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How Skills Development Can Help Reinvent India

11/01/2016 8:20 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:43 PM IST
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RAIGAD, INDIA - JANUARY 24: Exterior view of Posco Maharashtra Steel plant, at Vile Bhagad MIDC Industrial Area on January 24, 2013 Taluka Mangaon of District Raigad, India. (Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint via Getty Images)

Developing the skills of India's growing youth population holds the key to the world's second-most populous country making the much-longed-for transition to a developed nation. Skilling millions of people in a country where 93% of the population is engaged informally might seem an arduous challenge, but I see it as an opportunity to reinvent India.

A path of progress

Over the last five years, we have taken several steps to move closer to this goal, starting off with efforts to raise awareness among key stakeholders, particularly those in government and business, about the need to provide our young men and women with the skills that will allow them to earn sustainable livelihoods either through jobs or being self-employed.

Vocational education and training (VET) initiatives... have become more focused and outcome-driven, aligned to the needs of industry and linked to jobs and employability.

Vocational education and training (VET) initiatives, both in the public and private space, have become more focused and outcome-driven, aligned to the needs of industry and linked to jobs and employability. Capacity building and quality standards have started receiving greater attention. Industry has also been given a bigger role in shaping the skills story through its involvement not just with curriculum development and setting of standards but also in the assessment and certification processes. Moreover, measures have been taken to increase financial accessibility to skill-training initiatives.

The establishment of a dedicated federal Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship in November 2014 -- a first in the country's history -- has lent momentum to the effort to create a skills ecosystem in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has been at the forefront in promoting the skills cause in the country through a National Skills Mission which he chairs.

The skills architecture has been defined through a national policy on skill development (first announced in 2009 and subsequently updated in 2015) as well as the working out of common norms to be followed in skill-training courses to ensure uniformity of service delivery across the board.

The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has been set up as a Public Private Partnership with the objective of getting the private sector to establish large, sustainable, innovative and technology-led skills-training ventures that could benefit young people living in the most difficult terrains.

NSDC has facilitated the setting up of Sector Skill Councils (SSC) across 37 sectors and with representation from industry members, industry associations, business leaders, training providers and government bodies. SSCs have been tasked with the job of defining the entire skill map for their sectors as well as National Occupation Standards and Qualification Packs which detail out the roles, responsibilities, and knowledge and skill requirements for all trades in a sector.

[T]here is the need to demonstrate the value of hiring skilled labour to employers or employment facilitators in the unorganised/informal segment...

The government has also set up a National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) and given it the responsibility of operationalising the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) and the national Labour Market Information System (LMIS) to ensure that skill development initiatives across the government and private delivery mechanisms are harmonised to realise the common goal of a "Skilled India".

Last year, the government launched the world's biggest vocational training program -- the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) -- which aims to skill 2.4 million people in diverse trades within a year.

Not only that, both the government and the NSDC have signed agreements and MoUs with various countries and internationally reputed organisations in the skills space to introduce best-in-class VET practices in India. Germany, Switzerland and Australia -- countries which have a strong VET framework -- are among the nations, besides the UK and France, with which collaboration modalities have been worked out.

NSDC has also taken the lead in organising the participation of Indian youth in the biennial WorldSkills competition -- which is like the Olympics of skills -- to provide our boys and girls with a platform to showcase what they are capable of and also benchmark the skill sets of our youth with their peers worldwide.

However, for all the work that has already gone in, the fact remains that much still needs to be done.

Goals for the future

As 2016 starts, it is time we start building on the learnings of the previous years and recalibrate our working methods so that we fast-track the establishment of a skills culture in the country.

First, there is the need to demonstrate the value of hiring skilled labour to employers or employment facilitators in the unorganised/informal segment -- the millions of small-time shop-owners, for instance, employing anywhere between two to four staff members, or labour contractors, so that they may act as brand ambassadors of the skills cause. The reason I mentioned unorganised is because 93% of India's total labour force works in the unorganised segment.

We need to effectively align the Skill India Mission with the Digital India Mission so that we don't end up creating a skills divide between rural and urban India.

I personally believe it is only when we can prove to employers that engaging skilled employees would have a direct benefit on their revenue earnings and profitability that businesses would be willing to pay more for such staff. When this happens, the aspiration for acquiring training in vocational skills would automatically get created and enrollment in VET institutions would no longer be perceived as intended only for those who are not academically bright or dependent on government inducements in some form or the other.

The second issue that we need to focus on is leveraging technology in a bigger way to enable people living in the distant, far-flung and difficult topographies of India to benefit from skills training. We need to effectively align the Skill India Mission with the Digital India Mission so that we don't end up creating a skills divide between rural and urban India. We have already seen how Massive Open Online Courses have redefined learning delivery and made formal education accessible to more people worldwide. On similar lines, we should work towards leveraging MOOCs for vocational education by adding specialised content, catalogued and organised to teach vocational skills on an open platform. The adoption of learning simulators in various vocational fields like welding, weaving, textiles and driving, to name a few, has already been a huge success and which needs to be built on.

The promotion of job-related skills in rural India can also be done effectively and at less cost with the help of information technology. Technology, moreover, can help spawn thousands of rural entrepreneurs who could use the power of IT to create skills training business models keeping a rural setting in mind through the use of low cost simulators and tablets for delivery of content.

Thirdly, an issue that I feel rather strongly about is the need for the skills ecosystem as a whole to focus on issues of the future like water and its management, renewables etc. In light of the recently concluded discussions on Climate Change in Paris, we need to gear ourselves up to produce skilled professionals in sustainability domains in much larger numbers.

[I]t is critical to change our societal mindsets of preferring formal higher education over vocational education through targeted awareness campaigns.

Last, but not the least, we need to relook at our messaging approach when it comes to the way we advocate the value of acquiring skills to our youth. To begin with, it is critical to change our societal mindsets of preferring formal higher education over vocational education through targeted awareness campaigns. A habit of continual learning needs to be inculcated amongst all of us. We have to make our young boys and girls understand that merely attending a one-six month course in a vocational training institution may not be enough to see them through a 30-40-year-long working life. We have to instil in them the realisation that the learning process has no full-stops and that lifelong learning accompanied by constant acquisition of new skills is the only way that they can ensure their own livelihoods over the long term.

The late US President Franklin D. Roosevelt had said, "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future."

As the developed world gets older and India gets younger, our country has that break-out opportunity it needs to emerge as the skill capital of the world. The intent is firmly there, we need to transform this intent into reality. Let's seize this moment by working together to make the Indian skills system the most robust in the world. Carpe Diem!

(The author is the Chairman of the National Skill Development Agency & National Skill Development Corporation).

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