Ankush Gupta*, a 19-year-old BCom graduate from a university in Punjab harboured aspirations of joining the Indian Navy. But as destiny would have it, he was introduced to a skill centre by a friend and instead joined a food and beverage services course. Today, he serves as a trainee at 32nd Milestone Hotel, Sikanderpur Gurgaon, and will soon be employed at the hotel.
Gupta secured a job before his batchmates. He attributes his success to the life-skill programme. But his success in the job market raises an important question about the availability and accessibility of skill development in higher education.
According to the Indian Labour Report 2012 by TeamLease-IIJT, India’s higher education system is a bottleneck, as one million people, who don’t have adequate training will join the labour force monthly for the next 20 years. About 80 per cent of India’s higher education system for 2030 is yet to be built and needs breaking the difficult trinity of cost, quality and scale — it needs massive innovation, investment, deregulation and competition.
Ashok Reddy, managing director of IIJT and co-founder of TeamLease Services, says, “Given the demographic dividend of the country that has given us a huge young resource, it is essential to ensure that learning is structured to connect people to jobs. However, there has been a cerebral division that education is for a degree and vocational training is for a job. It is essential to ensure that this partition is removed and we move to creating platforms for acceptance and corridor effect of vocational training programmes. Vocational training should move from certificate programmes to associate degrees that provide for a modular approach and on-the-job training credits,” he says.
In fact, in 2009, the Indian Government set up National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to exploit the demographic dividend. It drew a detailed road map for skill training of 500 million by 2022. Quite a task! Dilip Chenoy, CEO and MD, NSDC says, “Our vision is to ensure that skills-related training should be outcome-based and linked with jobs for employability. Our mandate is that whenever you approve a project, the partners should have placed at least 70 per cent of the people. The second thing, when the partner says they train people for XYZ company, we also ask them to show us an evidence from the company that these people are being trained. NSDC approach is sectoral , where the employers put up with the national occupation standards.”
Need for competitive markets
Chenoy adds there are two issues India has to address in terms of employability. “According to the skill gap survey by NSDC, industry requires between 244-347 million skilled people. There is a large body of youth that undergoes education and training and end up with degrees and certification but are found to be non-employable. Also, the total number of seats for graduates and skill development are far less than the number of people that are joining the workforce each year. The number of people joining is significantly lower than what the industry wants. The industry has to be competitive, and if they have to compete in the global market, they need people with global skills,” he says.
The other relevant issue in employability is that if industries do not hire such trained people, there is a likelihood of two events. “One, they would invest in capital and therefore there will be people who do not have access to a job or those employed will be negligible,” he says.
P Rajendran, co-founder and chief operating officer, NIIT, says, “As a country, we have woken up to the massive opportunity provided by our growing youth numbers. We also realise that if this opportunity is not leveraged, it will turn into a ticking time bomb of large unemployed youth energy. In the past few years, our country has made significant policy decisions to strengthen our vocational education and employability programmes. NSDC is one of the largest such initiatives.”
Lagging behind on several fronts
Rajendran, however, feels we are far behind when it comes to skill development and employability “Reports show that only five per cent of India’s labour force in the age group of 19-24 are estimated to have acquired formal training while in developed countries, the same number ranges from 60 to 95 per cent,” he points out.
But skill development and training has so far had different concoctions in the country. “To have social currency in India, the acceptable tags are of professions such as engineer, doctor, MBA, and graduates. Functional skills such as plumbing, masonry, automobile repair, and tailoring, to name a few, have little social currency,” observes Rajendran.
This raises the question of challenges in the vocational sphere. Chenoy says that we are currently dealing with five major problems. “One, capacity is far less than demand. Second, employers and industry do not have sufficient say in determining the outcome of qualifications of people coming out of these programmes. Third, from the point of view of a young person, there is no available information anywhere, on courses. Also, the aspiration level of youngsters is less. They must be encouraged to go for vocational training programmes,” suggests Chenoy.
Adding to our woes are the education standards in the country. Gayatri Paul, associate director, DLF foundation, adds there are a lot of problems with the Indian higher education system. “The standards of academic research are low and waning. There is less public funding and we have an inflexible academic structure. The government is getting on to undertake initiatives on the education front like introducing new curricula, formatting examination procedures to enhance student employability, but the mark still seems far,” she says.
According to the Indian Labour Report 2012, roughly 150 trades catering to agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors are being conducted under two principal schemes, viz, Craftsmen Training Scheme (CTS) and Apprenticeship Training Scheme (ATS). Under CTS, there are 2,244 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), and 7,171 Industrial Training Centres (ITCs) with an intake capacity of more than 1 million. While government manages ITIs, ITCs are supervised by private organisations.
But there is inadequacy in such training programmes as well. Pallavi Rao Chaturvedi, director, AISECT, explains, “The present structure of the industry is dominated overwhelmingly by the formal education segment, which accounts for close to 80 per cent of our education industry.” The balance 20 per cent is constituted by the various segments of non-formal education. She says that interestingly, the fastest growing segments in the education sector belong to the non-formal education segment (viz vocational education, multimedia content and preschools).
India is lagging behind developed countries and even countries like China when it comes to vocational skilling. “Only two per cent of our workforce have formal vocational skills and this yawning gap between requirement and output is going to make its impact felt when the government and the industry partner provide more infrastructure, relevance and better job prospects to the vocationally-trained youth,” she warns.
Reddy concurs. “I don’t think the current education regime or framework is structured to make students employable. There is no industry connect to the colleges or universities and the curriculum has no industry relevance,” he says.
The common thread across the board is the absence of vocational education or job-friendly courses in only Indian institutes. Last year, the institute to figure in the Global Employability List was the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore. The 103-year-old institute ranked 35, moving up from 134 in 2011. “One of the weaknesses of the Indian education system is that it does not give due importance to vocational training. The ‘new’ Indian education industry is clearly consolidating towards two broad divisions: formal education (K-12 schools, universities and colleges) and non-formal education (multimedia content, coaching, pre-schools, vocational education and books),” says Rao.
Lobbying for specific skills
Each year, educational institutes churn out millions of graduates who do not have the specific skills required by the market. Anurag Jain, chairman, Laurus Edutech says, “One of the key observations from higher education is that students aren’t able to apply the skills they have learnt in a related field. A commerce, science or an arts graduate joins the BPO industry. Similarly, an engineer is getting into IT-related opportunities. Their academics are not structured to enable them to get into these opportunities. The reason they get into these opportunities is, one, they are lucrative and two, they are hard pressed for skilled resources and are hiring people of any background with the view to skill them on the job and then deploy.”
This is the ground reality, he vouches. “The employability factor is very high given that the country is experiencing a growth and the industry is hard pressed for resources. Seeing these trends, higher education courses are now being layered and complemented by programmes that will help them easily align with employment opportunities. A new concept called finishing school or finishing programmes are being conceived to help a student transition out of the academic life and to get them acclimatised to a corporate or industry environment,” says Jain.
While lack of awareness or urgency in need for skill-set training is evident in higher education institutes in the country, international accreditation is also not being given as much importance. Sharad Talwar, CEO, IndiaCan says, “There are several organisations in India that do not recognise an international certificate or a diploma accreditation. Additionally, there are not many players that offer such accreditations, resulting in a gap of supply and demand of skilled labour force.”
The IIJT-TeamLease report shows that polytechnics and affiliated colleges have relatively less capacity to address the skill requirement in the vocational education and training sector. Although autonomous colleges are better poised, they have their own sets of demons — limited learner-friendly approach, no independent status and difficulty in creating a unique work culture (as it has to be within the policy framework of the parent university) and constraints in maintaining the Labour Market Information System.
NSDC has so far approved 77 training partners with 18 sector skill councils, and 315 training partners in the industry and 16 skill gap studies and analysis to show proof of opportunities. “Almost 21 sector verticals are being worked on, and more being added each year. We are also doing some innovate projects to use technology to train people. We have skill mandate, such as Jammu and Kashmir Udaan Programme to train graduates and postgraduates,” says Chenoy.
What remains to be seen is the development of an organised method of identification of employability as a crucial factor in creating world-class educational institutes. “Today, we are somewhat apologetic about our 1.2 billion population, while we can be an enviable reservoir of skilled Indians,” says Rajendran.