(This post is an abridged version for editorial purposes)

In the two investment projects that I have been fortunate to lead in the developing world, one of the major problems we faced was attracting and retaining the right manufacturing talent (machine operators and welders). This can be challenging in all parts of the world, however in a fast developing economy it is easy to be constantly challenged with a revolving door of people.

The cryogenics and industrial gas world requires products to be manufactured by a team that is highly skilled in fabrication and metallurgy, manufacturing products that have a high inherent level of quality and safety.

Countries that have benefited from new foreign direct investment in manufacturing like Vietnam, Indonesia and India all face similar problems with tremendous resources and investment being made in training and up-skilling manpower, only to be faced with high labour turnover in the months that follow. In India this tends to be particularly acute as trained welders and skilled equipment operators are in high demand in the Middle East / GEC region. Companies end up recruiting and training human resources only to quickly loose them to lucrative jobs in the Gulf.

"We began recruiting local disadvantaged women, defined as living within 35 kms from the plant, who were the only bread winners in the family as their fathers, brothers or husbands were infirm, unable to work or otherwise absconding (a surprisingly not too uncommon phenomenon). In India, typically women in this predicament are forced to work at construction sites earning less that $2 per day."

We decided to actively recruit such candidates with the minimum requirement being that they pass the health test and are able to read and write in any language. We spent six months training these wonderful new high energy candidates on reading P&I diagrams, reading and understanding work instructions, and also in numerous highly skilled forms of welding such as Mig, Tig, Submerged Arc and stick / electrode welding. Within six months, many were able to pass certification in complex operations such as 6G welding.

Later, when I became a part of Mack Valves – we followed exactly the same philosophy when establishing our new manufacturing plant in India. The only difference was that whilst the overall number of candidates was lower due to the smaller size of our operation, we were even more aggressive in the ratio of disadvantaged women we recruited compared to those employees who came on board with previous experience and qualifications.

Our intent was to ensure that any investment we made directly also contributed back to the company immediately, whilst facilitating local communities to become financially independent. Consequently, we also were able to support a nascent women’s empowerment program in India by facilitating true economic independence for our teams. They now earned a wage paid by MNCs, no different from their skilled male colleagues.

Perhaps, most importantly, we offered a dignity of labour unavailable to a day wage worker. In both manufacturing plants we put in place showers with hot and cold water and rest room facilities for our new female workforce, many of who had to wake before dawn in order to be able to complete daily ablutions and could only bathe fully clothed in the dark.

The payback to the company was immediate. Our teams shared an implicit bond with their workplace and colleagues and our quality and output was higher. Importantly, such candidates typically chose not to migrate to other areas for new work due to family commitments. This helped ensure a reduction in the long term training costs incurred on continuously skilling new workers, allowing the introduction of a performance based incentive bonus. Further, the quality and safety culture that companies strive so hard to create became an indelible part of the DNA of the team.

We worked towards ensuring that the work place is geared towards promoting our newly skilled female workforce. We ensured there was no male/ female bias in policies and attitudes and that our employees were safe from the moment they left their homes till they returned every day. Work instructions were written in a language the new team could read and understand. More importantly, – given the reduction in employee turn-over, in order to ensure that Keynes’ reference to the wickedness of capitalists does not hold good, our HR systems were geared towards justly rewarding employees based on tenure, efficiency and output.

It has worked exceptionally well for us at Mack Valves, demonstrated by not only our low turn-over but also the quality of the products that we are now able to manufacture at our new plant in India. For me personally, it makes coming to work every day all the more rewarding.

(This post is an abridged version for editorial purposes)

Ravin Mirchandani is the Chairman and Director at ADOR