Skill development in India

Education is the single most important instrument for social and economic transformation. A well educated population, adequately equipped with knowledge and skill is not only essential to support economic growth, but is also a pre-condition for growth to be inclusive since it is the educated and skilled people who stand to benefit most from the employment opportunities which growth provides.

Skills and knowledge are the driving forces of economic growth and social development for any country. Countries with higher and better levels of skills adjust more effectively to the challenges and opportunities of world of work. As India moves progressively towards becoming a ‘knowledge economy’ it becomes increasingly important that the country should focus on advancement of skills and these skills have to be relevant to the emerging economic environment. 

Skill Development Landscape in India

India is one of the few countries in the world where the working age population will be far in excess of those dependent on them and as per the World Bank, this will continue for at least three decades till 2040. This has increasingly been recognized as a potential source of significant strength for the national economy, provided we are able to equip and continuously upgrade the skills of the population in the working age group.

If India wants to become a manufacturing-hub, given its requirement for employment generation to reap the demographic advantage; it must focus on skill development instead of present education system. Since, India’s education system has been skewed in favour of formal education focusing on academics; it has done well in services/tertiary sector. As this sector is the most important recipient of formally educated work-force. Manufacturing processes, on the other hand, does not require academic skills to that extent, for majority of work-force. As a result, the people employed in this sector are either uneducated or unskilled as low-end firms can’t afford college graduates; or they are over-educated and yet unskilled at the task required, in case of firms that can pay. The education required for manufacturing is very basic that enables a person to read and understand instructions and make basic calculations; while the skills actually required vary from painting, welding, polishing, assembling, packaging, and equipment handling, among others. Thus, a complete overhaul of the existing education system is required.

In recognition of these needs, the Government of India has adopted skill development as a national priority over the next 10 years. The Eleventh Five Year Plan detailed a road-map for skill development in India, and favoured the formation of Skill Development Missions, both at the State and National levels. To create such an institutional base for skill development in India at the national level, a ‘Coordinated Action on Skill Development’ with a three-tier institutional structure consisting of the PM’s National Council on Skill Development, the National Skill Development Coordination Board (NSDCB) and the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) was created in early 2008.

The main functions of the PM’s National Council on Skill Development are as under:

• To lay down overall broad policy objectives, financing, and governance models and strategies relating to skill development.
• To review the progress of schemes and guide on mid-course corrections, additions, and closure of parts or whole of any particular programme/scheme.
• Coordinate Public Sector / Private Sector Initiatives in a framework of collaborative action.

The NSDCB coordinates the skill development efforts of a large number of Central Ministries/Departments and States. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) is a Public Private Partnership, set up to catalyze the setting-up of large scale, for-profit sustainable vocational institutions in the country, by encouraging private sector participation and providing low-cost funding for training capacity. In addition, it is expected to fund supporting systems such as quality assurance, labor market information systems and train-the-trainer facilities. Thus, the three-tier structure together facilitates implementation of skill development on the ground through three main channels - central ministries, the state governments, and private and public training organizations.

In the Central Government, around 20 Ministries are closely involved in skill development. These ministries mainly operate in one of two ways - through setting up own training capacity in specific sectors (examples of such ministries include Ministry of Labor and Employment, Ministry of Agriculture, and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, etc) or through providing per-trainee costs of training for specific target populations (examples of such ministries include Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Women and Child Development etc).

Most State Governments also have set up State Skill Development Missions as nodal bodies to anchor the skill development agenda in the State. SSDMs are expected to play a significant role in escalating the pace of skilling, through identification of key sectors for skill development in the State, as well as coordinating with Central Ministries and State Line Departments, as well as industry and private training organizations. Each State has adopted a structure of SSDM that best suits the local environment and the State vision for skill development. While some States have elected to form the SSDM as a Society or Corporation under the Chief Secretary or Chief Minister, others have housed it under relevant Departments such as Labour, Human Resource Development, or Planning. Many states are starting to set year-wise targets for skill development, specifying the state budgetary allocation, and complementing Government efforts by encouraging private investment.
Issues and reforms needed in Skill development

a) In education system

The current education system does not focus on training young people in employable skills that can provide them with employment opportunities. Today, a large section of India’s labor force has outdated skills. With current and expected economic growth, this challenge is going to only increase further, since more than 75% of new job opportunities are expected to be ‘skill-based.’

Framework for the creation of an efficient education delivery model should include:

• Availability

The capacity of just over four million a year needs to be upgraded substantially in order to meet the targeted skill requirements till 2022. There exist a significant mismatch between the massive populace of unemployed youth and existing vacancies, which leads to low employability quotient of people. It is therefore a critical step to focus on the needs of both learners and the labor market in order to make the requisite kinds of skills available by forging partnerships between public administrators, suppliers of educational services, industry, and civil society. The availability of both physical infrastructure and human resource (teachers) to impart skill-based training forms the basic requirement of a learner, which should be addressed in an effective manner.

• Accessibility

The accessibility of skill-based training faces a huge challenge on account of India’s large geographical territory, difficult terrain and varying social economic conditions. Some of the states have limited access to such training. As a result, the population comprises a large unskilled workforce. Significant disparities exist across states in terms of socio-economic factors such as education levels, income levels, and industrial growth, etc. A significant portion of the population below the poverty line cannot afford even basic amenities, leave aside education and training. It is important that there is a focus on the informal sector, which reaches out to the people and livelihood promotion institutions.

• Adaptability

The economic growth over the years has only brought forth the shortcomings of skill development processes. Learners require a national vocational qualification framework that offers vertical mobility for those pursuing skills and enables learners to shift from skill-based training to academics and vice versa. They need a clear vocational qualification framework for competency standards, affiliation and accreditation. The required framework will integrate skill training with academic standards. A more formalized structure for vocational training will also help elicit greater respect and acceptability for this initiative among the beneficiaries and the society at large.

• Acceptability

The skill development programs being imparted to learners should meet their needs in terms of quality of infrastructure (ICT and physical infrastructure), pedagogy and skill delivery methods.

The current education system does not lead to trained young people in employable skills who are open to immediate employment opportunities. With current and expected economic growth, this problem is expected to aggravate as more than 75% of the new job opportunities are expected to be skill-based.

As a result, there is a need to develop an advanced curriculum framework derived from industry best practices. It is equally critical to use these upcoming and widely used learning approaches to design skill development programs in order to train learners with what is relevant and not obsolete.

b) In industry sector

Many firms provide on-job training to their workers. This may take different forms: one, the workers may be trained in the firm under the supervision of a skilled supervisor; two, the workers may be sent for off-campus training. In both these cases firms incur some expenses. Firms will, thus, insist that the workers should work for a minimum-specific period of time, after their on-the-job training, during which it can recover the benefits of the enhanced productivity owing to the training. But the retention ratio is low thus private and Industry Participation in skill development is lacking. There are no incentives for private players to enter the field of vocational education. Present regulations are very rigid. In-service training is required but not prevalent today. There is no opportunity for continuous skill up-gradation. There is a lack of experienced and qualified teachers to train students on vocational skills.

c) Low women participation

Women participation in vocational education and training is especially low as compared to men. There are a few reasons constraining interest/participation may be social and cultural norms and family responsibilities. Women also tend to become discouraged due to such family and social pressures, especially in rural areas. Therefore, in order to increase enrolments, the combined efforts with local NGOs and Panchayats on informing women and their families on the advantages of vocational education, which may lead to employability, is very important. Specifically, women should be targeted by explaining how inculcating income-generating skills and activities within them would subsequently lead to improving their social and economic status.

Thus, there is a need for concerted action in several key areas in order to ensure that skill formation takes place in a demand driven manner. Curriculum for skill development has to be reoriented on a continuing basis to meet the demands of the employers/industry and align it with the available self-employment opportunities. Accreditation and certification system has to be improved. There is a need to establish an institutional mechanism for providing access to information on skill inventory and skill maps on a real time basis. A sectoral-approach is required for the purpose with special emphasis on those sectors that have high employment potential. Standards may be set by the industry-led sector skill councils which must be made effective during the Twelfth Plan, while the accreditation of certification processes should be done by independent, specialised agencies with certification left to the institutions. Skill Development Centres can be established in existing education and training institutions. This would ensure huge saving in cost and time. A system of funding poor people for skill development through direct financial aid or loan also needs to be put in place. Apprenticeship training as another mode for on-job training has to be re-modeled to make it more effective and up-scaled significantly.

Finally vocational education at the school level and vocational training through Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Industrial Training Centres (ITCs) need significant expansion and overhaul. There is an urgent need to revisit the scheme for upgradation of governments ITIs as Centres of Excellence through the PPP to implement it more effectively during the Twelfth Plan. There is a need for establishing flexible learning pathways integrated to schooling on one end and higher education on the other through National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF). Public-Private Partnerships in financing, service delivery, and provision of workspaces and training of trainers should be promoted. Employment exchanges can be repositioned as outreach points. There is a need for removal of entry-barriers to private participation, while putting in place an effective regulatory framework for coordinating the network of Private players, as also for monitoring, evaluating, and analyzing outcomes of various programmes. All these issues have received thoughtful consideration during the Eleventh Plan; now operational details have to be worked out and specific initiatives launched during the Twelfth Plan.

The task of skill development has many challenges in India which include:-

a) Increasing capacity & capability of existing system to ensure equitable access to all.
b) Promoting lifelong learning, maintaining quality and relevance, according to changing requirement particularly of emerging knowledge economy.
c) Creating effective convergence between school education, various skill development efforts of government and between government and Private Sector initiative.
d) Capacity building of institutions for planning, quality assurance and involvement of stake holders.
e) Creating institutional mechanism for research development quality assurance, examinations & certification, affiliations and accreditation.
f) Increasing participation of stakeholders, mobilizing adequate investment for financing skill development, attaining sustainability by strengthening physical and intellectual resources.

Manoj K. Jha