Blue Collar Blues Careers on the Shop-Floor
Most people would love to have five figure salaries, comfy offices and an intellectually stimulating work environment. Add a ticket to the USA, Europe and there you have it, the mantra that most engineers are chanting nowadays. The only job that provides all these and much more is a software related one. This explains why TCS, Wipro, MBT, Infosys, Citicorp are the most sought after companies in engineering campuses.
But there are others who tread tougher terrain and venture into the relatively unpromising land of shop-floors and heavy machinery. JAM speaks to fresh engineering grads on life in a hard-core Engineering Job.
Many of these engineers take up shop-floor jobs because they don’t find employment in IT firms, but then there is a group of strong loyalists who believe in sticking firmly to the faculty that they have graduated in. Says Subin S, a mechanical Engineering from VJTI who is employed with Bajaj Auto, “The fact that you have spent 4 years studying about machines and lathes is reason enough to take up a mechanical related job, isn’t it?” Which brings us to the very pertinent question:
Is a core engineering job as satisfying and rewarding as its software counterpart?The answer that was culled from the replies of various young engineers is NO.
Several reasons are responsible for this discontent.
1) Working in a blue-collar atmosphere itself is quite a shock for many engineers. Most of them felt the job at entry-level required less of technical expertise and more of a street-smart attitude in dealing with plant worker and minor crises that crop up frequently on the shop floor.
2) Strong inter-personal skills are very important as workers are a sensitive bunch and need to be handled with care. They demand a say in the most frivolous of things which, if denied, causes uproar and revolt – not quite the filmi kind but enough to scare the daylights out of a rookie. One positive aspect however is that the workers do respect the degree that the engineer possesses and look up to him. So all technology related queries are directed to the young, inexperienced ‘saab’ who is their supervisor. “This saab feeling is the only solace amidst the roaring machines, the sweat and the grime”, says Rizwan Khan, an engineer at Century Rayon.
Factory Mein Kya Hota Hai?
But saab himself has much to learn because barely 15-20% of what is learnt during the 4 years of engineering. is actually applied practically. A fresh engineer is quite at sea when he enters a factory for the first time. The first few days are spent in awe and attempts at trying to relate what you have learnt to what you see. This is a very difficult period and disillusions many into giving up. A few months into the job the fresh engineer may start brimming with ideas on how to do things in a newer or better way. But above him is the plant manager who constantly prowls the shop floor. He is generally quite indifferent and quickly extinguishes any hopes our young engineer may have of bringing about “making a difference”. Having to work in shifts and often put in overtime adds to our man’s already long list of woes.
But the No 1 Grouse is this: Engineers take about 15 years to get a manager label against their names. “No engineer has the time and the patience to wait 15 years while his colleagues in software or those who did MBAs stride far ahead in just 5 years,” says Raghavendra, an engineer at TELCO.
Paisa Yeh Paisa!
This fact certainly doesn’t imply that the salaries are stagnant and paltry. A fresh engineer earns Rs 10-15,000 at entry level and increments are regular and sizeable. Many companies provide accommodation and generous allowances also. But what the engineer misses out on is the trendy lifestyle his counterparts in software enjoy. Most factories are located in remote areas – hence options for socializing are limited to just hanging out with your colleagues and staring at nearby cows. A combination of all the above factors leads to hajaar engineers quitting the shop-floor and migrating to the US, opting for an MBA or a job in software.
JAM spoke to 10 engineers who have passed out in the last 2 years and taken up core engineering jobs. All of them are quite happy with the salaries they earn but the rigour, sweat and grime that have to be endured are taking their toll. Most of these engineers would love to switch to a more comfy yet related field like consultancy. If that doesn’t work out then they may switch to a software company.
Advice to Fresh Engineering Grads
1) Don’t take up a hard-core engineering job by default or because your father says so. Things are tough and a lack of interest would certainly not help.
2) Fluency in local languages like Hindi and Marathi, ability to deal with all sorts of people without hang-ups and good stamina is helpful. Sophisticated types who hate to do any “dirty work” or mix with people from a different class of society, please keep away.
3) Shop-floor jobs are generally unsuitable for girls. Sorry, but that’s the way it is (for now).
4) Most of these jobs require very strong fundamentals so those of you who aspire to be a part of heavy engineering and machinery better start polishing your basics right now.
5) For those of you who do manage to stick it out, there will be rewards – both material and personal.
Remember, you will be making a far greater contribution to society than your batch mate who did an MBA and ended up selling soap for a multinational.