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Harnessing Skills

The Article First Appeared In Khaleej Times on January 26, 2016

The future of higher education system in India lies in industry-academia-government linkage

In recent years there has been a new trend in India’s higher education system. Instead of setting up centers of excellence or merely sponsoring research, Indian corporate are getting into the educational sector establishing universities. Perhaps, they see this as the only way of creating a skilled workforce.

The obsession of many Indians for textbook education and white collar jobs has created a conundrum of gigantic proportions. Where there will be 13 million youth entering the workforce every year, there are not enough jobs to go around. Yet, look at any of the major sectors – construction, retail, agriculture, transport and logistics – there is a dearth of skilled labour.

Take the south Indian state of Kerala for instance. A labourer will earn Rs350 a day (or Rs10,000 a month), which is six times the national average of Rs50-60 a day. The state is facing a huge shortage of skilled labour since most of its working population prefer migrating outside the state to greener pastures especially in the Gulf. According to government data, half of the 6.5 million people working in the Gulf comprise Malayalis and a large chunk of them are engaged in blue collared jobs.

If India does not build a corpus of skilled labour, the ‘Make in India‘ vision of the government is sure to come to naught. For instance, the country currently faces a huge shortage of painters, masons, electricians and welders among other construction trade workers.

Yet the scant regard most Indians have for vocational training and skills development has led to decades of neglect for these crafts. Worsening the situation, students who finish tertiary education and choose to learn any one of these trades have to depend on the ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes), which are poorly managed and outdated.

Skills are not celebrated in India unlike China, where students are steered into vocational training right from their secondary education levels. India’s education system has a big task at hand to bring transition in the role from ‘student’ to ‘worker’ and prepare candidates for the new working world.

Class 12 is too late for a student to pick up employability skills. Instead, from class 7-8 onwards there needs to be a move away from student-oriented to teacher-oriented learning. Besides, the curriculum should be aligned to current industry requirements.

Fortunately, the Indian government has made provisions for upgrading skills under multiple disciplines and even created a separate ministry to achieve its dream of a Skilled India. Positive steps such as the National Vocational Qualifications Framework (NVEQF) and the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) are in the right direction, which will also lead to a paradigm shift in employment from being ‘qualification-based’ to ‘skill-based.’ This change is sure to result in educational institutions focusing on imparting skills that lead to employability, rather than doling out certificates and degrees.

The NVEQF seeks to bring parity with formal education by defining various levels (eg, making Level 1 equivalent to Class 9 and so on, continuing till Level 10). Other initiatives such as vertical mobility will allow a student pursuing vocational education to have the flexibility to move into mainstream education and vice versa. The government has also set up a Sector Skills Council in order to bring in industry linkages, which in turn is setting up National Occupational Standards as per industry recommendations.

A nationwide network of affordable community colleges could be set up with courses and diplomas closely tailored to the skills related to the local labour market. Higher education available in the local market will also stop unsustainable migration to cities. Besides, skills development and vocational training will bring about inclusive development and growth for rural areas, where poor children are compelled to drop out of the education system due to several socio-economic constraints. Incorporating vocational training into post-elementary education and using an ICT-based long-term plan that involves the industry will go a long way in addressing skills shortage.

Perhaps, a mandate for major industry bodies in India to work closely with NSDC and NVEQF, along with universities to encourage innovation, help improve skill levels and address employability challenges that may solve the issue of skilled workforce in India. Vocational courses could also be converted into full-fledged ITI/diploma courses.

If the Indian government can make it possible for the industry to embrace Corporate Social Responsibility through an amendment to its Companies Act, why can’t the same be done for something equally, if not more important, skills development and vocational training?

Only through industry-academia-government linkage and close partnership will skills development and vocational training programs become an integral part of the Indian education system. If not, India will lose out on its demographic dividend of having a huge youth population, and one ready to enter the job market soon.

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Technology Can Fight Education Disparity

Article first published in Education Technology across all editions

Education is not merely about classrooms, with technology playing a very smart enabler in the process of basic as well as vocational training. With mobility and e-Learning taking the forefront, there are new initiatives that the government has, partnering with efficient private enterprise to use T to better the education levels in India. Mr Sanjeev Duggal, Co-Chairman of FICCI and CEO & Director of Centum Learning, a leading multinational organization in the global skills development landscape with presence in 21 countries, shares his views and Centum Learning’s achievements in a conversation with education technology.

1. Tell us something about Centum Learning.

Centum Learning was founded in 2006 with the objective to enable sustainable transformation through learning and skills development in the global landscape. It has, till date, skilled more than 1.2million youth across India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and 17 countries in Africa with domain expertise across 21 industry verticals and more than 1358 training and development specialists. Wefocuson four key areas- corporate training, vocational education & skills training, skills for schools and colleges and skills for global employability CL has successfully partnered Central and State Ministries, Public Sector Enterprises and more than 350 corporates, setting up WorkSkills to skill 12 million youth across 469 learning centres in rural and urban locations.It has also been empanelled as a Skill Knowledge Provider (SKP) for Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)-affiliated schools to impart vocational courses to students in select states.

2. Do you think India has adequate technology usage and adoption in the education sector? What more can be done in your opinion?

Education sector is a very broad term that encompasses wide range of outlets, from ITIs to Schools and colleges and professional training centres. Technology has had, and will continue to have a significant impact on the entire skilling ecosystem. It integrates with the delivery mechanism to allowbroader reach, helping bridge the urban rural divide, thus arrest the increasing disparity in accessing quality education, including skills training. Tech innovation will have a major influence on teaching methodologies over the next five years. Online learning is gaining a firm foothold in schools and universities across globe, where smart-classes have become modus operandi. India has also evolved in digital learning which we use in building capacity and creating new opportunities. Digital learning is already engaged in helping India build its capacity in world class content, pedagogical intervention and creating more jobs by creating new solutions for skill building at the basic level.

3. What technology initiatives do you see gaining maximum ground for Corporate Training, Vocational Education & Skills Training?

Centum Learning’s scope of work revolves around Corporate Training, Vocational Education & Skills Training. In these areas, usage of technology is already underway and creating more jobs through creation of new skill building at the basic level.

In spite of the recent war going on about net neutrality, there is no doubt that technology has become an integral part of all curricula including vocation education. Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi talks about “Digital India” with equal emphasis as “Skilling India” and “Make in India”.

4. Do you think eLearning can help in educational progress in a vast country like India? Does Centum use it?

Centum Learning has always been at the forefront when it comes to providing industry based skill training and we believe that there is a surfeit of career opportunities for skilled professionals. In Hisar, Haryana 170 Km from the corridors of power where policies are made, we are running a center where technology and best in class training infrastructure is changing the way people are getting skilled to become job ready. The Skill Development Center is offering candidates courses in Retail, Life Skills and IT Skills under the Deen Dayal Upadhya Gramin Kaushal Yojana of the Ministry of Rural Development. 60 candidates in each batch from BPL category attend this programme which has:

  • Biometric attendance – which students undertake twice every day is improving attendance, preventing spillage and therefore improving learning outcomes.
  • Tablets – Tablets which are provided to the students as a part of this programme as per DDU GKY guidelines are loaded with standardized learning content. This is enabling Technology Enabled Learning
  • IT Skills Lab – Besides, IT skills lab at the center allows students to work on the practical aspects related to IT – How to create presentations, how to create a column in MS Excel, how to apply formulas in MS Excel etc Core / Domain Skills Lab I was totally surprised to find that as many as 70% of my class students, all of whom are from the BPL population are on Facebook and as much as 50% of this from the class operate Facebook on mobile phones. The scope and work in skilling will remain an ongoing process towards nation building and we at centum are committed to skill 12 million people across 11 states and 383 districts by 2022.

5. Mobility technologies provide a major push to e-learning technologies. What value does it add to your venture?

The National Policy on Skill Development has set a target of 500 million people to be skilled by 2022. To achieve this ambitious target millions of people would need to be mobilised and the Indian mobile telephony industry, which has grown phenomenally to become the 2nd largest market in the world, is perfectly situated to help enable such a mass outreach programme.

However, skilling in India needs a disruption in the existing ecosystem to reach even ‘media-dark’ states in the country, where TV & print reach only 20% of the population. Centum Learning aggressively took up the cause of mobilizing under-privileged youth in skills training following the launch of a unique mobile mass outreach programme. The pilot for the outreach campaign was executed in Bihar, with a 2.24 million Bharti Airtel subscriber base that were targeted as part of this campaign. Interested candidates were mapped to one of the 136 counselling centres set up by Centum Learning in 38 districts of Bihar. I would like to reiterate here that our overall mission is to build and sustain a movement around India’s social transformation through skilling and such efforts clearly showcase our steps towards achieving this goal. In less than a week of launch,3,87,408 candidates were profiled and over 40,000 candidates across 38 districts in Bihar were enrolled under various skilling programmes.

6. The education system in India is very restrictive as of now. Centum leaning has been providing vocational training as well. Do you think the entre education system needs to be vocation oriented?

Providing vocational education in schools is one of the most important aspects of this entire gamut of Skills Development, but quality is as important as well. We are committed to working around systems of quality assurance at the institutional level and examine how quality of education can be enhanced across the school ecosystem. Introducing students to high quality vocational training at an early age is the most effective way to do it. Considering the growing importance to offer skill based training programmes right at the school level and with the introduction of National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF) right from class IX, the demand for vocational education programmes is going to soar across all levels. Centum Learningis all geared to tap this opportunity by offering Skill based programmes for schools and colleges. In order to fully leverage the vocational education orientation in India, weprovidesolutionslikeEngaging Young India which is about vocational education in schools;school management & leadership training, capacity building programmes for teachers and vocational courses for school students.

7. Centum has partnered with various government agencies for skill impartment. Do you think we are anywhere close to world standards of education in non – IT areas?

Worldwide, young people are three times more likely than their parents to be out of work – said a report recently released by McKinsey Center for Government. According to International Labor Organization estimates over 75 million young people are unemployed across the world. Paradoxically, 57% of the employers worldwide are not able to find entry-level skilled workforce. The story is no different for India, which continues to be at the epicenter of the world for its youth talent force. The immense talent scarcity industry faces today requires out-of-the-box thinking, decoding issues related to employability skills access, affordability and accreditation – a kind of Blue Ocean Strategy to look at the demographic dividend from a whole new perspective.

8. What plans does Centum have for the future of the education industry in India?

Centum Learning offers Skills for Global Employability – whereby it works closely with the corporates to offer end-to-end sourcing, employability skills training, certification and placement to candidates in various trades basis requirement of the industry. Instead of old dogma of first train and then seek job, Centum Learning works with the corporate houses, takes estimation of their manpower requirements and then provide workforce development training to people in respective trades- thus creating right fit of skills with the right job.

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