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Article first published in The Pioneer

Vocational Training has been one of the major topics of discussions for the policy makers in India for the past couple of years now. However, the sector still has a long way to go. With the country’s population expected to reach 1.3 billion in the next six years (2020), almost 60% of the overall citizens would be in the working age group (15-59 years) India.

A research by Boston Consulting Group also estimated that by 2020 India will have a surplus of around 47 million of active population. Going by this, we will have a remarkable 60 per cent of total population available for working and contributing towards GDP, but out of the total pool only 25 per cent is capable of being used by the job market.  According to the research reports there would be a demand-supply gap of 82-86% in the core professions. IT industry would also face the shortage of up to 3.5 mn skilled workers. Same is the situation for almost all the sectors. In short, our markets/economy will grow, creating an increase in the number of jobs and need for skilled manpower, but on the other side, there would be a scarcity of skilled manpower.

The current scenario also established the fact that the demand for skilled workforce is not only restricted to traditional sectors like auto & BFSI but also includes the sunrise sector such as the organized retail. But is the country’s ready to bear the responsibility? With this kind of future ahead, the present condition of India’s skill landscape definitely requires a facelift.

The problem further deepens with a situation where on the skill supply side one does see an exponential growth in the number of institutes but a sharp decline in the quality of education being provided. Growth of the institutes in not planned, but is driven by fad. Numerous engineering/computer education institutes are testimony to this fact. On one hand mushroom growth of vocational training institutes is skewing the skill distribution of the country; it is at the same time increasing the number of unemployable youth who are not fit to be absorbed by the job market. This High rate of youth unemployment represents a wasted resource for developing economies like ours that hinders the urgently needed growth.

With lakhs of students being added every year to this pool of job seekers in absence of proper management, the time when the entire system fails is not far away. Perhaps that is the reason why skill development has been in the centre stage lately. Lots of initiatives are being taken by the Government also. The target is to have a pool of skilled labour that is market ready and readily employable by the Industry. Managing such huge inflow of candidates across domains every year is a gargantuan task. It needs joint efforts from all entities of Skill Ecosystem.

Research has shown that, it is a nation’s success or failure in realizing the economic potential of young people during this “low dependency ratio” period that can make the difference between sustained and faltering long-term development. The skill levels of our country surely do need improvement if we want to reap the demographic dividend of having a working population of 0.8 billion.

Construction and manufacturing are just some of the large-scale sectors where there is an alarming shortage in skilled labour. Construction companies, for example, were forced to import labour from China to complete the planned Commonwealth Games projects.

On the other side, there is a growing pool of urban professionals with more money than time who are eager to hire skilled electricians, plumbers, tailors, cleaners, and carpenters but these trades remain


poorly trained and organised as are the staff of restaurants, hotels, spas, and salons which are rapidly multiplying.  Time is not far when demand for such workforce reach the tier two and three cities, and thus continue to pump up the demand for skilled service professionals. It would be good news except only 10 percent of Indians between the ages of 15-29 receive formal vocational training.

One way to train this deluge of unskilled population is to create a nationwide network of affordable community colleges with courses and diplomas closely tailored to the skilled labour market. In fact, it would be better if the courses in these “colleges” are designed keeping in the mind the needs of the local markets. These would not only help in creating opportunities where people live, it would also be able to stop unsustainable migrations to the big cities. In rural areas, where poor children are forced to drop out due to several socio-economic reasons at a very early age, vocational training can be incorporated into post-elementary education. In fact, the government can also consider an ICT based long-term plan for addressing the skill requirements by involving key stakeholders.

The government’s initiatives like the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), national vocational education qualifications framework (NVEQF) are surely steps in the right direction. However, for this effort to be successful and sustainable, industry/corporate sector should own the skill enhancement/intervention programmes. An effective use of the new company’s bill mandating corporate social responsibility (CSR) might come handy if only CSR initiatives are result oriented and measurable.

Perhaps, a mandate for the industry such as the ‘Companies Bill’ by the major industry bodies in India to work closely with NSDC, NVEQF, along with universities to encourage innovation, help improve skill levels and address employability challenges may solve the issue of skilled workforce in India. In fact, depending on demand, some vocational courses could be converted into full-fledged ITI/diploma courses. There are several examples across the worldd of strong industry-academia relationship resulting in mutual benefits. India just needs to replicate it.

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