance at this moment, is in the blueprint stage. He has roped in a group of experts with practical and academic experience in the field of driver training. He is laying equal emphasis on imparting ‘soft skills’ to the participants. “We are all fully aware of the ill treatment meted out to drivers on the highways by traffic inspectors, RTO officials and police. I feel that if our drivers can present themselves neat and clean, the treatment may be different. Hence, I am going in for an image make-over of those who would come out of my Panvel facility,” adds he.
The Panvel project is expected to kick off in the second half of fiscal 2012. To begin with, it will have 25-30 students with some educational background – with basic reading and writing ability as most of the drivers in India are school dropouts or illiterate. The training, under the full time faculty which will be put together in the run up to the launch and formulation of the curriculum, will possibly be a month long with an admixture of theory and practicals.
Once the first batch is groomed, Arora is contemplating to hire them on his rolls immediately with a new fleet. In a novel move, he plans to approach potential customers (passenger automotive OEMs) with a proposal that his new team would provide ‘better services’ in the form of en route visibility and short and on-time delivery with the lowest damage quotient. However, he would demand two incentives: A marginally higher tariff plus quicker load every time his new fleet turns up. “I don’t see why this should not work,” he says.
Once his first batch is out and begins to make an impact in the fleet owners’ fraternity which desperately is in need of trained drivers, placement of his students would pose no challenge. This would also ensure a new business model for Autocreates. He says that he would like to go a step forward by demanding ‘better treatment’ for his students when placed with any company. Given the massive shortage of drivers in the country and India still posting 7-8% GDP growth, there will be no dearth of job opportunity for well trained drivers.
I feel that if our drivers can present themselves neat and clean, the treatment meted out to them by traffic inspectors, RTO officials and the police may be different. Hence, I am going in for an image make-over of those who come out of my Panvel facility. – Gurinder Singh Arora
Another big plus for this initiative is that India is witnessing the onrush of higher end or state-of-the-art heavy commercial vehicles with multi-axle ones either already on the road or about to trundle out. All these require proper training. Companies such as Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, Volvo, Man, etc. admit that new buyers of fleets are reluctant to go for a structured driver training offered by these OEMs as part of the purchase. “They want their vehicles to be on the highway with load from day one and therefore, we get into a tough spot when they put their foot down saying that any compulsion on the part of the OEMs of a structured driver training would make them look elsewhere. So we have to be cautious from the business perspective,” says a senior executive of a leading HCV OEM in Mumbai.
For Autocreates, this logjam between fleet owners and HCV OEMs is a godsend bonanza. Arora would get his team trained in all these brand new vehicles with assistance from these vehicle manufacturers and release them into the market for ready absorption. No doubt that this initiative is unlikely to wipe out the drivers shortage soon but at least this is a right move in the right direction, however small it may be.
The author, who wrote the book ‘10,000Km on Indian Highways,’ is a passionate highwayman from logistics perspective. He firmly believes that all capital investments in India will be a huge drain unless the immense shortage of commercial vehicle drivers is adequately addressed.