Monday, June 20, 2016

Skilling with a broader vision

Demographic dividend of any nation is defined as the economic growth potential that can occur in any nation due to rapid increase in its percentage of working population (15-64 years) to the total population. In 2011 a working paper by the International Monetary Fund predicted that in the next two decades due to this demographic shift, India may witness almost a two percent growth rate in its GDP.

The country is witnessing radical steps in the skill development spectrum with ‘Skill India’ as the new buzzword and rightly so, since India will have the world’s youngest work force. Recognizing this potential, the government has identified skill development as an important target. The primary role of skill development is to empower people to finding better livelihood opportunities while at the same time endeavoring to bridge the social, regional, economic and gender divide. The government has set up an ambitious target of skilling 40.2 crore people by 2022. During the target year 2015-16 the government envisaged to train 1, 22 Lakh people between 21 ministries. At the end of the first quarter the results have been fairly positive with the government achieving 23.64% of the target in the same time period.

To coordinate the skilling process the government has set up a well-structured framework. With  a full fledged Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship at the apex level, this framework comprises of the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and Directorate General of Training (DGT) at the central level, as well as the State Skill Development Missions (SSDMs) at the state level. The country is witnessing radical steps in the skill development spectrum with the Union Cabinet approving the National Skill Development Mission to usher in convergence of activities from various stakeholders.

The National Skill Development Agency acts as the coordinating body for all skill development programmes in the country. It also acts as the nodal body while interacting with the State Skill Development Missions. The NSDA is responsible for operationalization of the National Skills Qualifications Framework.(NSQF) which acts as an outcome measure of skill development. Unlike most other outcome outliers NSQF, is a broader framework where competency levels have been clearly defined between Level 1 and Level 10. The whole process is monitored by the National Skills Qualifications Committee which comprises of representatives from Ministries, regulatory bodies, States and Industry bodies.

On the other hand the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) works on the lines of a Non Banking Finance Corporation which grants loans to training providers as well incubates the Sector Skill Councils (SSC).Established in a PPP mode, NSDC is expected to reflect the viewpoint and stakes of industry and the private sector. Industry driven, Sector Skill Councils for different sectors, act as the industry input providers for the government in order to drive the mechanism forward.
This is the standard skilling ecosystem where the end result is the placement of an individual who acquires the desired skill level. However in truth the target of skill development is twofold-  to enable an individual to find a job as well as to ensure lifetime learning of an individual. This would ensure that every individual has a clear career path progression irrespective of the sector he/she works in. This is in turn countered by a twofold challenge - the availability of jobs as well as the employability of an individual.

Since the turn of the new decade though the economy though has grown steadily, it is yet to mark a rapid progress. The economic growth of a nation is closely linked to the placement of skilled individuals. Conventional logic tells us that only a steadily expanding economy can produce a large number of jobs. A number of studies point that 2016 would be a good year for Indian economy with almost 10lakh new hirings in the organized sector. While this is a welcome development, this pace of job creation must be continued.

Underemployment of an individual however has deeper connotations. Many reports in India, time and again have pointed out the under employability of Indian students across various sectors.For example a survey conducted by “Aspiring Minds” in 2013 pointed out that close to 50% graduates of India were unfit to be employed.This should drive us to a deeper introspection as itcould be closely linked to the first step of a person’s learning, which is elementary education in itself. Sustained efforts in developing programs like the SarvaSikshaAbhiyan and the Mid Day Meal Programs and far reaching legislations like the Right To Education have produced tremendous results in terms of enrollment and access to primary education. 

Yet as the PRATHAM(ASER) surveys have pointed out each year that while the enrollments have increased their has been little change in terms of learning outcomes. In the report of 2014 it states that while India has achieved almost 96% enrollment in primary school levels yet the learning level outcomes are quite shocking. For example 25% of Class 8 students couldn’t read Class 2 text, while this has been a improvement compared to the past few years, yet such details do remain point of concern. Andherein lies in the root of underemployment which can act as a serious hindrance to skill development. It is important to reflect on this to have a more sustainable view of skilling initiatives. Thus the solution lies in understanding skill development not as an employment tool alone but a larger framework that builds within education of an individual and which starts from the elementary level. Skilling efforts cannot be complete with government funding alone and the private sector has to be partner equally, if not more. Significant efforts are underway to encourage a strong industry-academia linkage. While academia assimilates quality in the workforce, industry absorbs the skilled workforce and empowers them with social and economic welfare. Such steps would have to be jointly initiated by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in congruence with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MoHRD). Vocational educational framework in schools must be strengthened with inputs from industry experts so that students understand the requirements of present day industry framework.

With respect to emplybility skills the government has made it mandatory to include soft and employability skills mandatory for all skill development programs, by notifying “Common Norms”. This is indeed a welcome step. Soft skills are an often discussed but frequently forgotten component of employability of an individual. New ways must be figured out to ensure that soft skills are imparted to a child right at the elementary education level itselfThe National Skills Qualifications Framework is another component that plays a major role in this regard. Industry must give recognition to the skill development framework which would then be linked up to the employability of an individual. This in turn has to be acknowledgedwith agreed pathways for higher learning as well. There are tall statistics that tell us that the labour force in India comprises of a high number school dropouts who could not continue with general education due to various socio-economic compulsions. The skilling efforts in the country target these youth to offer them gainful employment. However, a competency based framework does not end there. It carves out a pathway for life long earning. For example, if a class 8 dropout working as a plumber gains requisite experience and skills to acquire competencies equivalent to class 10can eventually go back to higher learning with minimum additional training. This would increase the seamless lateral entry movement between conventional education as well as skill development courses in different sectors. The relevance of this is enhanced in a country like India, where it is feared that vocationaltraining is destined towards blue collared fate for all times to come.

In the end, skilling in itself, is not just skilling in itself but  part of a holistic development of an individual. A skilled individual would achieve job recognition only when he is seen as an individual who is capable of learning and contributing and not merely a cog in a factory wheel, churning out products in regular intervals.

-          Meghna Sharma
Ibu Sanjeeb Garg

( Meghna Sharma works with the World Bank as a Consultant .Ibu Sanjeeb Garg is an Indian Revenue Service probationer)

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