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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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Mission Skills Heads North East

Article first published in Yojana across all editions

Resonating to the clarion call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of Skilling India, the mission is branching out to all corners of the country. And with the north eastern region receiving renewed attention from the central government, it is imperative that one of the key central missions of the Government of India, the Skill India mission too is looking to establish ground there. The NE region has a great potential to develop not just as a self-sustained economic unit of India but also contribute to the overall economic growth story of the country. The Centre had recently announced to take up its Skill India initiatives in the Northeast in a “big way” by setting up skill development centres and industrial training institutes (ITIs) in new districts. Union Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Minister, Rajiv Pratap Rudy has urged the industry of the north eastern region to actively participate in skill development of the region and also recommended one member each for all the 40 Sector Skill Councils from Federation of Industry and Commerce of North Eastern Region (FINER). The minister also proposed to restructure National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and include FINER as a member.

The eight north-eastern states–Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim (added in 2002) and Tripura–are growing fast, educating their people at a rate much faster than the rest of India, reducing their dependence on agriculture and inching towards prosperity. But unfortunately the growth is not creating enough jobs and livelihood opportunities, creating a huge mismatch. To address the region’s development challenges, including infrastructure, the Central government created the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region in 2004, allocating Rs 2,362 crore to the ministry in 2015-16.

The region has certain distinct advantages with its strategic location having access to the traditional domestic market of eastern India. Also, with its proximity to major states in the east and adjacent countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar the region has the advantage for being the vantage entry point for the South-East Asian markets. The resource-rich north east with its expanses of fertile farmland and a huge talent pool could turn into one of India’s most prosperous regions.

To realise the economic potential the region holds, it is imperative to utilise the demographic advantages and parameters that will lead to market linked skill development. However, owing to its unique challenges the conventional market-based solutions may not work here, given the issues related to poor infrastructure and connectivity, unemployment and low economic development, law and order problems, etc.

Though India has the edge of a young workforce, the quality of skills is still a challenge. A survey conducted in 2014 reveals that around 78 per cent of the surveyed employers said they are concerned with the growing skills gap in India while 57 per cent said they currently have open positions for which they cannot find qualified candidates. Of the 14 million people that enter the workforce every year barely 2 million are formally trained. Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship data reveals that only 4.5 persons out of every 100 are skilled, according to the latest National Sample Survey, with the percentage even lesser in the Northeast. Countries such as Korea with 96 per cent skilled workforce and Japan having 80 per cent skilled manpower are way ahead.

Lack of skilling models that are workable and can be practiced is one of the major factors hindering the skill development practices in the region. It said although many agencies were doing skill development through various approaches, yet most of them lacked innovation and were not scalable.

Skilling Challenges in the North East

A “Skill University” in the Northeast needs to be urgently set up as “engaging” with the aspirations of India’s youth is a “challenge”. Setting up “Migration Support Centres” at big hubs can provide better retention and career opportunities for candidates. This measure will be more essential for trainees coming from the Northeast, hilly states and other difficult areas, including LWE (left-wing extremism)-affected districts.

Employment opportunities can be created swiftly in agarwood plantations in Meghalaya vis-à-vis local resources and livelihood opportunities. The South East Asian countries’ business model based on creating a vertically integrated business from the management of plantations to the inoculation, harvesting, distilling and processing of agarwood inputs into a multitude of agarwood end products, including the highly-prized Oud oil can be replicated.

According to a study on development and employment generation potential of the north-eastern states, between 2011 and 2021, the region will have only 2.6 million jobs. And half of this demand will be in Assam alone, which is about 1,234,357 jobs. As opposed to the low demand, there will also be a supply of 17 million people in 2011-2022, an excess of 14 million job seekers. The region will generate 2.6 million jobs, but the manpower supply will be 16.8 million persons. So there is a need for a twin approach for developing skills for both local employment and for those who seek to migrate.

Another big challenge facing the implementation and execution of any skills development-related scheme is reaching out, educating and motivating youth in the rural and remote parts of the country. With over thirty years of experience in Learning & Development, we have realized that the only way to increase the efficiency of the employees in the corporate sector is through innovative training methodologies which need to be upgraded from time to time.

I have often talked about, on various platforms, about how the Government should make vocational education mandatory for women not pursuing full time education. Jobs and hiring in India needs to shift from being ‘qualification based’ to ‘skill based‘. With ‘BetiBachao, BetiPadhao’ and ‘Digital India’ schemes being rolled out by the Government, youth and especially women must be compulsorily taught to use computers and be skilled (in any field). Government also needs to take specific steps for differently-abled people and help create job opportunities for them by building relationships with employer and industry groups. If the Government can get the major chunk of the above target groups in its umbrella, the dream of empowering and transforming lives will be achieved to a great extent.

Building Bridges

There is an urgent need to facilitate introduction of multi-skilling institutes for NE states. Along with this, higher education in the region needs to be connected with apprenticeship. Work based learning will lead the career-pathways. There is also a need to make skilling attractive, relevant and be able to serve the demand to address the major challenge of migration.

There is a need to look at the skilling initiatives in the NE region in a different light. The region’s population comes with a dominant agrarian mindset. There is an opportunity and a requirement to inculcate need based skill development and entrepreneurship promotion in North East Region. The young and growing population is the region’s prized possession and asset and to realize the economic potential the region holds, it is imperative to utilise the demographic advantages and parameters that will lead to market linked skill development.

It is necessary to address the issue of employability and design a roadmap for capacity development and skill upgradation in the North East to keep the local talent reap the best of the opportunities and not migrate for employment. A number of sectors can emerge as important sources of employment in the region and it is crucial to identify the relevant education streams and skill sets that need to be developed among the people to enhance their employability.

NE being home to diverse and exotic variety of fruits and other crops could emerge as major centre of food processing industry that can generate huge employment opportunities for the youth in the NE states. Another potential sector with immense opportunities is handlooms that are used for both local consumption as well as for supplies all across the country. Developing skills there with the right kind of technological know-how can add to the overall growth rate of the region whilst preserving the local talent and heritage.

The efforts to promote startup companies and develop entrepreneurship particularly in NE have resulted in favourable changes in the entrepreneurial scenario in the North East. A right ecosystem for the startups has to be created by accessing the right skill, smart capital, networking and exchange, entrepreneurial culture and sound marketing strategies.

Some of the other sectors that could change the face of skilling and employability in the region include hotel and hospitality management, medical and paramedical degrees, agribusiness management, , ITeS, BPO and KPO skills, engineering degrees, business management, vocational skills dealing with automobiles, construction, electronics, plumbing, textiles and apparels etc.

While big-ticket investments may be the overall game changers, what is also important is to empower rural communities to create sustainable institutions so that they manage common activities around microfinance, livelihoods and natural resource management. The need for economic empowerment and partnership development follows close as all these initiatives require a committed effort from both the public and the private sector to make a countable impact.

“Vision 2020’ targets by North Eastern Council (NEC) and the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER):

– Overall GSDP growth at a CAGR of 11.64% between 2007- 09 and 2019-20

– Overall per capita income growth of 12.95% between 2007- 09 and 2019-20

To support ‘Vision 2020’, the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region has formulated a strategic plan (2010-16) highlighting:

– Building capacities and competencies in critical sectors in the region

– Preparing a plan of action for building capacities and competencies in critical sectors

– Identifying institutes and organisations for imparting training and building capacities in the region

– Setting up of training institutes in the region in important fields through line Ministries, NEC or states

– Augmenting the capacity of the existing training institutes in the north eastern states

– Using IT as a tool to upgrade skills

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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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Learning & Development: Critical Challenges & Best practices in India Inc.

Across almost all industries in India there exists a wide gap between supply and demand of skilled workforce, mainly because of an obvious shortage of skills. The shrinking pool of workforce necessitates availability of highly effective and efficient manpower, which in turn demands highly comprehensive, end-to-end, sustainable training solutions. To remain effective and contemporary, today’s organizations want employees to be good at team building, fluent in conversations, understand present-day issues like social networking, forge collaborations and keep up with competitive trends. In short, they need skills that impact the bottom-line, namely sales and customer service skills, product/process knowledge etc. Employees engaged in such critical functions must be effectively trained in the shortest possible time.

Implementation of training solutions, therefore, is an obvious requirement for launch of new products in a highly competitive market to achieve sales targets. Basic skill sets are no longer adequate these days to deliver desired results and organizations cannot afford a slow learning curve for employees any more. Therefore, induction training, product and process training across the company, right down to the last mile, are non-negotiable. Today, all Learning & Development professionals face a wide range of issues and some of the most prominent challenges are around the practice of training itself. The reason why very often trainings are ineffectual is due to inappropriate content, ineffective delivery, lack of standardization and ad hoc training practices. These inadequacies are especially more glaring in times of globalization where standardization of practices is must and, yet at the same time, one needs to recognize the nuances of culture and its sensitivities.

Currently, the entire gambit of L&D universe faces variety of challenges. Making Learning & Development content more relevant is as old as chicken and egg problem. While standardizing this up-to-date and relevant content to achieve scalability follows this premise. Using appropriate technology to enhance efficacy of training and choosing the right kind of collaborative and experiential approaches, to follow up on training and monitoring application at work place has become need of hour. Additionally, making training flexible and not limit to class room style of teaching and creating content very crisp and concise for the rapidly changing environment remains bone of contention for many.

With over thirty years of experience in Skills Upgradation business, I have concluded that Learning & Development can dramatically impact ROI (return on investment) of training. In a fast-changing dynamic world, we feel Learning and Development plays a strategic role only if it provides relevant insights; not just basic skill courses. Hence, the only way to increase the efficiency of the employees in the corporate sector is through innovative training methodologies which need to be upgraded from time to time.

At, Centum Learning, we have realized that the only way to increase the efficiency of the employees in the corporate sector is through innovative training methodologies which need to be upgraded from time to time. Towards the end, we have adopted off-beat training modules which can be as simple and varied as storytelling or Team building using theatre workshops to solve this problem. Depending on the clients, Centum Learning, which believes in the mantra of “Business of positive transformation”, has devised training modules which can enhance business results and develop skills as per industry requirements. Working closely with our partners, we develop appropriate content and requisite expertise to offer end-to-end training solutions in a standardized manner. This is being done across levels of hierarchy in diverse locations across continents. All our courses are industry specific and are prepared in consultation with the Industry Experts to impart training which would actually enable the candidates to work more effectively in their jobs in terms of Domain Knowledge, Technical Skills and Soft Skills.

For the delivery part, we have developed a pool of qualified and competent trainers who are certified by Centum Learning. These Trainers undergo Train the Trainer programs wherein training is imparted on Platform Skills, Expectations Management and Counseling & Mentoring Skills.

Our unique approach to Learning and Development has made us most trusted ‘Go-To’ partner for corporate in need of skills development and vocational training initiatives. With domain expertise in 21 industry verticals and over 1,358 Learning and Development specialists, we have partnered over 350 corporates to address the dreaded ‘skills-demand’ gap. We have taken our skilling engagement even further to establish Corporate Universities with clients such as Airtel, Mahindra First Choice, Skoda, Matrix Cellular and many more. Our Enterprise Training Solutions has become very popular with corporates including Titan Industries, Punjab National Bank, Delhi International Airport, Punj Lloyd, American Express, Ashok Leyland Light Commercial Vehicles (LCV), Lafarge Cements, Global Trust Bank, Giesecke & Devrient (G&D), etc. We have unlocked global factories of talent in these entities.

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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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