By Atul Raja
Over the last five years, a lot has been talked about India’s looming demographic dividend and the need to leverage a young population with 12 to 14 million youth coming into the workforce every year. However, now it’s time to get over the hype and get down to brass tacks.
While our aspiration is to make India the biggest supplier of the workforce to the world, what do we do to make this happen? Two things for sure; first is to align capacity building to emerging industry needs, and the second is to ensure that the solutions are scalable and the investments required to scale are not linear. Translated, this means creating skilling programs in sectors where the demand is going to be the highest.
So, what’s the infrastructure required to meet these twin objectives? The skills infrastructure in India has been analysed in bits and pieces, whereas it requires a holistic examination to arrive at a holistic solution.
While NEP 2020 proposals have made giant strides towards creating a confluence of education and skills by integrating vocational education in middle and secondary schools, establishing skill labs at local polytechnics and acknowledging the ‘digital’ future of education, a strategic policy shift from ‘Education to Employability’ and ‘Trainable to Employable’ needs to percolate across the skills ecosystem and all the stakeholders. E.g. one of the ways in which the government can help is to review minimum wages for different skills and set up policies to recognize the skilled workers.
In order to raise large skilling factories, Public-Private Participation (PPP) to develop appropriate standards, curriculum, faculty and certification processes is a must. While there is a PPP framework in place, its robust engagement and implementation with clearly designated roles and responsibilities is the urgent need of the hour.
The current infrastructure is not geared to skill India’s teeming millions. Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), Industrial Training Centers (ITCs) and other government-affiliated institutes are woefully short in quantity and quality to create an army of job-ready, industry-ready individuals armed with ‘new-age’ job skills.
Although, we see a healthy trend of ‘skills universities’ coming up, many more skill training and vocational training centres are the need of the hour.
In both the manufacturing and services sectors, there is a gross mismatch between skills that employers expect due to a marked disconnect with what academia is producing. Therefore, the knowledge being imparted through the current skilling framework needs an overhaul. The process needs a revamp from an education focus to prioritising towards training.
India needs the dual training system, i.e. a combination of theory and training embedded in a real-life work environment. This requires close cooperation between industry and academia, formalised and regulated by law. An ideal model to implement this would be that ownership of training is taken up by the industry while that of curriculum design, examination, and testing and certification standards are undertaken by the skills institutes with inputs from the industry.
The post-COVID normal will be a digital world, and our education systems need to absorb this reality. Inexpensive and scalable technology such as cloud-based learning programs, open-source software to create engaging and immersive modules for self-paced learning and mobile networks for anytime-anywhere distribution to larger audiences will be key to skilling India for the future.
Technology will also be crucial in overcoming the severe shortfall of trainers and play a critical role in delivering consistent training adhering to quality standards. Technology is also an enabler to treat complex concepts in interesting, lucid ways.
Government has limited resources, and its funding cannot be the only route for financing the vocational education infrastructure. There is a need for industries to more aggressively participate in the workforce learning process, and at the same time, the learners to be provided with the means to finance themselves.
While the RIC (reimbursable industry contribution) model, which is successfully running in more than 60 countries has been implemented, there is a need to monitor its usage, quality and efficiency. However, the general feeling is that corporates need to contribute much more. 86% firms in Germany, 85% in China, 52% in Russia and 51% in Brazil and Mexico are skilling workers themselves. It’s time that India is featured in this bracket.
India has a long way to becoming a skill-based society. The biggest hurdle is the social stature of skills and skilled people. As a society, we still give more importance to degrees rather than skills. While we train youth in higher skills, we should not overlook the basic entry-level service skills. The skilling infrastructure in India, therefore, needs to create a unique ecosystem of government, employers and the vocational training apparatus working in sync with each other to make India a global HR powerhouse.
Source: The Times of India