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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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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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Skilling in Digital India

The youth living in over 6,40,000 villages of India today, is grappling with paucity of skills and low self-esteem, to the extent that a big Deewar appears to exist between their aspirations and their current realities. Even if these many jobs get created, will we have enough skilled hands to take those jobs? Is the youth in our country willing to get skilled to take advantage of the opportunity that is waiting to unfold? How do we create awareness for skill development programmes in every nook and corner of the country so that the impact is multifold?

Prime Minister’s vision of building a skilled & employable India is one such clarion call to the youth of the country to get skilled, become employable and take charge of their own lives and add to nation’s productivity. Reaching out to the youth and motivating them to get skilled in a sector of their choice is the only way to ensure that our demographic dividend does not turn into a demographic disaster.

We are mustering all resources to become a prime catalyst in delivery & scale-up of Govt’s skilling mission. To achieve this ambitious target millions of people would need to be mobilized. However, It is very important to leverage technology for skill development as numerous innovations in the education technology space are beginning to show potential in improving education and helping address skills gaps.  Technology is growing in every field of life hence, also in the skilling industry as well. Skill development is a complete cycle that begins with assessments, leading to training, and then on to certification, placement, and monitoring and tracking.

Now with PM’s much hyped ‘Digital India’ initiative, digital learning is the only way forward to build a skilled India and achieve demographic dividend which we have envisioned for ourselves. Like foreign countries, 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.  Inspite of the recent war going on about net neutrality, there is no doubt that technology has become an integral part of all curriculum including vocation education. Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi talks about “Digital India” with equal emphasis as “Skilling India” and “Make in India”.  I will give you a live example of how technology is being used in skill development.

In Hisar, Haryana 170 Km from the corridors of power where policies are made, we are running a center where technology & 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:

1. Biometric attendance – which students undertake twice every day is improving attendance, preventing spillage and therefore improving learning outcomes

2. 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

3. 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

4. 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.

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Creating a niche for skilled manpower, is it really a need of the hour?

Indian industry within next 10 years will be facing shortage of skilled man force. The problem of skilled man power still persists, but by 2020 the voids today will swell into an incapacitating factor for India. If the current situation continues, then automobile industry, especially automotive component makers will face a shortage of 35 million trained people; gems and jewellery industry will oversee a shortfall of 4.6 million and the construction sector will witness shortage of 1.4 million skilled labour. The data has been presented according to the estimates of National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). Considering that the need of the hour is skill development, NSDC has signed agreements with many credible organisations to impart skills to the youth of the country.

There are three different sectors with a shortfall of about 40 million skilled candidates out of which only around 0.18 million have been trained yet, it’s an area of huge concern. We as partners of NSDC are working relentlessly in the skills space. Since its inception Centum Learning is working at mobilizing, training and placing individuals so that they can lead a dignified life. Government of India has also realized the need for a skilled workforce and has set up various Sector Skills Councils in this regard.

With the deliberations on making India a manufacturing hub there is a dire need of trained and skilled professionals. India is rich when it comes to youth to be trained, but there has to be rural participation as well so that the demographic divide reduces and the skill movement can become mainstream. There is a lot happening to enhance employability skills of youth, but a quantum leap in this direction is still amiss. Though there are discussions in the industry and many sector skill councils are trying to make it big, but somewhere Skills Movement per se is yet to see the light of the day.

What’s causing the bottleneck?

Since 2011 NSDC has been increasing spends significantly on advertising to increase the awareness on the significance of vocational education and thereby reduce the shortage of skilled workforce.

The challenges causing bottleneck are not lack of skill instructors or business models or corporate willingness. The issue at hand is the apprehension that is there in the mindset of people about skilling courses viz a viz mainstream education which can fetch them white collar jobs. On the other hand youth that can be skilled because they have never received much formal education do not ascertain the desire to be skilled; they don’t want to be re-located as they have never ventured out of their comfort zone and hence are hesitant. The mindset is that the standard of living that one aspires for can be achieved through mainstream education only.

If you ask a child as to what his career aspirations are, the answer you would get can be a pilot, an accountant, a fashion designer etc. Repeat the question to his parents as to what they would like their child to grow up and the answer inevitably would be MBA, an engineer or a doctor.

A thoughtfully devised advertising campaign can help change the image of career based on skills, but it’s hard to sustain a product on advertising merely if it does not yield any result. Promises of a better future and a worthy career are to be delivered in practical if we want skill development to be recognized.

An advertising campaign cannot make people hog over heels for skills courses; skills development needs solid base and until an initiative leads sustainable transformation, it will be difficult to change way people perceive skill development.

Vocational employment needs acceptance from stakeholders so that it can become main-stream, a certificate will be no good if it doesn’t fetch any job to the candidate.

What are the apprehensions?

The basic ones that concern youth that are yet to be trained are; where will they relocate and what sort of adjustment issues will they encounter. What about their day-to-day expenses and housing concerns? Is there any job security as skills based courses does not come with recognized degrees? Will there be any health insurance? What about provision of basic health facilities? Does the skill they get trained in provide them with multiple job opportunities if they would want to change in future? If ever they are laid off, will the training go waste or more avenues will open?

Acceptance is the largest issue at hand when it comes to skill development and vocational education. Will the corporate houses, government bodies, policy makers and society in general accept and absorb skilled workforce? Will the shortlisting pattern of the Human Resource department of any organization grow up to the level where not just degrees, but certificates and diplomas are also cared for? Will the job descriptions ever see any change and will the performance be measured on the tasks achieved or the degrees at hand? Will the labour laws be in tune for skilled workforce to motivate recruitment of a trained and certified individual on a permanent basis than hiring them as contractual labour.

Reality bites when these questions are put forth, the answers to these might not be easy. At Centum Learning, we address these questions and very consciously impart skilling solutions starting with mobilizing candidates and ending it with recruitment and post-recruitment support. A nation cannot stand if its youth remains apprehensive and hogged with uncertainties. We need a support system that addresses basic needs of life, a network to share and live in a decent working atmosphere, an ecosystem that respects and accepts those who are skilled in some vocation and an atmosphere where vocational training and skilling is considered the backbone of a powerful nation.

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Winning through mobilization

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Winning through mobilization

When I learn about the remarkable transformation of candidates skilled by Centum Skill Development Centers, I am often overwhelmed by the magnitude of value addition in individuals’ lives. This impact cannot be truly captured through a power point presentation or a corporate film or any other marketing material.

Such individuals themselves are the protagonists of their respective stories and are ambassadors of change who have experienced success. They are role models of change for millions of others who are somewhat skeptical about the skill development programmes and therefore are not yet ready to get skilled.

And these disillusioned skeptics form our key audience for all mobilization initiatives! Mobilization is the first crucial step in reaching out to millions of rural youth sensitizing them, convincing them, answering their queries and successfully enrolling them into the training programmes. And yes, it is a herculean task.

In India, it’s easy to sell cricket or Bollywood but try talking to people about skills – you would know you are taking on an uphill task! People here do not want to move out of the comforts of their homes since that would entail not biting into the specific grain of rice that they have grown up with, for lunch or dinner. We know of instances where people have been skilled and hired by companies located a little away from the place of their residence and they left salaried jobs because the food did not suit their palate.

India stands at a crucial stage today… its strong economic growth potential coupled with its youthful population offers a galaxy of opportunities. Mobilizing these trillions of young talent will transform India into a developed country from its status of a developing economy, a tag which has stayed on for nearly seven decades.

By 2020, out of 60 per cent of the total population in the working age group, only 25 per cent would be capable of being hired by the job market. Research shows that economy of small towns is beginning to grow rapidly which in turn requires skilled manpower. However, unlike corporate in towns and cities, organizations in Tier III cities or rural India are often not big enough to hire domain experts like staffing firms, advertising agencies, etc., and do not have deep pockets to hire such services either. Hence, most of these organizations remain understaffed or staffed with not-the-right-skilled people. At times the requirement of manpower may not exist in the main industry but in the ancillary industries but neighbourhood’s youth population are mostly either not aware of it or are ill-equipped to derive benefit from such opportunities.

To meet the rising demand for skilled manpower spanning across sectors, India’s current skills landscape requires a dramatic facelift. We should create a nationwide mobilization movement closely tailored to suit the requirement of the local job market. We need to create job opportunities in places where people live in order to stop unsustainable migrations to the big cities.

Mobilization is a big word. Do we know the kind of effort and mindshare it requires? Despite mobilization being a challenging, arduous and even a life threatening task at times, our teams on the ground work round the clock in difficult conditions to connect with people at the grass roots level. They garner support and organize counseling sessions for the benefit of unemployed youth in the region. The candidates are then screened, batches are formed and training is conducted.

However, mobilization effort doesn’t end with training. Post training, our mobilization teams also work with candidates during placement to assist in relocation and hand hold them during the settling-in period so that candidates are able to settle down comfortably in their new jobs!

However, there is no denying a lot remains to be done in an era of economic growth and technological innovations, when India still lags far behind in terms of skilled workforce vis-à-vis the employment opportunities available.

Having said that, I still feel we have started taking steps in the right direction. Kudos to our mobilization warriors who are the frontrunners of this much needed army of dedicated warriors.

There are a lot of expectations from the new Government. While companies like us will continue to mobilize rural youth from different corners of the country, source and create employment opportunities and skill them, we will look up to the Government to provide the right economic environment for our initiatives to yield dividend.

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