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Drones – raining jobs from the sky

By Alok Gupta

With the notification of liberalised UAS Rules, 2021, PLI scheme and release of India’s airspace map for drone operations, the Government has taken catalytic steps for the exponential growth of the Drone or the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry. As per PIB news, an estimated investment worth ₹5,000 Crore for manufacturing drones will be made over the next three years in India, creating 10,000 job opportunities. India can become a global leader in the drone industry through crucial policy and practical interventions like ensuring the availability of skilled manpower to propel this emergent industry.

Some of the key job roles this industry is likely to generate or impact –

1. Drone Pilot – A human remotely manages a drone’s flight operations, and hence this role is of substantial importance. This specialised job shall require trained and certified manpower, which will also have sector-specific specialisation. For example, a pilot using the drone for surveys shall require a different skill set than the drone for delivering goods.

2. Drone Pilot Trainers – Certified trainers shall be required to train people who aspire to be drone pilots and undergo the certification process. This role assumes great significance as good training will lead to safer flying of drones.

3. Drone Pilot Certifiers/De-certifiers – Government plans to provide pilot licenses online. While this is a progressive step, it is better that humans initially test and certify pilots’ flying skills, especially those flying commercial drones or drones with heavy payloads, so that the ecosystem is enabled with good certified pilots. We also need to provide for de-certification of pilot licences that infringe on people’s flying rules or privacy or any other violations. As de-certification shall require subjective evaluation, a specialised cadre must be created for it.

4. Drone Assembling/Commissioning Specialist – The Government has permitted the import of drones in the country. The imported drones may require assembling and commissioning activities that a workforce can facilitate with specialised skillset.

5. Drone Production Line Staff – The government’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ idea is resonated in its efforts to promote domestic drone production, which will lead to the establishment of factories producing drones and related components. These factories will deploy production lines that will have multiple tasks requiring explicit skillsets. Thus, specialised production line staff shall be needed, including both shop floor and supervisory roles.

6. Drone Technical Support Specialist – The drones shall require both preventive and operational maintenance and troubleshooting. This generates the demand for technical support staff, providing offsite and onsite support for drone systems.

7. Drone Software Developer – Drones shall require software to operate them. The software developers may have to upskill themselves for drone-related software development. This is a crucial job role as it is essential to have indigenous software for drone management to prevent any cyber-attacks or backdoor entries by foreign entities for drones’ misuse, especially during critical times.

8. Drone Recycler/Scrapper – Drones and their components will have a shelf life, after which they will have to be discarded. This will result in huge e-waste generation, which will have to be managed by specialised agencies requiring manpower who have the requisite capabilities to identify the recyclable and non-recyclable components and accordingly process them.

Many other job roles may stem from this industry that may require skilling or upskilling and are not addressed here.

With the kind of job roles briefly touched upon, it can generously be assumed that India’s readiness with the availability of skilled manpower is uncertain. To have an ‘Atmanirbhar Evam Atulniya Bharat’, the Government should ponder upon the following few recommendations –

1. Establish Drone Industrial Hub – To provide the impetus, a Drone Industrial Hub may be established immediately where all the manufacturing and ancillary units related to drone production can be housed. The units housed in this industrial hub can be provided with various benefits which shall help in this industry’s growth as – one, it will save manufacturer’s time and effort in surveying area to establish the industry; two, the employment generation will happen in a defined geography, and the relevant stakeholders can have more focused efforts in ecosystem build-up; three, the employers will themselves push for manpower skilling/upskilling as they will strive for targeted outputs for which they will need a skilled workforce.

2. Define Job Roles and National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) – The Government should deliberate with industry and academia to identify and define industry suited job roles and NSQF. It should also work with the industry to carry out a demand forecast for each job role so that the training ecosystem can generate skilled and employment-ready manpower as per the demand requirements.

3. Institutionalise Training & Certification – The training and certification of drone pilots and trainers is key to drones’ successful and widespread engagement. Therefore, the Government should develop guidelines for training and certification on priority and establish training institutes either on its own or in public-private partnership.

4. Policy Frameworks – The job roles like drone pilot certifiers/de-certifiers, drone recyclers, etc., will require policy formulation to provide the framework to enact such roles. The Government proactively needs to define the policy framework for such areas to avoid the big mess later.

The government’s progressive step shall enable the country to reap the benefits of the employment boom from this new industry. It is a virtuous circle where the availability of skilled manpower and favourable policies make the industry grow, leading to more employment generation. The Government needs to do all it can to make sure that this cycle transcends.

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