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India’s Urgent Need for Skill Based Education

The growth agenda of our country is critically aligned with the skill-levels of manpower available to industry and employers. NSDC figures show us that there is a skill gap of over 240 million across major sectors from 2008-2022. Official and other statistics show that India has a demographic dividend advantage over many other countries because 75 per cent of its population falls in the working age group of 15 to 59 years. As per estimates, by 2050, India’s working population would be in excess of 1 billion. This will result in the number of people in the age group 20-60 being substantially higher. The high school dropout rates of India’s education system has as many as 56.8 per cent students leaving school before reaching the qualifying Class X exam. In order to enable this section of society to become employable, there is an urgent need for skill development across the entire country.

At the planning level, realization has now dawning that skill based education is not a choice but a need in India. The dichotomy of our economy is that, while the demand for skilled professionals very high, the desire to get skilled is low. Pure academic subjects are always more popular with learners, parents and society as socially acceptable qualifications. Most youth in the country still incorrectly believe that skill based education leads to low paid jobs and it is perceived to be meant for only academically weak students, school dropouts and for people in the lower strata. Another aspect of this challenging issue is to create the right kinds of jobs for which people are being skilled. Overcoming these challenges requires the concerted efforts of government agencies and companies operating in the skilling domain working in close collaboration with the other stakeholders in the economy.

Millions of graduates pass out of our universities annually, a rich vein of talent and resource for the industry to tap into. Yet, every year, the gap between offered ability and employability widens and the industry struggles to map the right set of skill sets to the jobs on hand. The result? Relentless training in the required skills to make candidates job viable and a resultant loss of productivity and competitiveness at the industry and the national level.

Only 25 per cent of graduates today are considered “employable” by employers. The biggest challenge comes due to lack of employability skills. As a result the individual’s ability in the work environment in terms of communication, presentation, interpersonal skills, team working, does not meet desired levels. Inculcating employability skills requires a huge task for our education system to bring in the transition in the role from “student” to worker and prepare the candidates for the new working world.

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Technical Skillsets Help You Hit The Ground Running

The resume reflects a Master’s degree, but the professional status still reads the same – educated but unemployed. This is story is common to a burgeoning number of students in the country, they are educated but lack employable skills. The high skew towards theoretical education with little or no exposure to practical skillsets has contributed to this scenario.

15 million youth enter the workforce each year but more than 75 per cent of this number is not employable due to deficient skillsets. India needs 700 million skilled workers by 2022 to meet the demands of a growing economy. This imbalance is due to lack of technical and soft skills and it points towards the urgent, growing need to make young Indians job ready, with a focus on young graduates to augment their employability.

India is a young nation with 62% of our population in the working age group and more than 54% of the total population below 25 years of age. We need to make drastic amends to solve the great Indian talent conundrum. To make the most of this demographic dividend that we possess, the first step we need to take is to celebrate skills and accept their need and importance with an open mind, just like China. For instance, the country currently faces a huge shortage of Sales Associates, Computer Operators, Beauticians, Hair Stylists, Medical Sales representatives, Mobile Repair Engineers, Helper-Plumbers, Helper-Electricians, Sewing Machine Operators, Helper-Masons/Bartenders, Painter – Decorators. Yet the scant regard we have for vocational training and skills development has led to decades of neglect of these crafts.

Once this due regard to skills is given, we need to support the technology growth with investment in skills and knowledge to prepare for the future. Revamping the education system can help bridge the talent gap, especially at the college level that forms the first steps into the professional world. Colleges need to collaborate with industries to chalk out a curriculum that entails integrates technological education and advancements.

Technical Education plays a vital role in the development of the country’s human resource by creating skilled manpower, enhancing industrial productivity and improving the quality of life. This helps increase the availability of better talent in the job market. Of among the 7 lakh engineering students that graduate annually, merely 7 per cent are fit for core engineering jobs.  What would also help, would be the providing of training in not just technical skills but also soft skills or communication skills, preparing them to transform into capable workers. Most of the institutions do not prepare the candidates for the new working world, making them struggle while facing the competencies of the professional realm. There is an urgent need to make the graduates job ready with basic skills of inter-personal communication, abilities to speak English, work as a team and possess basic computer knowledge.

Recognizing this need, efforts are being made by the government with positive steps such as National Vocational Qualifications Framework (NVEQF) and National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF). This will also lead to a paradigm shift in employment from being ‘qualification-based’ to ’skill-based’, making educational institutions focus on imparting skills that lead to employability, rather than merely doling out certificates and degrees. Integrating skills with regular main stream education at schools, will truly change the employment landscape at the most fundamental level in our country. A reinvention will need a vast paradigm shift to develop the tools of change needed to survive in the algorithm age. The demographic dividend if not given the treatment of skills may simply turn into a demographic disaster. The imbalance between the too few skilled workers and fewer jobs for the medium and low-skilled workforce is pointing towards the impending disaster.

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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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