With thousands of crores of rupees allocated by the government to train more than 400 million people by 2022, Skill India has become a very big business indeed. At its epicentre is the recently launched Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), a second generation, large-scale vocational skills development scheme. Never before in global history has a country set out to train so many people. One thing is for certain, the nation cannot afford to fail given the colossal size of its youth population and the need for a skilled, competent and competitive workforce for domestic and international labour markets.
The potential direct beneficiaries of skilling range from unskilled workers from the unorganised sector; underserved persons due to geographical location, caste, gender, religion, prior educational status and poverty; educated yet unemployable or underemployed youths; and the high numbers of school drop-outs. The explicit end-goal of all the promised vocational training is simple—employment and job creation.
This is easier said than done, especially at a time when it is just not clear where the jobs are? What types of jobs are available and for whom? Ostensibly, what is the market value of the new skills certificates? Who will enforce appropriate wages for the newly coined sector skill council job roles? Is the new system perpetuating systemic inequities and discrimination of blue collar workers? What capacity building is immediately needed to ensure relevant vocational skills training?
Skilling India must lead to better wages, and tangible, exponential growth in employment for direct beneficiaries. For employers and large industries alike, skilling must result in increased quality of services and productivity; better manpower and retention; improved occupational health and safety of workers, time and cost savings; alignment with international standards; and more revenue.
Industry, the SME sector, government, educators and the vocational training fraternity must ask questions, examine assumptions, look for and test out innovative solutions, work with international experts, and ultimately generate a body of evidence, i.e. research on best practices on skilling for employment that informs policy, practice and allocation of vocational skill resources. The public, especially young Indians, deserves a chance to raise their standard of living, and pursue their dreams. The onus for job placement and job creation, thus, is squarely on training professionals, industry and government rather than inexperienced, disadvantaged vocational learners.
Vocational training must amount to discernible educational, social and economic mobility for the beneficiaries who often are poor and increasingly middle-class learners. Another insight is having robust, on-going collaborations and dialogue between industry and education-cum-training providers to establish and evaluate learning outcomes aligned with labour markets, upgrade trainers, provide practical/experiential training, and create awareness and job placement.
This begs two questions. What is the absorptive capacity of the sectors for certified workers? How clued is industry on the Skill India initiative and what are the expected employment results?
The response from industry to date has been laudable. Corporate social responsibility portfolios provide evidence of how skilling supports sustainable development, strengthens communities and improves quality of life indicators. Here I must add that JSPL is among the Skill India industry champions. In addition, the OP Jindal Community College (OPJCC) is a targeted, skill development initiative for unemployed rural youth. The college’s mandate is to educate and train a skilled, competed, globally competitive workforce. The five colleges and mobile training centres located in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha represent a demonstrable investment in skilling and have a pan-India reach. The explicit intention is to enrol all marginalised youths aged 14-45 years who need a second chance in life to learn-by-doing in order to earn. Technical vocational education and training for OPJCC focuses on trades critical to advancing manufacturing and building the nation’s infrastructure, including construction, plumbing, welding and fabrication, electrical and electronics, computer applications and repair, and hospitality services, to name a few. With a focus on quality and developing a replicable model for vocational skills training, over 9,000 students were trained and 82% placed in jobs last year alone.
Inclusive development for the corporates means educating underserved, vulnerable populations in general, and women specifically in traditional trades and male-dominated high-growth, higher-wage trades for their empowerment through sustainable employment. OPJCC started Aparajita—undefeated in Hindi—in mid-2013 as a construction skills mobile training project for rural women. Prime Minister Narendra Modi singled out one of its participants on World Youth Skills Day—Sushila Behra—who is among the 500-plus women skilled in construction trades. These women are not only working at traditional construction sites, but they are literally rebuilding their homes, local access roads and their communities.
Companies such as Samsung, Godrej, MasterCard, JCB India, Ford India and Maruti Suzuki, among others, are also trailblazers, providing technical training to women in the manufacturing sector. The collective aim is to improve gender diversity at the workplace and to utilise one of our nation’s valuable assets—human capital. With more and more women opting for these courses, India is developing a strong cadre of female technicians as machine and CNC operators, AC and refrigeration experts, masons, plumbers, and heavy construction and agricultural equipment maintenance staff. With men working alongside women as peers, skilling India for Digital India and Make-in-India can become a reality and benefit the nation and beyond.
For example, at JCB India, which manufactures construction and agriculture equipment, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of women employees in the past two years from about 1.2% in December 2012 to 4% in March 2015. Currently, JCB employs over 110 women in India, and all of them are trained periodically on the latest technologies. Maruti Suzuki also has actively focused on increasing the number of women in their manufacturing team from 274 employees in 2012 to 366 employees in 2014.
Likewise, at ABB, a Swiss power and automation technologies firm, women representation stood at 9% of the workforce in 2014, up from 5% in 2010. The company has inducted more women on the shop floor for heavy engineering work. United Technologies Corp has started an all-women assembly line at its air-conditioner manufacturing facility in Gurgaon. Samsung has opened 18 technical schools across India. In fact, their upcoming school in Patna is billed to be one of India’s first female-only technical training centres, and will train over 5,000 women each year.
In the wake of the World Youth Skills Day, let each one of us make a vow to mobilise the youth for skilling. As employers, you can hire and pay wages that are commensurate with training and experience as well as provide opportunities for career growth and apprentices. Lest we forget, there are myriad ancillary activities to support Skill India from creative uses of technologies to improving elementary and secondary education as well as ITIs. What if everyone who has benefited from the nation gave back in some way to Skill India? In seven short years, the miracle of a skilled India would be within reach.
By Miriam J Carter
The author is director, OP Jindal Community College (OPJCC is the community initiative of Jindal Steel and Power)