India: the global skills capital?
India is a young country, blessed with a favourable demographic dividend. Skill training is, therefore, of utmost importance in order to take advantage of this ready workforce. In fact, population should translate into GDP and economic growth. Several countries have policies regarding migration and our plan is to align India’s certification standards at par with global levels. If a construction worker goes to Singapore in search of a job, then he should have a certification that is recognised in the country he is migrating to, in this case Singapore. Let us look at some figures. India has the youngest workforce where three out of four are in the average age of 20s. Further, 80 lakh Indians need to be employed every year. But, in our country, only 4.69% of the workforce is skilled, as against 58% in the the US and 96% in South Korea, just to take two prominent examples. Added to that, about 1.5 crore job seekers emerge every year, but only 10% of those are industry ready and employable. Therefore, skill training is imperative to take India onto the next pedestal of growth.
There’s much rhetoric around industry-academia skill gap and shortage of industry-ready skilled labour. For this to change, skill training is no more a matter of choice, but rather a matter of indispensability. The government has brought forth interesting initiatives to impart practical education to students so that they are ready to join the workforce quickly. India also needs 2 lakh trainers who need to be trained to train the students in vocational education. NSDC and UK government have set up establishments in Transnational Standards that can train both students and trainers. Sweden has partnered with India and signed an MoU with NSDC to work on skill development programmes. Sweden will also employ Indians. On the domestic front, industry, state and institutional collaboration can play a decisive role in skilling the nation and create a pool of job-ready professionals. It should be understood that the onus of skilling lies with sector councils and institutions, but jobs are created by the market and that should be taken up sincerely to ensure that youth are employable. Moreover, schools needs to undergo a structural change so that there are vocational courses that students can undergo side by side with formal school education. In addition, education in India needs to be job-oriented like is the case in some foreign countries.
The curriculum of the ITIs needs to be updated to make it relevant to modern times. Similarly, soft skills and non-cognitive skills are very important.
India has a high incidence of school and college drop-out cases and most of these drop-outs enrol into vocational training institutes, in order to bag a job. We should not wait for students to drop out of schools and colleges to skill them, rather skill training should be a part of, and integrated into, formal school education. Several private institutions in India are realising this and are making efforts in this direction. Another important area where India lacks is functional literacy. A few reports have noted that a standard five student is not able to solve a standard second mathematics problem. At the same time, aspirations run high in India and, therefore, no one wants a low-paying job. This adds to the problem—90% of Indians don’t earn a livelihood from what they had learned in schools and 90% of Indians don’t learn what they do for a living. Almost everyone learns on the job. While the industry is training new recruits since years, the need is skill training at the starting level. “Catch them young and watch them grow” should be the new mantra.
To reap the demographic dividend, we need to equip our youth in skill-sets of the future, and through agencies like NSDC the cause is furthered. India is taking rapid strides in technology and the jobs that are relevant now may not be relevant in the future. The need is to identify future job roles and train people in those very skills required for those very job roles. The industry has to recognise the value of training and skills, and the mindset of the industry has to shift from low labour cost to high productivity. The government has taken initiatives wherein it is offering students opportunities to hone their skills and also get certificates that validate their skills. India is working closely with Germany, the UK, the US and a few other countries to formulate benchmarks and standards in skill certifications. The HRD ministry is handing out certificates to illiterate but skilled people. The certificate will tie in to the aptitude students have. An illiterate child may have the skills that, say, an eighth class student has, and he will be awarded a certificate and can then continue with his education.
The Advanced Training Institutes (ATIs) to skill India are doing well. Steps like the Indian Institute of Skills (on the lines of IIMs and IITs), NSDA (National Skill Development Agency, whose job is to bring in skilling best practices from around the world), Skill University (in Haryana) are commendable. Also, the government has made apprenticeship mandatory for all establishments—all employers need to have 2.5% to 10% apprentices within their employee rolls. As an extension of the endeavour towards skilling India, the government has tied up with countries like the UK, the US, Belarus, Germany, Australia, Austria, among others, in the areas of mechatronics, IT, electronics, etc. The good news is the government is bringing in knowledge, best practices and technology that will contribute towards making India skilled.
-Vibhav Kant Upadhyay
The author is founder chairman, Global Partnership Summit 2017, and chairman, India Center Foundation (ICF), New Delhi