Plumbing as a skill and profession has been taken up in a generational code in India. Most plumbers come from the families who had acquired this skill and trained their children by ‘on the job’ training. Lack of formal education and training in this profession left it confined to certain families & villages in India, primarily in state of Odisha. The result has been that in India, the plumbing profession could not gain significance and prominence at a national level. Moreover, it has negligible investments by States or Centre to promote it.
Plumbing existed in the world over ancient civilisation too. We have seen water management systems in every country including India dating back to centuries. Modern cities require complex management of water systems, drainage & sewage disposal. Looking ahead to the future, the world requires sustainable ways to utilise fresh water, recycle grey water for use, dispose waste water, sewage management at an ongoing basis. Plumbers are the biggest influencers of this process & unfortunately, the most neglected in regions like India who also export the manpower to construction industry in Asia, Middle East & parts of Africa. They have been executing a key element in construction that deals with the most scarce resource WATER, with little or no professional training and skill development.
What can the building & construction industry do differently to influence all stakeholders to invest in this skill and ensure that we have a trained, skilled pipeline of plumbers who will lead the new sustainable growth in India and the world.
Fostering stakeholder investment in skilled plumbers for sustainable global growth
The effort must be combined and not silo
Opening training centres by one organisation over another is not the solution. It can at best be a brand building exercise but does not have scale for momentum. To bring in the change, we need disruption – setting up plumbing schools where the entire industry comes together with investment, drafting course structure with accreditation, provide trainers to educate, recurring programs to upgrade, campus employment opportunities and supporting freelancers through recognition. This will make a difference how plumbing is viewed as a profession. Certification is a starting point. So, it must scale up to the level of Diploma/Degree which is recognised across India & internationally.
Government must be a key stakeholder in recognition of this skill
The current structure of vocational courses set by government in some states is not attracting students for learning or the industry to hire them. Plumbers from India are working across the world with or without a formal course. Even If the industry players collaborate and plan a way forward together, basic structure must be in place. This includes land in each state to set up a school, accreditation by government to the courses, support for national & international recognition of this course, student loans for repayment at employment, minimum wages set up. It needs to be like infrastructure projects in India where public-private partnership is now established.
Education to employment
This is critical and the opportunity in both sectors is important. Benefits of life & medical insurance and retirals like gratuity & pension are important to take the profession into mainstream workforce. It will then open doors for people across the country and not restricted to hands down training in families. The current vocational schools set up is dated and restricted to basic plumbing knowledge. With development in technology, construction materials, and digital fixtures’ introduction, it is imperative that plumbers are taught futuristic courses. We cannot build modern infrastructure if our core team is not trained on latest energy efficient & water conservation technology in piping, fixtures, recycling, sewage & waste disposal.
Improve the trust & respect in plumbing profession
It starts with removing the social stigma around plumbing. Only when we educate, train & employ people placing them at par with other professions in building & construction industry can the respect to profession be established. This requires all stakeholders (villages, government, industry, consultants, contractors, builders and society at large) to join hands & be invested. We are already seeing benefits of ‘swatch bharat’, ‘beti padhao, beti bachao’ programs in parts of the country. It always starts as an initiative before it becomes a movement!
Establish a professional body
A professional membership body would regulate the courses, introduce levels for certifications, continue to encourage domestic & international opportunities for professionals & freelancers. Like many other professional associations (Architects, CA, Engineers…), the alumni can motivate & encourage future fraternity. Creating a sense of community and providing a platform for collaboration towards knowledge, skills & experience is important for the development of the profession and establishing stature.
Plumbing is a continuous service industry
There is installation, maintenance, and repair requirements across segments. Construction projects are increasingly taking this as integrated service for dwellers, creating opportunities for freelancers as well as contractor firms providing services. The contact point to every household says a lot about why the education & training matters in this profession. It further emphasizes the scope for livelihood and potentially addresses unemployment of the youth who have no access to formal education & white-collar job opportunities.
Demand determines the supply in plumbing profession
The macroeconomics of India and the growth story confirms that we need more trained & professional plumbing community than ever. We have seen organic farming and investment into agriculture, horticulture & their growth into exports. The construction, renovation & infrastructure building trend in India, Middle East & Africa confirms higher requirement for skilled Plumbers. The training would provide them employment at par with installers across the world. Like every other profession, it can have similar trajectory of growth & opportunities.
In India and worldwide, plumbing has evolved over decades. Today, it is critical for world’s mission of sustainability, environment & water conservation than ever. As the world population reaches 9 billion in a decade, we must ensure a better world for future generations.
The author, Ms. Renu Misra, is a resilient and agile business leader who has worked across industries and functions in India, Asia, Middle East, North & West Africa. She gained extensive experience with Fortune 500 companies and led cross-regional & cross-functional teams supporting Market Share, Topline & Profit growth. She has been a transformational leader to restructure & redefine business models and co-create culture for engaged & motivated teams to achieve sustained performance & purpose. Additionally, she is a passionate advocate for women to have equal opportunities to learn, experiment, and grow.
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