Skill Development in India

~ By Tarang Singhal

The importance of skills in India is not a recent phenomenon. The varna system was designed keeping in mind that the identity of the person is from what he does and that is supreme, which then ossified into a system based on birth and then hierarchy. The creators had a different purpose in mind, they saw the need for a varied skills set and thus probably wanted to create guilds that could ultimately churn out individuals who are the best at what they do. It is no wonder today to see a shock when the humble electrician has a visiting fees of Rs 200! There are places in India where doctors don’t charge that much fees even today. One can only imagine things going worse or better, depending on what side of the table you are! Though this can be attributed to living costs of the place but I disagree with the notion. Young men aged 16-20 scoff at agriculture jobs (which in many cases is really well paying, how did they manage to buy that Hero Honda bike after-all), however the story is same when they are offered vocational training for electrician or welding. Their first reaction is to avoid it and ask for computer related jobs, this does show an increase in aspiration but hard to point out the irony (the jobs around them need core skills!). Yet this is not even half the story of skill development in India. You will find countless NGOs working in skill development in India, many offer Mobile Repair training to 15 youth from the same village (an industry which is highly unorganized), and one wonders how many would find gainful employment. Then there are the ubiquitous ITIs. What was a step in the right direction, today only offers a piece of paper which acts as a mere qualifier.

Skill development in India requires a complete inversion in how we understand education. The exposure to skills/vocational skills is seen as fit for a certain strata of society. The fact that we have mentally classified jobs such as electrician, plumbing, mechanic as the lowest portends to a modern caste system. By conflating these gainful skills with economic strata we have ensured that the stigma remains. Skills education in India requires the following:

  1. Introduction of vocational courses at school level with which can be replaced with any subject a student wants.
  2. Integrating the ITI model with the first point and then further create a skills curriculum with the industry. It may be worthwhile to drop the obsession to have ITIs in every district but create near industrial clusters and get industries to design curriculum. Introduce new courses (such as graphic designing, video shooting, facility management, banking correspondent security management etc.) which are relevant to clusters.
  3. Apprentice model needs to be strengthened by integrating it with ITI curriculum (something like a final year project) facilitating placement of ITI graduates.
  4. Creating a market place for blue collar jobs, that links these jobs with a set of tangible skill sets and requirements

The government has started making the right moves about it, already moving from the previous model of only talking about mere placements to addressing the core issues of skill development. Competitiveness of our labour at a global level is the vision that is now being talked about. A 500 million strong globally competitive work force by 2022 is the right way to look at it. The recently created skills ministry is a sign of showing the priorities. The first signs look encouraging. The task requires cooperation between departments like fisheries, textiles, agriculture, rural development, heavy industries just to name a few and the ministry could do well if aggregates and lays down ground work for synergies. The task at hand is cut out. The Indo-EU Skills Development Project has done some ground work around how to approach the complex problem. In a recently conducted survey for automotive clusters in Mahrashtra the agency found that the gaps in data collection being done by the present agencies. Basic data such as wages, skills set for jobs, the classification of workforce in blue collar jobs (which haven’t been revised since the archaic classification for labour) was found to be in formats that cannot be used in present day terms. The urgent need to upgrade capacity of the functionaries is the first step that needs to be taken. The disconnect between the labour ministry and the skills ministry would require immediate resolution. A real view of the today’s burgeoning service based industry and a pragmatic view towards addressing them with inputs from industry would be a good starting point.

The next would entail creating a framework of jobs mapped with skills for whom industries have present and future requirements. This would follow with the work done at step one and align with the work done by the respective ministries. This would flow into creation of a market place where the industries can then post their requirements. The classification would then also enable in creation of the right kind of clusters and curriculum that enables placement with the industry. Policy making would be required to promote industries and agencies to fill in this gap.  There is a large un-organized sector in India where maximum graduates of ITI are usually headed. They have neither any incentive nor capability to offer rigorous training. This results in the widely reported numbers of India having the lowest productivity among BRIC countries. Our Policymakers sadly haven’t moved beyond policies that focus on districts and the per hour rate for trainers. Critical things like Training of Trainers, curriculum upgradation and infrastructure upgradation are not even on the radar. Skills will command respect when they are relevant. If today your wood smith uses tools that were used by his forefathers it reflects the fact that an entire ecosystem to upgrade the skills and thus expose to more efficient techniques are completely missing.

To conclude, the barometer for skills development will not be how much is your electrician paid but what tools is he working with and probably where his/her kids are studying.

Tarang Singhal  works in the CSR sector of Vedanta group. The views expressed are his own. 

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