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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…

As you step into the shop floor, you are greeted by 100-metre long production lines which make products in thousands. You suddenly sense that something is different and then it hits on you like a ton of bricks: the machines are manned by nimble women working at six-sigma like accuracy! These produce high-end, world class shoes for export.
Young and slim Selvi hails from a village near Mamandur in Tamil Nadu. She dropped out of school early and is not familiar with industry and its rigours. Yet, I found her working on a sewing machine stitching intricate patterns on sample material. She has been at this for just 15 days and is already an expert in sewing patterns of various geometrical shapes. Her training period stipulated for two months, but she will attain the skill in less than four weeks.
So where does Selvi work?

The quiet, women-full Feng Tay Plant

It’s Feng Tay, a Taiwanese firm, located at the Cheyyar Special Economic Zone. In 2008, the company set up its facility for 100 per cent exports. Today, Feng Tay employs 23,500 of which 18,000 are women, and most of them are from nearby villages. Company buses pick up and drop the employees for a nominal fare. There are factory canteens where employees have a free meal. I noticed crèches for 980 infants and small kids. With a large number of tiny tots around, adequate provision has been made for nursing these by their mothers working in the production lines. Trained caretakers are engaged to manage the crèches for the kids. Each unit has a clinic and a dozen doctors are available round-the-clock. The cost to the company per employee is Rs 15,000 pm and the minimum starting salary is Rs 9500 pm.
Free food, near-free transportation and crèche facilities, no wonder, the woman’s entire salary is saved! Such pay for rural women, hailing within a 15 km radius, who have little opportunities for such direct employment, appears as boon. The wage is comparable with entry-level salaries of employees in the engineering sector.
The factory is spread over 275 acres with long, well-lit production lines. Arul Sambandam, Vice President, points to the training systems being so efficient that they dispensed with the earlier stipulation of a minimum 8th standard
education! “Our core strength is our training system. We provide intense training on needed skills for two months. 99.5 per cent of the employees are drawn from the Tiruvannamalai district where we are located. We find, though they are not highly educated, they have a high capacity to grasp skills. They are too smart! After two months of training, we have a buddy system in which a trained employee acts as a buddy for three months. This system ensures inducting a trainee into the production line for efficient functioning within a brief time.”
“For male employees who function in supervisory and more skilled areas, we prescribe ITI, diploma or degrees as the qualification. Industrial relations have been quite cordial and peaceful, thanks to our transparent management culture/system/welfare measures and employee relations. Our group- Feng Tay, believes that a long-lasting company is rooted in a sustainable community. This has been the Group’s mission from Day One, to care for the community and also give back to society,” said Sambandam.

Less than 1 per cent attrition!

The attrition rate is stated to be within one per cent! Sambandam, who is also heading a similar facility in Bargur, set up with even more advanced production lines, mentions that employment at Bargur is also slated to expand from the present 3700 to 25,000 in quick time.
Sambandam spoke of the operations: “the company imports the needed machinery, artificial leather, foam and other accessories that account for 85 per cent of material needs. Packing – cartons, lace, thread and some of the chemicals are procured locally. There are efforts to bring vendors established in Taiwan and China to set up their factories in Tamil Nadu. We expect these to invest and set up shop here. We target to increase local content to 30 per cent.”
Feng Tay plans to set up four SEZs providing direct employment to 100,000 employees, entirely for global exports of world’s best branded shoes very soon.

3 phones a second – women power wows!

I had an equally exciting visit to another Taiwanese giant, Foxconn, at Sriperumbudur.
Josh Foulger, its India MD, is an experienced hand who earlier headed Nokia’s operations in India. Josh joined Nokia in the US in 1998 and later helped establish its sprawling factory in Sriperumbudur.
Josh is nowbusy manufacturing mobile phones for leading brands such as Xiaomi. He and his team have worked with dedication, passion and tenacity for the $160 billion, Fortune 30 companythat has a workforce of nearly 1.5 million across the globe.
Foxconn has two large manufacturing facilities, one at Sriperumbudur and another at Sri City in Andhra Pradesh just across the Tamil Nadu border in the north. Each has 15,000 workers, mostly women! The workforce is from the rural parts covering all districts of Tamil Nadu. In the Tamil Nadu factory, a majority of the workers are educated. It was interesting to hear their aspirations: to study, to take care of their families, to educate their siblings and to build their own home. Surprisingly, getting married is not on top of their priority list! At home, as Jane Austen said, the anxiety of parents is to get their daughter married early!

Where women score over men…

Josh refers to his mother as his role model. She had four post-graduate degrees and was the headmistress of the Nungambakkam Corporation School (that produced famous leaders such as C K Prahalad, General Sundarji and P V Indiresan)! In 2005 when he asked her for advice on recruiting talent in Tamil Nadu, he remembers her admiration of the innate intelligence and commitment of girls. While getting girls on board was key to his plans, ensuring their welfare and safety was equally important. He didn’t want to provide girls just with work but also secure accommodation and comfortable habitats. He and his team secured ready accommodation for them at vacant local engineering college hostels.
Josh walked us through his assembly operations that produce mobile phones at the rate of 3 per second or over 2 lakh phones a day. Mobile phone is a sophisticated product with around 1200 micro components and features such as dual cameras,notch-design and fast-charging. The manufactured items are checked both for functionality and aesthetics as also for zero defect.
Electronics is a global scale industry. The industry typically has products with life cycle between 3 and 6 months against 3 years for the automobile. Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China are leaders in electronics. China is a dominant player in the supply chain. Semiconductor and display components are made in Taiwan, Korea and Japan, but the packaging of the chip and finishing are done in China among other countries.
Josh says India continues to have immense growth potential in electronics manufacturing having already grown with a CAGR of 20 per cent in the last 5 years. Currently, India produces $ 70 billion of electronics and Indian Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA) envisages it to grow to trillion dollars by 2027.
TN Chief Minister K Palanisami announced at a cabinet meeting on 24 December that Foxconn will manufacture iPhone from 2019. 

Engineering and IT sectors too provide jobs aplenty…

You read about the massive employment of women from rural areas in a couple of industrial units; Feng Tay and Foxconn. These winds of change are also blowing across large companies in the engineering and IT sectors. We provide a couple of instances:
At Sundram Fasteners, a unit of TVS group that celebrated its golden jubilee last year, Founder SFL and Chairman of TVS, Suresh Krishna, handed the baton to daughters Arathi and Arundathi. Arathi recently received the Deming award in Japan for all its 17 factories adhering to the highest levels of quality standards and systems. Arathi mentions plans for more rapid growth through organic as also inorganic routes, hinting at mergers and acquisitions. Interestingly, she referred to plans to double the share of women employees in her company from the present 20 per cent to 40 per cent in quick time and has made a beginning in recruiting more engineers for supervisory and managerial roles.
A McKinsey report cited women accounting for 40 per cent share in total employment in developed countries but in India, it placed the share at just 24 per cent. But in our visits across Tamil Nadu, we found their share registering rapid increases in several companies. In marine product units in Tuticorin and textile units in Coimbatore, Tiruppur and elsewhere, we found the lion’s share of employment is accounted by women.

Welcome focus on jobs…

In our visits to industrial units in Tamil Nadu, we found a welcome focus on jobs. Happily, this effort is not just confined to a handful of traditional industries like textiles and leather or to engineering industries, notably automobile and auto components, or the IT sector, but to sunrise industries like electronics and telecom, export products like Nike shoes and a host of service industries like hotels, retail trade… These make a welcome impact on improved standards of living and higher quality of life.
The charm of Tamil Nadu lies in its ability to recruit in thousands labour with skill sets and educational qualifications.
At Irungattukottai, a spectacular transformation has been brought along by the South Korean giant, Hyundai Motors. The company produces 650,000 cars in its long assembly lines. Nearly a third of these are exported! N S Balachandra Datta, Vice President, mentioned the constant improvements made by the company in the design and performance of its cars. Its latest version, New Santro, clocked 41,000 in sales within weeks of introduction! Hyundai has developed over 200 vendors. Many of these are South Korean companies located around the plant which make just-in-time deliveries.
We have been covering Hyundai right from its construction stage in 1996-98. The economy and efficiency of its operations are to be seen to be believed! The long assembly lines have been witnessing increasing levels of automation. At the fabrication line, one comes across a battery of robots engaged in intricate welding.
Datta points to more exciting things in store: expansion by another 100,000 cars at the existing location. Over the next few months, Datta said, the company will launch its electric vehicle. He is optimistic about the battery charging infrastructure put in place in time. This will promote more employment.
Manufacturing industry, especially in the engineering sector, chemicals and pharmaceuticals will not witness much of an increase in direct employment. In fact, with increasing automation, there will be a constant effort to increase productivity per employee. In a couple of manufacturing units in Chennai, such an attempt at automation is resulting in falling employment. One such, Super Auto Forge Pvt Ltd, thriving on exports to the US, employed around 1200 for a value of production of Rs 100 crore five years ago; today for the production of around Rs 700 crore, employment has grown by just 100.
There is TCS as a significant provider of jobs. Across the globe, the company employs over 425,000. At Siruseri alone the company employs 30,000! Suresh Raman, Head of Chennai operations, mentioned that already 36 per cent of TCS workforce comprises of women and is witnessing further increase.

Hand in hand with Kalpana Sankar

Such efforts at women empowerment are strengthened by several NGOs. We visited one such, Hand in Hand (HiH), at Kancheepuram. Dr Kalpana Sankar heads HiH. She is a double doctorate in theoretical nuclear physics and women’s development. She has over 25 years of experience in microfinance in Tamil Nadu and has been a consultant with UNOPS, UNDP, Christian Aid, and Wetlands International on gender and microfinance issues.
HiH is engaged in offering a vast range of services focused on destitutes and orphans, educating and training these across various skills and providing them opportunities for self-employment and wage employment. The activities are spread over 13 states. Sandip Mookerjee, President, explained that the efforts of HiH have been focused on the weaker sections: “we set a target to raise five million above the poverty line. We had substantially achieved this. We target to create 17 million jobs. We have been making good
progress.”
HiH is a not-for-profit public charitable trust, working to alleviate poverty through job creation and integrated community development. It works for the economic and social empowerment of women by creating enterprises and jobs. The services offered cover a vast range including setting up schools for poor children, providing free boarding, lodging and education from the nursery to higher secondary level. In one such we came across children of the nomad narikurava families who are provided quality education in a boarding school at Kancheepuram. Qualified and dedicated teachers engage these students in sports, art and culture, apart from imparting
knowledge and soft skills.
HiH India is a public charitable trust that works to eradicate poverty using a unique integrated community development approach.HiH, spread across 13 states in India besides working abroad. The HiH model has been emulated in different third world countries.
HiH has a 5-pillar programme – Child labour elimination, education, Women empowerment, Skill development, Health and Environment. Impact at community level is heartwarming. 312,493 children mainstreamed; 34,24,913 jobs created; 1,34,438 women acquired skills, 6,04,254 health camps conducted. The goal is to create 5 million jobs by 2020. Such efforts at women empowerment are strengthened by several NGOs. We visited one such, Hand in Hand (HiH), at Kancheepuram. Dr Kalpana Sankar heads HiH. She is a double doctorate in theoretical nuclear physics and women’s development. She has over 25 years of experience in microfinance in Tamil Nadu and has been a consultant with UNOPS, UNDP, Christian Aid, and Wetlands International on gender and microfinance issues.
HiH is engaged in offering a vast range of services focused on destitutes and orphans, educating and training these across various skills and providing them opportunities for self-employment and wage employment. The activities are spread over 13 states. Sandip Mookerjee, President, explained that the efforts of HiH have been focused on the weaker sections: “we set a target to raise five million above the poverty line. We had substantially achieved this. We target to create 17 million jobs. We have been making good
progress.”
HiH is a not-for-profit public charitable trust, working to alleviate poverty through job creation and integrated community development. It works for the economic and social empowerment of women by creating enterprises and jobs. The services offered cover a vast range including setting up schools for poor children, providing free boarding, lodging and education from the nursery to higher secondary level. In one such we came across children of the nomad narikurava families who are provided quality education in a boarding school at Kancheepuram. Qualified and dedicated teachers engage these students in sports, art and culture, apart from imparting
knowledge and soft skills.
HiH provides training to women that resulted in several of these running business enterprises on their own like setting up bakeries, beauty parlors, cell phone service centres…

The service calling

The services sector that accounts for over 60 per cent of the gross national product has been providing jobs for millions. The transport, tourism, banking, education, food, healthcare and retail trade setors take care of our teeming millions. Take, for instance, the hotel industry. This service sector units have sizeable employees. Hotel chains like Saravana Bhavan, Adyar Ananda Bhavan or Sangeetha have recorded major expansion, not just within India but also in several countries abroad where the Indian diaspora is concentrated. Adyar Ananda Bhavan is estimated to employ over 12,000.
Three sectors – education, food, and healthcare – have been seeing continuous and significant expansion to meet with the growing demands of an ever-increasing population. Interestingly, these sectors provide large employment without much of an entry barrier regarding qualifications (doctors and teachers at higher education excepted). It was a salutary practice for the promoter of Saravana Bhavan to recruit young boys and girls from villages, mostly from southern districts, provide them with accommodation and food and ensured their salaries are sent to their families. Like Feng Tay or Foxconn, large employers like hotels and textile mills have thus been taking care of employment of women from rural areas without much entry barriers in terms of education or skills. The ability to train these to specific jobs in quick time has been leveraging the natural endowments of women – of quick, involved work and higher levels of responsibility to families, all contributing to discipline and loyalty.
Political empowerment of women has also taken place through reservations of a third of the presidents of Panchayats for women. The state has witnessed a massive explosion of women self-help groups. These have been active in accessing funds and lending these to its members engaging them in productive activities. This has spread a sense of self-confidence and increased the scope for augmenting income for the family.
This is the wind of change that we have always wanted to see, and it is good to know that it is happening at our very backyard.

 

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