A Startup Thrives on Training Human Welders in the Age of Automation
Some say welding jobs had to be automated because human mastery of the skill was lacking. Skillveri is capitalizing on skilling welder-men all the way to 6 crores this fiscal year.
Photo Credit : Skillveri,
The cofounders of Skillveri became interested in making simulators for welders around the time that NSDC was established. Welding was dangerous, and there was dearth of skill in it. Sabarinath the marketing man knew there was potential in setting up physical simulators to teach the skill. There existed courses that were knowledge based: lectures and paper tests to measure proficiency. Nothing to impart practical training for this very practical, hands on skill.
Sabarinath, now CEO of Chennai-based Skillveri said, “Industrial grade welding and painting is among the highest in complexity; NSDC studies showed the highest skill gap here.” Yet the duration to learn either of skill was short – 10 to 30 days to master it and can increase pay to 12 to 15,000 rupees from 6 to 7,000 rupees. What a deal, why wouldn’t any welder or painter want to increase their mastery if it meant a doubling of salary.
Sabari had also read about Chinese workers coming into do the welding work at Delhi airport’s T3 terminal. He read about tunnelling experts from Peru and or South Africa coming to do the boring for the Delhi metro. Then he thought, “Why get foreign workers when we can train our men (and women) to do the job?”
In 2013 March, Skillveri started getting paying beta customers who provided feedback to perfect the product. In 2014, the first welding simulator was commercially available.
Selling and convincing customers to invest in training was more difficult than the prototyping.
The business was started with personal funds and soft loans of 1.5 lakh rupees. By the time it was ready for product launch, 1.5 crore was spent. From there to the point of building products commercially, another 20-25 lakhs may have been expended.
A few more quarters of hard toil and a visit from Delhi CM Kejriwal, Sabarinath says Skillveri is weathering an era of job automation fairly well: 100 percent year on year growth - 1.1 crores in revenue in FY16 and 2.2 crore last FY17.
There are five types of welding simulators ranging in price from 8 to 16 lakhs and painting simulators from 10 to 15 lakhs. This fiscal year with a new paint simulator launching revenue is estimated to nearly triple to 6 crore; Sabari added that the welding product lines are at break even.
“Companies can save 12 lakh rupees a year on erroneous work and wasted material. A simulator pays back in 9 months and takes less electricity to run compared to other industrial grade manufacturing equipment. Typical capex for equipment in manufacturing sector is 2 to 3 years,” said Sabari, ever the marketeer.
Skillveri gives five years’ assurance for its simulators. The range of simulator models will take 5 to 6 months from time of order to be shipped.
Around 25 training institutes have Skillveri simulators. So far there are 22,000 welding graduates. One machine is capable of training 150 students a year.
The real question is, what will Skillveri do for the manufacturing sector in India?
It’s a hard question.
Sabari said, “1.5 crore eligible jobseekers enter the job market and 30 percent enter direct or indirectly into the manufacturing sector every year.
An economic survey by the finance ministry says being a formal worker in a formal organization, is 20 times more productive for all stakeholders than being an informal worker in an informal sector, because as a person with formal job, you are entitled to training, regular pay, benefits and more opportunity to grow.
Still only 10 percent of the manufacturing sector is organized; only 4 percent of the gem and jewellery sub sector is organized – it’s a sub sector Skillveri is looking to contribute to [with the development of simulators to train workers of this sub sector with the necessary skills].”
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