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Skills Development in a Global World: Lessons from Centum Learning

Indian companies have been riding the global wave for over a decade now with a mixed degree of success. However, in the skills development space worldwide, Indian multinationals can be counted on one’s fingers. This is where Centum Learning stands out. Having inked its presence in 90 Indian cities and 383 Indian districts, it has its footprints in 17 African countries across 79 cities as well as in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia.

Can Centum Learning’s experiences give insights into globalization of skills development especially in the context of transferring next practices, overcoming challenges, improving the policy climate and delivering on the true potential of companies?

Lessons from India

It is increasingly being asked whether India’s demographic dividend is an asset or a liability. Perhaps, the early advantages that we had have been frittered away to some extent. At present, more than half of India’s population of 1.2 billion is less than 25 years old. It is predicted that while the global economy will experience a skilled manpower shortage of about 56 million by 2020, India will be one of the few countries in the world that will have a favourable working-age population that exceeds retirees.

A TeamLease India Labour Report 2009 estimates that over the next decade around 25 per cent of the workers entering the global workforce will be Indians. But this rosy picture has a dark underbelly. A significant number will be unemployable. This is in sharp contrast to trends globally, where over 96 per cent of South Korea’s workers are formally skilled, with 80 per cent in Japan, 75 per cent in Germany and 68 per cent in the UK, while only 17 per cent are skilled in India.

Clearly, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) set up in 2008 has an onerous task, with an humongous target of equipping 500 million people. As of December last year, it has trained only 320,996 people nationwide. Of these, only 241,354 have been placed in jobs.

The challenges ahead on the skills front in India are numerous, but they are not insurmountable. Firstly, capacity building in India cannot be a single-entity driven exercise. It needs a well-developed ecosystem with each stakeholder working in coordination with others. Industry has to play a crucial role where it recognises the importance of skills training and agrees to pay more for a skilled worker vis-à-vis an unskilled one. The government has to ensure that an enabling ecosystem is in place so that all stakeholders can function effectively to ensure the last mile connect where capacity building efforts reach remote areas, the underprivileged youth and women.

Secondly, there is a lack of respectability for skilled professions in society which in turn poses a two-pronged challenge. The supply constraint is that mobilisation of candidates becomes a herculean task. On the other side, there is a demand constraint on the part of the industry. Though it is a well-accepted fact that lack of skilled workforce adversely affects quality of output across sectors, corporates often do not recognise or attach much premium to skills.

Third, the skills sector is still evolving. The government faces a huge challenge in defining norms and processes to maintain training standards.

 The African landscape

Compared to India, the skills landscape in Africa is different. While sub-Saharan Africa continues its transformative journey from a developing continent to a hub of global growth, its positive outlook is threatened by rising inequality and youth unemployment. The key to reversing this scenario is education, employability and development of skills.

But with half its population under the age of 18, Africa is at a crossroads. Today, there is a mismatch between employers’ needs and employees’ capabilities where the private sector faces the challenge of hiring locally. Multinationals, which form a bulk of the continent’s economy, struggle with creating a skilled labour force. There are also many obstacles in making the educational system more favourable for workers and entrepreneurs. While lack of education may limit the talent pool, educational reform is a complex challenge.

Centum Learning’s intervention

In a first-of-its-kind, Centum Learning in collaboration with Airtel for its African operations, will train over 40,000 Airtel Africa’s employees and channel partners. Its programmes across roles and business verticals in 17 countries include Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Seychelles and Zambia. Through its training and development, Centum Learning has created new ‘ways of working’ by conducting need diagnostic studies, mapping employees’ competencies, developing role-based learning plans, creating customised learning content, and delivering robust learning programmes. The Centum Learning model in Africa suggests that there are important learning lessons for companies in bridging the education, employability and entrepreneurship gap.

A via model

Sandwiched between skill development models in India (and large parts of Asia) and Africa is the Singapore model that has created a robust ecosystem. Over recent years, the city state changed the negative perception it had in this area by making vocational education a part of mainstream schooling. It also re-branded vocational training institutions, made serious investments and inducted quality faculty. All this has made Singapore today one of the most innovative and fastest growing economies in the world.

Parts of this model are worth emulating for emerging companies and countries in addressing the skills challenge.

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