Talent crunch in realty industry forcing manpower import

By Anuradha Shukla, IANS,

New Delhi : Three years ago, when Singaporean Jeff Teng was approached by a headhunter for an architect’s job in India, he turned it down. But a year later, he decided to join the “India-calling fever” – as Teng puts it – to work with Ansals API at a “lucrative package”.

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“I was reluctant at first, but the opportunities and salaries offered by them (Indian developers) are amazing,” Teng told IANS.

Teng’s is not a solitary case. As demand for specialised professionals soars in India, a host of project planners, civil engineers, architects and landscape architects have begun flocking here from countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand on handsome salaries.

Developers aver construction work is being delayed by an average six months to a year because of a talent crunch. And it is quality over quantity that is goading them to import architects, designers and planners, they say.

According to the Construction Industry Development Council – an organisation promoted by the Indian government and the realtors to track the realty industry – the shortage of specialised workforce in the Indian construction industry is around 33 percent.

“With so many projects coming up in India, there is a growing demand for skilled manpower for the timely execution of the projects”, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy told IANS.

“One major reason for the delay in development projects is the lack of manpower, be it architect, planner, manager… one person handles multiple projects at times, which leads to projects getting delayed,” he said.

The Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates the number of Singaporeans working in India has gone up by about 20 percent annually in the last three to five years.

In 2005, the Indian high commission issued 60,000 business and travel visas to Singaporeans. That figure rose to 80,000 in 2007.

And a good chunk of it is hired by the realty sector.

A case in point is Edifice Architects, a Rs.300-million architecture and design firm promoted by top architect Mohit Gujral; the company has hired Singaporean architects specialised in design areas like lighting or landscaping for want of specialised architects and engineers back home.

“It is not that India does not have specialized professionals like architects and civil engineers,’ marketing head at Ansals API Kunal Banerjee said. “But they are either too busy or go to the Gulf or join other international projects that offer them better salary packages and exposure.”

Adds Pramod K. Magu, executive vice president at real estate major Unitech and himself an architect: “International architects have better expertise and exposure to tackle complex projects like theme townships, golf cities or technology parks that require expert designers and experienced master-planners.”

And the shortage is not limited to higher end. The industry also faces a shortage of skilled labour.

Naresh Malhan, managing director of Manpower India, a leading recruitment firm, says the construction industry is faced with about 30 percent shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers like bricklayers, welders and wall painters – and the demand will only multiply in future.

“At present, the Indian construction industry, the second-largest employer after agriculture, employs 33 million people. But more than 80 percent are unskilled. A majority of skilled labour migrates to places like the Gulf where wages are higher and exposure is better,” Malhan said.