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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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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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Bridging The Skills Gap

Article first published in Indian Management across all editions

The government’s proposal to make skills training a fundamental right could not have come at a better time. Lack of job skills, rapid increase in urbanisation, and fewer job opportunities have led to the rise of an army of educated unemployed in India. The country sees millions of graduates pass out each year. According to a 2013 Labour Ministry report, one in three graduates up to the age of 29 is unemployed. In its India Skills Report for 2014, Wheebox, an online talent assessment company, observed that only 10% of MBA graduates and 17% of engineering graduates in the country are employable. In its National Employability Report of Engineering Graduates for 2014, Aspiring Minds said “less than one out of four engineering graduates are employable in the country.” As per a NASSCOM report, only 25% of IT graduates are readily employable. Basically, 75% of technical graduates and over 85% of general graduates are unemployable by India’s high-growth global industries, including information technology and call centres.

On average, Indian companies spend nearly $330 per employee on training in order to create a work-ready force. According to consulting firms such as Deloitte and PwC, Indian IT and ITeS companies spend anywhere between 3 and 3.5% of their payroll costs in training talent. In contrast, according to a recent survey by Deloitte, training expenditure in the US grew by 15% last year, the highest in seven years—a clear indication of the skills gap perceived by American companies. The situation is exacerbated when companies make wrong choices in hiring an employee. India figures among the top four countries worldwide, with the cost of one, single bad recruitment seemingly over $31,000, according to a survey conducted by global human resource consultancy firm CareerBuilder. The survey states that 88% of companies in Russia said they were affected by bad hiring last year, followed by 87% in Brazil and China, and 84% in India. In the US, it was 66%. While one could blame universities for failing to provide industry-relevant skills, the problem is rooted in our dismal education system. Pratham’s annual survey found that about half of fifth graders in rural India cannot read at a second-grade level. The non-governmental organisation, which aims to improve education, looked at grade-school performance at 13,000 schools in rural areas, where 70% of the population still resides. Going by recent studies and reports, here are some facts:

  • Only 2% of the existing workforce has undergone formal skills training
  • Only 15% of the existing workforce has marketable skills
  • It is estimated that 90% of jobs in India are skill-based and require vocational training
  • India will have a fifth of the world’s working population in the next decade

Demographic dystopia
Today, India boasts of having a young population with nearly 365 million people in the age group of 10-24 years. It is further estimated that the average age in India by 2020 will be 29, as against 40 in the US, 46 in Europe, and 47 in Japan. The Indian government hopes to take advantage of this young, dynamic, and productive workforce to make the country a global manufacturing hub and the skilling capital of the world. Interestingly, while the labour force in the industrialised world will decline in 20 years, India’s demographic dividend will begin to kick in. Over the next decade, 13 million people in India are expected to join the workforce. If these facts seem a reason to celebrate, do not break the bubbly yet. If India is unable to transform the young brigade into a work-ready band, the demographic dividend it is so proud of will turn into a disaster. Two things can help avert this catastrophe: skills development and vocational training.

Bridging the skills gap
The skills gap is a common thread bringing together emerging economies—from Africa to
Bangladesh to Nepal—and India must lead the way in showing the world how to narrow it. Successive governments have recognised this and initiated various schemes to help bridge the employability-skills chasm. But it was only through the formation of the National Skills Development Council (NSDC) the battle to tackle the skills gap got a firm footing. The NSDC’s vision to train 500 million youth by 2022 has seen a plethora of initiatives and greater public-private collaboration.
More importantly, the government’s proactive measures such as Skilling India campaign, setting up a Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship—a first in the country—along with more recent initiatives such as the National Skill Development Mission, Skill Loan Scheme, and the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) aim to create a ‘Skilled India’. The government has also brought about some changes to labour laws to enable young job seekers gain industry-relevant skills. In the Apprentices Act, the government is seeking to expand the scope of employment vis-a-vis apprenticeship on the shop floor. Until now, most apprentices have been from engineering backgrounds; the government aims to induct more non-engineers as apprentices through this measure.

Transformative collaboration
Earlier, lack of a coordinated effort between various ministries, the Centre and state governments, public and private sector, and the academia made any skills development related schemes a failure, even before they began. However, current efforts by the government(s), the NSDC, trade bodies, and the academia have been relatively successful due to better collaboration. Partners such as Centum Learning have made NSDC’s ambitious target to skill 500 million people achievable. A key ally to the
NSDC in fulfilling India’s national skilling mandate, we have become their largest partner contributing 20.2% of its overall achievement in the last financial year.
Our unique approach to skilling has made us the trusted go-to partner for companies looking to deploy skills development and vocational training initiatives. With domain expertise in 21 industry verticals and over 1,358 learning and development specialists, Centum has partnered with over 350 corporations to address the ‘skills-demand’ gap. We have taken our skilling engagement even further to establish corporate universities with clients such as Airtel and Skoda. Enterprise Training Solutions have become popular with companies, including Titan Industries, Punjab National Bank, and American Express. Take the case of Rajeev Bairwa, an uneducated and unemployed youth from Gaya in
Bihar. Like any other rural area in India, his village had sparse electricity with no access to modern technology. He was selected for training at Centum Skill Development Centre and today works at Navabharath Fertilizers in Jagdishpur, where he is an agro-consultant counselling farmers on the use of fertilisers. He has learnt to operate computers and is the only person in his village with this skill set.
We are also partnering with the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) in an interesting experiment. Together, we have launched a massive outreach programme to mobilise disadvantaged youth for skills training. One of the biggest challenges facing the implementation and execution of any skills development initiative is reaching out, educating, and motivating youth in the rural and remote parts. The outreach programme would help implement PMKVY, the government’s flagship outcome-based skill
development scheme. The pilot phase will be rolled out in Bihar, covering a subscriber base of 22 million and subsequently a nationwide roll-out by all the telecom operators that will cover nearly 400 million subscribers. Telecom providers will send text and voice-based awareness messages to the target audience. Interested youth can give a missed call to a toll-free number and an interactive voice response pushed to them would capture relevant details through an application. Dedicated teams managing the application would then enrol those interested in different skilling programmes under the PMKVY scheme.

While the success of this programme can only be gauged at a later date, it is a great example of transformative collaboration. Besides the realm of vocational training and skills development, such creative partnerships are also necessary in the education sector. India continues to confront a high ‘school dropout rate’—nearly 56.8%—by the time students reach the tenth standard. Further, we have partnered with CBSE and trained over 3,200 school principals and senior teachers under the Leadership and Strategic Management Training programme; and implemented National Skills Qualification Framework in Haryana for nearly 28 schools.

An inclusive approach
By making skills training a fundamental right, the government can pave the way for youth in rural India to unleash their latent potential and be a part of nation building. Only through an inclusive approach can India accelerate its growth rate. Vocational training, skills development, and quality education need to be made available to youth in the remote and rural areas. Such a holistic approach will also lead to ruralisation and stem urbanisation, easing the pressure on crumbling infrastructure. The game changer would be a better industry academia- government link that creates workready human capital. The proposed ‘right to skill’ [legislation] will task state governments with the responsibility of imparting vocational training through special universities that will be overseen by a regulatory body at the Centre. Chhattisgarh already offers the ‘right to skill’ as in countries such as Germany and Switzerland. Indeed, the country’s ability to seize the opportunities available to its young population completely depends on its success to tackle the issues plaguing its education and vocational training. Moreover, companies must find the right balance between building skills for today and preparing for an uncertain future, which calls for agile learning systems that are scalable, technology-driven, and innovative

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Education: Where There’s a Skill, There’s a Way

Article first published in Business Today across all editions

A vast majority of our 2.2 million graduates find themselves at sea once they exit their colleges since most of our college education only partially equips them for jobs. This scale of unemployment – and the need to prevent them from straying into anti-social activities – is one of the biggest challenges of our society. How should India go about making its graduates and working population job worthy for the next 25 years? Sanjeev Duggal, CEO & Director, Centum Learning, a skilling company with presence in 21 countries, writes on how to change India’s skills landscape.

When she got married, Rajni Bala’s dreams were similar to those of most young women of her background – having a contented married life with a loving husband and children. Reality, however, turned out to be very different. She had to live with her in-laws, who proved tyrannical, while her husband was a drunk, who hardly provided for her two children. She finally left, along with the children, returning to stay with her widowed mother. She is still locked in a legal tussle with her husband and in-laws. But with hardly any education, what would she do for a living? She heard about a learning/training centre in her area and enrolled in it for a 12-day intensive course in retail operations. She has since been hired as a cashier at a branch of a leading global retail store. She proudly points to a badge she wears next to her ID card. “I won it for my performance,” she says. “I have been able to establish myself and support my two children, because of this opportunity I got.”
Hailing from a small village in Morigaon district of Assam, Amar Jyoti joined a 45-day skilling course to get some kind of employment. His trainers at the centre were so impressed by his zeal that, on completion of the course, they offered him a trainer’s job at the centre itself. After two years, he is now a senior trainer in charge of two centres. “I’m proud to be able to bring about the same change in other people’s lives that the skilling centre did in mine,” he says. “I’m proud to have lifted several BPL families out of poverty by imparting skills to their members.”

Jagir Kaur, a daughter of poor parents, felt guilty when she failed to get a job after clearing her Class XII board exams. The fact that her elder brother, in her family of six, was also unemployed, made matters worse. Finally, she left her village for a nearby town where she underwent a skilling course in looking after wholesale stores, which soon landed her a job. Jagir smiles often, a smile of pride. “I’m the first girl in my family to have moved out of home and become self-reliant,” she says. “I manage my expenses and support my family, too.”

The glass, half-empty or half-full – depending on one’s perception – is the best metaphor to describe the skilling scenario in India. Much has been done, but much remains to be done. Less than two per cent of our workforce has formal skills.

The glass, half-empty or half-full – depending on one’s perception – is the best metaphor to describe the skilling scenario in India. Much has been done, but much also remains to be done. The staggering statistics are well known – out of India’s 1.25 billion population, 54 per cent are below 25 years of age and 65 per cent below 35 years. India has the world’s largest workforce after China. But unlike China’s ageing population, most of India’s workforce – growing by 14-16 million every year – will still be employable 25 years from now. The tragedy is that less than two per cent of the workforce has formal skills. Even among those with some sort of training or qualification, only a third has employable skills.

Successive governments at the Centre have created multiple agencies and programmes and heaped ample funds on them to address the challenge of skilling India. There is the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), which has set itself an ambitious – some even say, unrealistic – target of skilling 150 million by 2022. There is the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), which anchors and implements the National Skills Qualification Frame- work, engaging with states to dovetail the states’ skilling facilities and schemes with those of the Centre.

There is a nationwide network of government-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), earlier supervised by the Ministry of Labour, but transferred to the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship from April 2015. There is the recently launched Central government scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), into which Rs 1,500 crore is being pumped to provide outcome-based skill training to 2.4 million young people. As part of its rural reach out, the government has also funded the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gramin Kaushal Yojana (DDU-GKY) scheme under the Ministry of Rural Development. In addition, there are many more skill development schemes run by Central ministries, state governments and private institutions. At this stage, the glass looks decisively half-full!
But there are challenges, too. The wide gap between supply and demand across various industries persists. There is still an obvious shortage of skills. The perception of many parents that their children must go into engineering or medicine – a hangover of the 1960s and 1970s mindset – has hamstrung efforts at skill building at its most important stage: in school. However, there is change at this level, too – the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) now offers some 50 vocational courses. Further, a host of skill-based employment avenues have opened up for those who have just finished school – lab technician, beautician, computer operator, animation artist, refrigeration mechanic, digital print shop operator…
A decade ago, the Kerala government funded a statewide network of self-financing “Akshaya e-kendras” to impart basic computer skills to one member of every family. What did the young entrepreneurs who set up these e-kendras do, once the target groups in every district had been trained, and government subsidies had dried up? After a few hard knocks, the vast majority have reinvented themselves and are running small but profitable businesses today – catering to local needs and shortages in areas like PAN card and passport applications, transfer of funds, payment windows for civic taxes, college admissions, job search and applications, etc. The Kerala model is a splendid example of spontaneous skill-building.

There is still an obvious shortage of skills. The perception of many parents that their children must go into engineering or medicine – a hangover of the 1960s and 1970s mindset – has hamstrung efforts at skill building at its most important stage: in school.
Elsewhere, some challenges remain, even as school-level or undergraduate-level skill-building efforts continue. A trishul of talents needs to coalesce before skills can translate into gainful employment: technical skills, domain knowledge, and soft skills. The first two are a matter of training and application. The final one, presents some nuanced challenges.

Today, for instance, whether you are a beautician or a tour guide or a taxi driver, a working knowledge of English is a force multiplier when it comes to employability. I was reliably informed that in Bengaluru, a licensed driver, maintenance engineer or nursing assistant who can speak and read English, can straightaway add 50 per cent to his/her pay packet.

After 30 years in training and skill development, I’m also convinced that partnering large and credible training partners is critical to attaining both quality and scale. Of the 211 affiliated training partners of NSDC, the top three contribute 31.01 per cent of the skilling (as per NSDC’s 2014/15 annual report). The government needs to engage with these and others that have a track record in skilling. The objective is skill-building and not doling out patronage to all kinds of “Mom and Pop skilling shops”.

The biggest challenge in skilling is getting students to the classrooms and retaining them there. Government and training partners need to work together to ensure that the candidate is incentivised to attend classes through industry aligned courses, relevant training methodology, and deeper connect with jobs and industry. The larger training players also need to harness technology wherever available to achieve the required scale.

A trishul of talents has to coalesce before skills can translate into gainful employment: technical skills, domain knowledge and soft skills. The fi rst two are a matter of training and application. The fi nal one presents some nuanced challenges.
We must also recognise that among the not-so-well-off, aspiration levels are often low, as is capacity to pay. This problem has to be addressed with sensitivity. It is best done by government-funded programmes, executed by large training partners which have the ability to scale up.

To generate more funds across a wider spectrum from corporate houses, the government could mandate that 50 per cent of the funds earmarked as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR), should be used for skill development.

Skilling India to compete and excel on a global maidan is a multi-pronged challenge. We need our engineers and doctors and business executives. We need a rainbow of other heterogeneous skills. And sometimes we discover in ourselves skills and talents for which we were not trained, but which constitute a coming together of head and heart. To take a personal example, my elder son studied film-making, while the younger one underwent courses to become a chef. Today, both of them are entrepreneurs running a very successful “gourmet catering and food experience” venture. They started as mainstream graduates, then decided to follow their dream and carved out the vocation of their choice. As parents, let us encourage the creative outreaches of our children, by supporting them when they make career decisions driven by enthusiasm rather than societal pressure.

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