Once upon a time, as school textbooks show, early man draped himself with animal hides. From those ‘raw and basic’ days, man has today progressed to using even synthetic leather. With these changes the Indian leather industry has moved up the value chain too and today, with an annual turnover of $7 billion, it requires competent and creative leather technologists to drive the evolution.
“The growth in India’s leather industry has been in terms of value addition. The turning point in the sector came in the 1970s before which India exported just semi-processed leather,” points out S Valliappan, a Chennai-based independent consultant. An MTech in leather technology, he has worked with tanning and finishing units and in leather chemical companies.
Following the Seetharamiah Committee’s recommendations in 1972, the Government of India changed its policy to encourage exporters to deal in more finished products. “The government wanted India’s share in the global leather industry to grow,” says Valliappan. At present, the country’s contribution is 2.75 per cent, according to the Council for Leather Exports.
India’s leather and leather products exports are up from $2752.50 million in 2005-2006 to $3400.97 million in 2009-2010. With raw material aplenty, the country produces 2 billion sq ft of leather annually.
Valliappan adds that now the focus will be on shifting from export of finished leather to exporting finished leather goods.
Here are employment opportunities for leather technologists (diploma/BTech) in descending order.
. The major employers of leather technologists are tanning and finishing units. The major hotspots of tanning and leather finishing units include Ambur, Chennai, Kanpur, Ranipet, Vaniyambadi, Kanpur,
Karnal, Agra, Jalandhar, in and around Hyderabad, Dewas (Madhya Pradesh), Kolkata, in and around Mumbai, and Kolhapur (Maharashtra).
. The next big option is leather goods, shoes and leather garment companies.
. A small percentage works in leather chemicals companies, which require technical professionals for marketing.
. Leather buying houses and inspection agencies, too, employ them for their domain knowledge.
. Leather technologists can join financial institutions and banks, as well.
. A miniscule number finds jobs in international testing agencies, such as Societe Generale de Surveillance and TUV Rheinland, with offices in India.
. The teaching avenue is open too.
Some leather professionals are also taking to entrepreneurialism. “Quite a few leather technicians have started their own tanning and finishing units, leather chemical sales agencies and leather buying agencies. Quite a lot of them have become entrepreneurs,” adds Valliappan.
What's it about?
Tanners process raw hides and skin. Finishing units — the major employers of leather technologists — process the semi-processed leather further and work on it to achieve the desired characteristics. They do the re-tanning, dyeing, and fat liquoring (application of fatty material to make the leather soft)
The average work day of a leather technologist:
8 am: Assess last night’s production
9 am: Plan for the whole day’s production
10 am: Discuss new product development with chemists and other lab technicians
11 am: Go the plant floor and check production work – examine every stage of production, every machine
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Back on the shop floor
4 pm: Meet buyers (sometimes at their sites) to show and get clearance for samples
6 pm: Check the day’s production. Plan for the night-shift operations (work may continue up to 7.30 pm)
In addition, he also manages labour and the cost of every type of leather and every stage of production
Rs10,000 to Rs15000 a month for a fresh BTech in leather technology
. Technological bent of mind
. Knowledge of chemicals
. Good communication skills
. Managerial skills
How do i get there?
Take science at class 11 and class 12. Go for a degree (diploma is available too) in leather technology. For better career prospects, you may top it with a Master’s degree
Institutes & urls
BTech programmes in leather technology:
. Anna University, Chennai
. West Bengal University of Technology, Kolkata
. Harcourt Butler Technological Institute, Kanpur,
Pros & cons
Growth-oriented export industry
Huge and growing demand for leather goods in India
Can work on the product from beginning to end — from the raw material (hides/skin) to the finished leather, unlike other engineering branches
Low pay scales
Tanning and finishing units are usually located far from cities
Focus on applied science
A veteran talks about the work and challenges before the sector
Typically what do leather technologists do (specific job roles)? What exactly do they do in, say, a tanning and leather finishing unit, a leather goods manufacturing company and a chemicals company?
In tanning and leather finishing units, they:
. develop specific processing formulations/recipes based on the characteristics of the raw material and the end characteristics required based on end-use and processing equipment and machineries available
. implement the processes with right controls and achieve quality standards
. optimise the processes to achieve high efficiency of chemicals used, energy consumed, quick work output
. control the cost of production
. develop new articles as per the requirements of customers and as market innovators
In leather goods / products / shoe units, their roles include:
. inspecting the leather purchased based on quality parameters and cutting value (efficiency of utilisation)
. streamlining the fabrication sequences and parameters based on the characters of the leather used
. marketing the products by interacting with customers
In chemical companies, it includes:
. develop application procedures based on the requirements of the different leathers and the characteristics of the chemicals
. demonstrate the application procedures in tanneries highlighting the advantages and securing orders for the chemicals
. develop new types of leathers based on fashion requirements
What are the challenges/difficulties before India’s leather industry? India has many advantages (high number of cattle heads) but what are the drawbacks, if any?
The challenges are on-time delivery of the products, ensuring consistency of quality parameters, poor preservation of raw hides and skins in some regions, low quality of cow hides due to poor animal husbandry practices, and poor infrastructural support for collection, storage and transport of raw hides and skins.
What aptitude and skill sets do leather technologists require?
Focus on applied science rather than pure science. You should have basic knowledge of chemistry, physics, mathematics, biotechnology, engineering, environmental science, and computer applications.
You should have a lot of common sense, observation skills, interpersonal skills, creativity and problem-solving skills, and the capacity to learn about new technologies and systems.
S Valliappan Interviewed by Rahat Bano