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Reimagining the Skilling Landscape of India

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The National Skill Development Council was formed in the year 2008 by the Ministry of Finance. From its very inception, what made it unique was the Public-Private partnership model that envisaged an elevated partnership by the government and private players for the cause of skill development.

The vision behind forming the NSDC or reinvigorating the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana was to fulfill the growing need for skilled manpower in India by giving a fillip to vocational training institutes and playing the role of a market maker in sectors that required intervention.    

In this four-part series, we will examine the journey of skill development in India, analyze its results and look at what will be needed to make this a success.

The skilling Initiative had an ambitious target- skilling over 500 million young people in India by 2022. It was seen as a welcome step given the dismal state of job-ready skills in India.

Imagine the multiplier effect if India was able to successfully skill its demographic potential into a dividend that will fuel the economy. Given the robust domestic demand and aging population in several developed countries, a skilled workforce has the potential to not just make the domestic economy a powerhouse of growth but also benefit host countries for Indian immigrants and ultimately contribute to global innovation and progress. The idea of a skilled India is strategic and romantic at the same time. It’s a cause that deserves the government’s full attention yet a dream that is fraught with asymmetries and missed opportunities.

Only 8% of the people trained under the government’s skill mission have managed to find a job. Adding that to the fact that COVID19 has caused unimaginable economic suffering to millions of workers across India, we find ourselves at a crossroads with regards to India’s skill agenda. Rapid digitization has enabled massive workplace transformation and fuelled a rising gig economy requiring us to quickly recalibrate and ensure that skilling plays an important role in uplifting the lagging economy.

 Analyses of what has happened so far provide us lessons for the future.

  1. Skilling remains a “top-down” government-driven agenda that is overly dependent on large corporates to support the mindboggling numbers to be achieved. It’s just a party of a few at the top of the pyramid.
  2.   The focus on numbers has led to a vicious cycle of minimum and inadequate spending per student, leading to poor quality training, in turn leading to poor placements or no improvements in compensation, eventually leading to no gains on account of vocational skills certifications. The lack of value creation has resulted in this continuing as a “push” agenda rather than having the “pull” required for a sustainable skills ecosystem.
  3. Lack of market-making and viability has reduced this to a CSR driven agenda. As a result, there is no economic imperative for the two key beneficiaries – the youth to be skilled or the industry which needs the talent.
  4.  Due to poor placements, lack of apprenticeship, or lack of better remuneration post skilling, it has failed to create the much-needed respectability and acceptability for vocational skills.
  5. Stretching the budgets to the minimum to cover a vast number of students has attracted trainers who otherwise would not qualify for the job.
  6. Inadequate infrastructure on both the public and private front has posed as a hindrance in marrying technology with training , let alone achieving global standards in vocational training
  7. Given the social structures, lack of support at home, and flexibility at the workplace, Indian women are increasingly choosing to stay home rather than work. Our country’s skilling agenda must act as a catalyst in the skill development of women and give greater emphasis on skills that encourage entrepreneurship in women, making them financially independent

While the challenges are aplenty, the answer, like most effective solutions is not as straight forward and requires a multi-pronged approach. While the Skill India mission was touted as a model of a successful partnership between public and private sector, five years on we are now wiser on why this has not been an equal or rewarding association. What we see is that the private sector, despite being collaborators in the project, has shied away from hiring the same youth they have supposedly helped skill. This is partly because most corporates are still left wanting when it comes to the job-ready skills in the workforce.

Stay tuned to read the three part recommendations for the future of skill development in India

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