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The Business of Social Transformation

Challenges galore in the Indian skilling landscape owing to its vast geographical expanse and varying socio-economic conditions with significant disparities. These growing challenges make it even more imperative to aim for a social transformation to further aid the growing skills landscape. Looking at Centum Learning and the challenging field of work we operate in, we deal with a particular socio-economic profile of people that makes our day-to-day activities no less than a herculean task. The skill-o-sphere, as I call it, is laced with very peculiar set of localized barriers that make the skilling gamut a tough terrain to climb. To dwell upon a few, the candidates who enroll for skilling courses often do not have necessary means to finance them. Further, the ability and the basic premise of which job profiles to take-up matching their skill sets is absent. Also, most of these candidates eventually land up qualifying for the minimum wage job, which does not encourage them to be mobile from their homes because they’re not earning enough to leave their home and the village.

There also exists a mismatch between where people live and where the job opportunities exist that can be explained from the fact that while there are people in every village who require training but there may not necessarily be a job opportunity present in their existing surroundings. As a result people are left with no other option but to migrate and move in search of a suitable job opportunity. Another mounting roadblock is in the sphere of pedagogy. Every individual has different learning behaviors with issues ranging from not knowing how to learn or having the ability and inclination to sit in the classroom and learn.

Apart from these challenges in the skilling world, there are other genuine natural constraints that people have to deal with every day. For instance, in Haryana girls are not encouraged to take up jobs or enroll themselves for training. Of those who are able to convince their families and take up the challenge, they end up traveling long distances to reach Centum Skill Development Centers. Also, with a strong agrarian focus of the region, during harvesting season many of them are needed in the family, forcing them to leave the training mid-way.

Seeing these real challenges that exist and that we deal with on a daily basis I believe that a market demand has to be created for ‘Skilling’. And a social transformation at the heart of India’s sociology is the only way forward and the pressing need of the hour. While we understand it’s a slow and long journey, it also requires tact and caution that we maintain while approaching this issue.

At the center of the Indian society studying to be a vocationally skilled person was always a lower end intuit and it still continues to be the same. The career dreams, embraced by both students and their families, are still restricted to becoming Doctors, Scientists, Engineers and joining the Army and pursuing and MBA. This basic premise needs to undergo a transformation.
While we blindly ape the western world, what we haven’t been able to adapt, respect and clinch is the basic principle upon which their entire society is built – Dignity of Labor. There is minimum socioeconomic disparity. For instance, if you go to a hotel in Sydney, the waiter will come and say, mate, can I get you a cup of coffee? He would talk to you more like a peer.

While there are challenges to skilling and changing the mindset in India, things are undergoing a rapid transformation. Candidates today come with a positive attitude and clear intentions of wanting to excel. With rural masses getting exposed to social media and getting a taste of the urban environment and lifestyle, dreams have begun to soar. The rural populace wants to go up the social ladder and have a better experience in their lifestyle and acquire better jobs to fulfill these dreams. So I think there’s a lot of positive vibe around skilling as a way to realize these dreams. During my trips to these rural centers, I always come out of sessions feeling very excited about the youngsters that we’re dealing with and the energy and the positivity they possess.

With PM Modi initiating and lending his complete faith and support to the Start-up India campaign, self-employment is a new buzz in town thing and that’s what excites me about this campaign. Startup India is not about the big and established brands like Flipkart and Snapdeal. But it’s about a plumber setting up his own plumbing shop or about a youth in a village who sets up a bicycle shop to repair bicycles. PM Modi is not trying to create 100 e-commerce entrepreneurs in his quest for encouraging people to take the startup journey. But he is asking and encouraging people to become an entrepreneur at all levels because in India just wage employment can’t solve the existing problems of unemployment. This is not about 100 people becoming millionaires. If there are 500 million people in India, the next decade won’t see a creation of 500 million jobs. So what you need to do is to get 300 million of these kind of people to become self-employed through skilling and that’s the business of Social Transformation.

The country realizes the sheer seriousness and importance of possessing a skilled workforce and needs a coordinated and cohesive effort to make this transformation a vivid reality.

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School Education – Changing Times, Changing Needs

The Indian education system was a gift of the British legacy, which is prevalent across all Commonwealth Nations. Back then in the 1940’s – 50’s, the job market did not present many options with Government Services or Defense Forces being the most prominent choices. There was dearth of private enterprises and more than half of the industries which operate right now didn’t even exist at that time back. The entire context of education was different in terms of pre‑partition and post-partition era as independence, seeking knowledge and self-development were the primary motivating factors during those years.

While the country attained independence more than six decades back, the mindset of educationists that lead education institutions still holds the same old school of thought. A student studies history, geography or a language like English, French that builds his cognitive ability, makes him think and makes him broad minded. But these subjects and knowledge does not give him any hard marketable job skills leading to the rise of very high-educated unemployed in the country. The generation passing out of schools and colleges, despite being educated and intelligent, is not fully aware of the current industrial trends. This lack of know-how makes them deprived of the right job skills, clueless about a number of industrial requirements and leading to the growing tribe of educated unemployed.

And that’s not the complete picture. While the quality of education leaves much to be desired, the 21st century children have different aspirations from the education system than the preceding generations. This present generation is constantly seeking, thinking, formulating, exploring and challenging their own views and opinions. A few years down the line, these children will be in positions of power in diverse sectors, dictating the direction of our country and economy. And to nurture their evolving minds, we need a system that puts the child at the center of education and facilitates the shift from rote learning to student understanding. This requires us to constantly re-examine education in terms of institutions, pedagogy and methodology. A paradigm shift is needed and it’s pertinent that we break from our conventions and rethink the kind of teachers, the curriculum and the kind of school leadership is needed. In other words, a sincere rethinking of the school space is the need of the hour. These changes are not possible without structural changes at a policy level that will both facilitate and reinforce them.

Mature governments around the world have recognized these underlying issues and taken corrective measures. The Indian Government too recognizes that India’s youth is her biggest asset, holding the potential to make her possibly the youngest nation in the world by 2030. But the burning question is whether enough steps are being taken to train and skill these youth to make India make the most of this demographic advantage? Historical data suggests that cognitive education by itself does not educate people to pickup jobs and work in today’s world. While the student is going through his cognitive education, it’s necessary that we provide them with a few options to help him pick up a trade or a skill without giving much thought to the future perusal of that skill.

There also exists a socioeconomic hierarchy when you come to vocational skills. Let’s say there is a course on hospitality, which focuses more on service. We don’t think we can sell it to the Delhi Public School or Modern School in Vasant Vihar because the kids who are coming there don’t hold the ambition to join a hotel and become a waiter. On the other hand if you go to a government school in the rural areas where the child comes from a poor family, for him that hospitality course will be more relevant. He may want to just go to a closest restaurant or hotel and pick up a job immediately to support his family’s needs right after completing his class 10th or 12th. This is why the vocational skill structure has to be layered, offering different skill sets for the different segments of the society.

A big leap in this direction was setting up The National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) – a competency-based framework that organizes all qualifications according to a series of levels of knowledge, skills and aptitude. The task is to build upon the NSQF in schools by setting a target of five million students with a vocational qualification every year. The overarching ambition of the Government is to get a salience between formal degree and vocational education to widen the skill gamut.

Efforts are already underway with the Central Board of Secondary Education already offering over 40 vocational courses in different sectors at the senior secondary level under NSQF framework. It makes sense to make CBSE the fulcrum to catch them young and train them early in the skill sets that are essential drivers for the nation’s economy. While providing vocational education in schools is the most important aspect of the entire gamut of skills development, what is even more important is the quality of education that is provided.

Introducing students to vocational training of high quality at an early age is the most effective way to ensure that vocation training earns its rightful place in society. 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) from class IX, the demand for vocational education programmes is going to soar across all levels. This training will enable students to acquire desired competency levels with upgraded skills, which will help them in entering the job market proficiently. These small measures taken at the right time will make India become the skill leaders and take the maximum advantage of its demographic dividend.

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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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