A Skilled India - Where do we stand?

13 July 2016

Pramod Bhasin, Chairman, CII National Committee on Skill Development; Chairman, the Skills Academy; and Founder, Genpact shares his thoughts on challenges in the education and skilling space in India, role of CII and industry, need for industry to engage in Apprentices and creation of World class model skill institute

No country in the history of our industrial world has succeeded in reaching an advanced stage of development without first having solved for the education of its people. The Scots went out to explore the rest of the world once the reigning Monarch had decided to provide education to every citizen. Korea and China achieved their economic miracles on the foundations of an extremely literate population. The list is endless and the correlation between education and economic development could not be closer.

The challenge for India is immense in pretty much every aspect of education or empowering our citizens through skills. To quantify this, in a much more immediate fashion, we have little chance of engaging at scale in Make in India in the absence of a trained workforce. Or we will end up doing so in small specific areas or a specific industry (like IT and ITES) without the scale that industrialized societies and emerging countries like China have achieved. That means we can't create the jobs we so desperately need in our country.

As we move into an era of automation, software robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing, the traditional industries that provide large scale jobs are changing rapidly. Tomorrow's jobs will not come from large scale manufacturing but from small to medium scale industries in services, and manufacturing which are fairly high end, requiring highly trained technicians and expertise. As much as we are aware of these facts, we still have not brought ourselves to speed.

How did we end up here? In a terribly simplistic manner, it's because our grassroots education system does not begin to deliver the requisite combination of theoretical learning combined with soft skills, confidence and practical knowledge. When we deliver our skills training programs today, we are in many way trying to make up for years of inadequate teaching and education- in a 6-12 week period which is of course impossible! As a result the percentage of people industry can hire into employment ranges from an abysmal 6% to a sad high of 15%!

Let me take a typical example of a young girl we may be training from one of the remote villages in Odisha or Bihar or Madhya Pradesh or any other state for that matter. Her previous exposure has been to a local school where the curriculum is most certainly outdated and the quality of teaching suspected, despite the best efforts of some dedicated souls. Neither she nor her parents have any exposure to all the things which so many of us take for granted---how do you prepare for an interview, what is a good job, how do you build a career, how do you write a resume, what does a workplace feel like, where do you get advice and support in a new city---this is completely foreign territory. And if and when they don't last in the job, it's often mainly because they have no support system or mentors to fall back on for advice.

The Government through its new Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE) and National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has put in a huge effort to change this equation but it's still just a drop in this vast bucket of our country.

The role of industry is critical in the skills landscape. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has ensured the active involvement of industry through the 12 Sector Skills councils, multi skilling training centres, ITI upgradation schemes and career centres. These outcome based initiatives have had positive impacts. The strong emphasis on policy advocacy has brought in radical industry friendly reforms in the Apprenticeship Act, constructive feedback in the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) and the need for recognition of the skilled workforce through skill competitions. These are steps in the right direction but we have miles to go.

Our demographics today mean that there is an endless supply of new labour entering the market-not necessarily trained, which will create disincentives for employers to pay more for skilled and trained people. There are some immediate and obvious gaps which we as Industry must try and fill.

Firstly we need a massive industry participation to support Skill Training in India. Governments cannot do this alone. Governments cannot do this alone. Our participation can come in the form of a commitment to hire and pay more for skilled and certified people. This will build the trust, increase awareness and create a "pull" for people to get trained. Currently, young potential employees are very uncertain if they will benefit at all from getting trained in skills, especially if employers don't differentiate them from the rest.

Secondly, Industry can join hands in committing funds to Skills Training. In countries with evolved skill ecosystems such as Germany, Brazil, Switzerland and Australia, Industry contributes very significantly towards the cost of skill training and we will have to do the same.

Thirdly, the entire area of Apprenticeships offers a huge opportunity. Apprenticeships have been demonstrated as one of the finest ways of creating quality employment. If the Industry agrees to take on its full quota of Apprenticeships, it would significantly increase employment, provide great on-job training, and help familiarize young employees with the skills required to succeed. Recent changes to the regulations governing apprenticeships will make it far easier for companies to take on apprentices, without a permanent employment commitment.

Fourthly, industry can adopt more ITIs or local colleges, as well as employment exchanges jointly with local Government to leverage this infrastructure, provide up to date curriculum and support training. Scale of the initiative cannot be achieved without building capacity building of trainers. Industry could also play a major role in providing trainers! If we deploy the retired officials who have great knowledge and experience, as trainers and mentors and create a 100,000 more trainers, that would redefine the quality of our skills training and put us on par with the world. Our experience has shown that whenever we ask for volunteers for such roles, the response is overwhelming--just look at examples like Pratham, SEWA and Teach for India.

We have a very long ways to go to achieve anything close to global levels of Skills Training, but the entire Eco-system is beginning to evolve and expand to new levels. With Industry's support, skilling the nation can be a reality and a win-win situation for all.