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The time is now!

As India wakes up to the urgent need of skilled workers, efforts are being made to hasten the initiatives in the field of skills development and vocational training. Despite India progressing rapidly, there is a definite imbalance between the rate of growth in industry and the rate of growth in the skills development sector which is leading to increasing unemployment. According to a Planning Commission report, at present, only 10 per cent of the workforce in the country has some form of skill training (2% with formal training and 8% with informal training). This is extremely low when compared with countries like Korea (96%), Germany (75%), Japan (80%), and the United Kingdom (68%). What’s more, 80% of the new entrants into the workforce do not have any opportunity to undergo skill training (Planning Commission, 2008).

The time is now to recognize the biggest problem that is plaguing us not just as a country but as a society. The mismatch between huge numbers of unemployed youth and vacancies that exist is due to the fact that 90% of employment opportunities require vocational skills but 90% of our colleges / schools rely just on text book knowledge in terms of solutions towards education and employability. Poor quality of skills/ education is manifested in the form of low incomes and unemployment; 45% of graduates make less than Rs 75,000 per year. The biggest reason for this state of affairs is the low employability quotient of people.

The answer in solving this problem lies in recognizing the need to grow and generate awareness about the skill development and vocational training sector alongside the formal education stream. Unfortunately, as is well known, largely due to the Indian psyche, vocational education and training is treated as a poor country cousin of the more formal education methods and courses. It is important and critical for the next step of growth to identify the needs of both learners and the labour market in order to make education more accessible and subsequently create partnerships between public administrations, suppliers of educational services and civil society.

As a country we are fast catching on to the clear paradigm shift in the Skills Development sector from being supply driven to demand pulled. The skill-demand gap is neatly highlighted in the India Labour Report of 2009: around 13 million new entrants join the workforce every year, but the existing formal vocational training capacity has been accessed by only 1.3 per cent of these—or less than 0.2 million people. Even the chief minister of Delhi while addressing a Teacher’s Day gathering in the recent past stressed on the need to make vocational training a part of the formal education system and cited that it was extremely important for the youth to not only be formally educated but also be skilled in at least one trade.

To improve awareness and the impact of the skills development sector in India, we can look at initiatives undertaken to improve skills development in countries like UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand etc.

For a start, as a model, we need to look closely at the leadership, governance and strategy employed by the Sector Skills Councils (SSC) in existence in UK, alter the composition to meet our needs and then implement them. SSCs in the UK are employer-led, designed to build a skills system that is driven by employer demand. They exist to ensure that the sectors they represent have a world class workforce with world class skills. In India we can look to starting a base level vocational education programme above a certain grade in schools to supplement the formal education.

Another very interesting trend has been witnessed in Germany where an ‘apprenticeship system’ is put into practice. The German apprenticeship system is commonly referred to as “the dual system of education” as it combines on-the-job training with theory taught in public schools one or two days per week. Larger companies typically possess their own in-company training shops, but smaller companies provide practical training in group training centers shared by several companies. It is this system of education and vocational skills development that has kept Germany afloat while most of Europe faces the worst financial crisis in recent times. This initiative is based on the objective of providing basic skills – by strengthening counselling and information services by recognising all forms of learning, including formal education and informal and non-formal training.

This system is something that we can definitely adapt for India. Its success relies a lot on the PPP model with each party having to play an important role. A vocational training initiative of this kind will allow Indian industry and skills development companies like Centum Learning, IL & FS, Future Group, City & Guilds etc. target youth and impress on them the need to develop their skills from a very early age.

In Scotland ‘Skills Development Scotland’ is encouraging Employer Recruitment Incentive. Simply put, when employers hire / recruit apprentices who have been skilled by Skills Development Scotland, the employer receives upto 2000 GBP. The advantage of a similar initiative in India cannot not be measured in financial terms alone, but in the fact that employers are gaining well trained and motivated employees who in most cases will definitely improve the productivity and efficiency levels in the organization, contributing to an increasingly prosperous economy.

As exemplified by these few trends being followed globally, it is very clear that to achieve the extremely challenging target set by the government of India of skilling 500 mn people by 2022, it is going to take a serious and well co-coordinated effort by not just the Government but also by the Industry, whose role is as critical, if not more. Simultaneously, the Government has to realize the importance and value of industry in a mission such as this and only a happy amalgation of the two will make this vision a reality. However, most importantly, it is critical for government to realize and take note of the need for skills building at the base levels in high schools, colleges and universities to help bridge the gap between the skilled new entrants into the Indian workforce vis-à-vis those who are unskilled. The time is now. Lets wake up and Act.

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