Two major factors make a compelling case for skill development in India. The first one is the much talked about demographic dividend. The working age population is expected to rise by 12.5 crore in the next decade and by a further 10.3 crore over the subsequent decade. Demographic dividend is confronted with the gap that exists between the industry’s expectations and the capabilities of the youth and hence the need for skill development. As a result, we have started in right earnest designing the frameworks for skill programmes, developing the ecosystem required for identifying industry needs, setting up sector skill councils, defining roles for training the youth and aligning curriculum towards certification. All of these activities are very demanding and with the collaborative effort of the industry, NSDC and the sector skill councils, we have made a good beginning. The key outcome that is expected out of all these efforts is that the youth certified for skills would be able to find employment opportunities and the industry’s problems of lack of skills would get addressed.
However, in reality, the answer is not as straightforward as one would imagine. The placement percentage ranges between 20 to 40% for those who are skilled. In most cases, the starting salary of skilled individuals is no different from that of those hired without the requisite skills. Even after acquiring new skills, many of the youth are not interested in taking up the jobs for which they are trained on account of a combination of reasons related to location of employment, starting salaries offered being not attractive, alternate avenues available for livelihood at the place where their families reside and the lack of role models and compelling success stories that highlight the importance of skills. As a result, even with free training programmes and the promise of a formal qualification to get a decent job, the pace of skilling is slower than the required rate of 1 million per week to touch 250 million skilled personnel by the year 2025.
Although the goal set for skill development is important and it is a well recognised fact that it is useful to train people about how to fish rather than give them fish, in reality, we do face the challenge of not finding adequate jobs for the teaming millions. By the year 2020, nearly 60% of India’s population of 1.3 billion will be in the working age group of 15-59 years and the moot question is how are we planning to take advantage of this pool of resources and have them gainfully employed. This would require a multi pronged approach to be put in place on a war footing.
While we should continue to carry on with the good start that we have made with NSDC and the Sector Skill Councils and carry on with skilling and upskilling initiatives, in parallel there are a number of other areas that would require attention. Firstly, the apprenticeship or the internship programme needs to be given a fresh thrust with the objective of providing the youth the required exposure and an in-depth training in the careers of their interest. For a country with the vast population, this is indeed not an easy proposition but we could consider innovative approaches for designing the internships, getting commitments from large and small companies, rethinking the academic curriculum by providing significant weightage to the internship/apprenticeship component and involving a vast number of ‘retired’ personnel as facilitators in order to progressively bring large numbers of students under the umbrella of work study programme.
One other related bold move could be to increase the duration of all academic programmes by one year across the board, making it mandatory for students to undergo internship prior to graduating and being ready for employment. Countries like China and Germany have successfully integrated work study programme into the overall academic construct and it would be worthwhile to study these models and adapt for India.
Entrepreneurship or self employment is the other area that would require more encouragement. This would include the necessity of mind set change of parents and students and early introduction to these ideas while students are still in the schools. While we continue to produce technical talent pool in large numbers, the maximum number of engineers find jobs with the IT industry. In the coming decades the demand for engineering talent in the IT industry for coding jobs and also in the manufacturing industry is likely to be under pressure on account of significant automation and streamlining of processes.
Digital India Mission could throw up exciting opportunities with Internet economy to be 5 % of GDP, that is $200 billion by 2018 as per the report of BCG. BCG G20 report also highlights about India leading amongst major developing nations in Internet contribution to GDP which stands at 3.2% for India vs 3.1% for China, 2.9% for Russia and 2.7% for Brazil. It is estimated that there would be 500 million Internet users in India by the year 2018 that would make India the second largest Internet population in the world. What is noteworthy is the change in the profile of Internet users with the last 100 million users belonging to new segments of older, more vernacular, more women, more rural and more mobile led as per BCG Report.
Sooner than later, the range of initiatives that are being put in place for skill development in the country should transition from being ‘push’ to ‘pull’. Youth should see merit in acquiring skills in the form of outcomes from the training they undergo. It would be useful to recall the successful IT training ventures that Aptech and NIIT set up in the 80s and the 90s when young people came forward to sign up for IT programmes because they believed their employment prospects would be better with IT skills which were not imparted in the colleges at that time. We need to move to a similar stage of making skill acquisition compelling and aspirational in order to maximise the advantage of demographic dividend and make skill development programmes a success.
The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company