Thanks to the push given by the government to skill development, there is more awareness among people that a formal degree in any discipline has to be supplemented by appropriate job-related skills. There is also a realisation that the job market expects the prospective workforce to come prepared with specialised skills. The importance of skilling as a national mission is especially clear in the light of worldwide campaigns such as 'Make in India', which leverages the abundantly available talent pool in the country.
The focus on skills has led to the mushrooming of several players in training and skilling, offering a wide range of short- and long-term courses. These courses are designed to offer the right blend of theoretical and practical components in different vocations, recognising prior learning (RPL) and assessing knowledge, competencies and exposure of the learners. The courses are expected to conform to the levels of knowledge-competencies-skills-aptitude and resultant learning outcomes as mentioned in the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF).
"The importance of skilling as a national mission is especially clear in the light of worldwide campaigns such as 'Make in India'..."
Now, the question is, how stringently can we follow the competency standards and assessment criteria set by the NSQF? Is it possible? How does it translate into operationalising the courses according to the NSQF levels 1-10 when we implement these guidelines? What would be the long-term impact if we do not look critically at the current practices in ITI, vocational training institutions and skill development companies? In other words, how can we ensure that skilling courses really equip learners with on-the-job skills and prepare them to be productive from day one? To answers these questions, we need to consider skill development as a holistic endeavour that provides a "work integrated learning experience" and bridges the gap between education and employment.
Let's look at some of the key aspects that contribute to holistic design and delivery of skill/ competency-based training programmes and other initiatives that form a part of vocational education interventions.
1. Competency based skilling
When an electrician or a carpenter comes to your place for repair work, do you know how well he'll do his job well? That he is competent? Many of us are left dissatisfied after such services. This is an example typical of the unorganised sector which needs skilling, assessment and certification as a minimum prerequisite to meet the demands of the job market. This will also add more dignity and professionalism to these jobs and improve the lives of the workers.
2. Skilling for 'prior work' experience
When applying for a job, almost every fresh graduate is questioned about prior work experience. Isn't this a sad comment on the way our higher educational programmes are designed? How do we expect the fresher to come with prior experience? The situation would have been different if these graduates were trained in job-related skills or had a chance to undergo apprenticeship or any other exposure to what the industry expects from them.
"Our focus on the academic side of learning is so dangerously lopsided that we often forget that our education is of no use if we are not employable."
3. Skills that are workplace-driven
One can't acquire skills by reading books or listening to lectures or watching videos alone. Skills must be learnt and practiced hands-on only in the workplace or in a simulated environment. It is only then that learners gain confidence in applying their knowledge to perform tasks and solve problems. Learning-by-doing is the essence of skilling, whether it is in the formal, informal, organised or unorganised set up.
4. Integrating on-the-job training opportunities
Skills training programmes become more meaningful if there is a seamless integration with the industry. This can be achieved through on-the-job training opportunities where learners face several real-life situations and learn to handle them with the help of qualified trainers and industry experts.
5. Early skilling of school dropouts
Instead of forcing dropouts to continue in the formal education sector, it would benefit them if they are encouraged to join skilling programmes. This gives them much-needed confidence and clarity about their means of livelihood. There are several dropouts caught by the stigma of failure waiting to be included in the mainstream.
6. Skilling as an ongoing process
Our focus on the academic side of learning is so dangerously lopsided that we often forget that our education is of no use if we are not employable. The reality is that even engineering graduates, MBAs and PhDs need training in appropriate skills when they hit the job market. The skills needed to secure a job are different from the ones needed to grow professionally. Hence, there needs to be an ongoing process that reskills and upskills the workforce.
7. Linking talent with skills:
Talent is innate, but skills are acquired. Identifying, training and nurturing talent is an important aspect of skill development. The social emphasis on scholastic achievement leaves little room for appreciating the diversity of talent that could make a qualitative difference to the potential of the skilled workforce. This is even more relevant in the case of artisans and craftspersons who continue their family legacy.
8. Skilling for entrepreneurship
Most skills training programmes prepare learners to work for someone. What about learners with an entrepreneurial mind-set? To encourage enterprise and give a boost to employment creation, skilling programmes need to come up with specialised courses on entrepreneurship in different sectors.
Only a competent and confident workforce can drive the economy and meet global standards of quality performance to proudly say "come, let's make in India." Adopting a holistic framework is sure to make a positive impact in our efforts to skill India.