Over the past six decades, the formal education system has not been adequately equipped for fulfilling the skill gaps existing in the industry. The country has over 85,000 senior secondary schools, 36,000 general degree colleges, 3,500 polytechnics and 12,000 ITIs. Despite this, only about 2-4 per cent of employed workforce has undergone formal vocational training.
It is well known that only 10-25 per cent of college graduates have employable skills. One of the main goals of education is to ensure economic empowerment of its students – ability to earn money by employment or self-employment. Clearly, something is amiss in these educational institutions. At the school level, skill development has largely been given amiss despite good intentions.
The ITIs were set up solely as institutions to provide certificate courses in skill development, primarily for the manufacturing sector. However, the percentage of students getting employment within 12 months of graduation from ITIs remains abysmally low. The ITIs have issues of high teacher vacancies, inadequate teacher training, rigid courses not aligned to the job market, lack of industry linkages and issues of autonomy and governance.
Despite being a key contributor to the skills formation activity of the nation, they are observed to have low labour market success rates (owing to demand supply imbalances) and continue to remain underfunded and underutilised, with little or no accountability or autonomy.
Let’s take the case of polytechnics now. The 3,500 polytechnics with about 17 lakh annual intake provide three year diplomas primarily in engineering areas like mechanical, civil and electrical engineering. Some polytechnics have started offering courses in other disciplines such as electronics, computer science, medical lab, technology, hospital engineering and architectural assistant. Polytechnics too have grossly under performed due to lack of adequate and trained faculty, inadequate infrastructure, courses not aligned to industries’ need and demand-supply mismatches.
There are general degree providing institutions too which have traditionally not focused on skill development as part of their mandate. In 1994-95, the UGC had introduced a scheme “Career Oriented Courses” in universities and colleges to encourage incorporation of skill oriented and value added add-on-courses. During 2015, six universities and 516 colleges were offering 793 courses under this scheme. This scheme has almost failed to address the challenges of employment.
It can be concluded that, over the past six decades, the formal education system has not been adequately equipped to fulfil the skill gaps existing in the industry. The key issues have been lack of trainer faculty, inadequate infrastructure, curriculum not aligned to industry needs, weak industry-academia linkages, demand-supply mismatch, lack of uniform standards for skilling and vertical mobility of students across different education systems.
However, over the last four years, the government is systemically addressing many of these areas – setting up of NSDC (National Skills Development Corporation), promulgation of NSQF (National Skills Qualifications Framework) and setting up of a separate Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) are key. Over 33 Sector Skills Councils set up by industry bodies under the aegis of NSDC have been creating national standards for skilling in various job roles in their respective areas.
Vocational courses have been added as subjects from classes 9 to 12 in over 1,500 schools, with over one lakh students taking it up in government schools across Hary-ana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Punjab, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttarakha-nd, Jharkhand, MP and a few other states. In the recently concluded job fair last month for graduating students from 100 schools in Himachal Pradesh, 524 students got placed at an average salary of Rs 9,700. These early indicators are encouraging.
Similarly, at the higher education level, the government had decided to do a pilot by funding 200 community colleges, which would provide employment-oriented programmes of up to two-year duration. The UGC has further added over 200 such community colleges to this pool of 148 Community Colleges that were started by the AICTE and the UGC in 2012-13. In addition, the UGC has funded 127 universities and colleges for offering B Voc (Bachelor of Vocation) programme during 2014-15.
The programmes at school and higher education level are aligned to NSQF. Further, the ministry and the UGC also plan to fund and start 100 KAUSHAL Kendras in existing universities and colleges during 2015-16. The KAUSHAL Kendras will essentially be skill departments in these institutions offering programmes from diploma to bachelors, masters and Ph D level.
Yet another opportunity for universities and colleges is to make curricular changes to offer skill oriented elective or optional courses, which focus on application of learning. Introduction of CBCS (Choice Based Credit Scheme) provides a good opportunity for the higher education institutions to do so.
Recently, all the 12,000 ITIs were shifted from the administrative control of Labour Ministry to the MSDE. This will help in aligning the courses offered by ITIs to the requirement of potential employers and the National Occupational Standards (NOS) being created under NSQF by various Sector Skill Councils.
There are early and positive signs of industry coming forward to create bridges with academic institutions for skills training. Many employers have started supporting the MHRD schemes for mainstreaming vocational education in secondary schools, as is evident at ground in Haryana, HP and Rajasthan. Wherever polytechnics, colleges and universities have approached employers for partnerships, the response has been encouraging during last 12-18 months.
For these green shoots to bloom and flower, some of the key imperatives are adequate funding, monitoring and evaluation, use of technology, institutional support mechanisms from MHRD/ UGC/ MSDE/ state governments, large scale teacher training, and robust evaluation and certification processes.
Continued commitment and action from political, bureaucratic, academic and industry leaders will also be important. Economic empowerment of our youth can only happen when education designers and planners start giving equal importance and credit to skilling along with academic subjects.