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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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