Anil Sasi: How difficult is the skilling challenge in the country when there are absolutely no standards at all? Is having a centralised standardisation of what skills mean and what the levels are perhaps the first thing to start off with?
First thing to start off with was to understand the multiple ministries which are trying to address skilling at the central level and their interface with state governments… There are very specific state-level initiatives in certain areas, like tribal areas, north-eastern regions. I think the complexity of the problem and understanding it with no technology intervention was the most difficult thing.
Seema Chishti: What is the difference between skills and education?
Education is a process where you get knowledge, starting from kindergarten or grade 1 and continuously up to 12. It does not really have inputs with regard to something you want to do with your hands. That is what is central to what we call vocational education or skill. Look at the way our education system has unfolded, the school dropouts in 8th or 10th grade. The reasons for dropping out are multiple, one of which is that everybody is not going to be in the education space —if you are an artisan’s son, weaver’s son, as a family tradition of having done this. The result is that it is very natural to go into that profession. And then making sure that it is recognised by way of certification or move from an unorganised to organised sector… how do you introduce this as part of curriculum in school?
That’s what we are trying to say, that in addition to regular education, let us introduce vocational education, so that the child grows up to pursue the passion he or she is interested in. There is a pathway from vocational education to mainstream education… that is the standardisation we are attempting to do.
For any standardisation, we have to work with states because education is a state subject.
Shobhana Subramanian: The reason the information technology industry has been so successful is that there is no government interference. Skilling is not going to get anywhere because government is involved and education is a state subject and there are so many departments. Is there any other way of doing this?
There are multiple ways to do it. One, if you even take the private sector, groups like the Tatas, Birlas, we have got manufacturing, services, there is a mechanism to recruit, train and then deploy, which is a continuous process. Also today, we do it only for ourselves. But when you have to do it for a third party, in the nation’s interest, then there are mechanisms that have been put in place, like CSR (corporate social responsibility), or as part of a foundation. Some of them will take effect. But at the end of the day… take ITI or polytechnic… you just cannot do anything in isolation.
Shobhana Subramanian: Shouldn’t we just privatise this?
No, I won’t say that. When we visit states across the country, the hunger for learning amongst the youth is visible. And we need to bring in technology as there is teacher shortage. With just privatisation, you will not be able to address the scale of the problem. The role of government in terms of facilitation, in terms of giving access to some of these areas, is key. Hence the role of public-private partnership and NGOs becomes the key.
Udit Misra: There is a huge demand for learning skills and there is a huge potential for job opportunities. Why is the market not picking up then?
First and foremost you have to understand that this country has been used to unorganised sector as a way of employment generation. Ninety-two to 93% of the workforce in this country is in the unorganised sector. The SME (small and medium enterprises) segment employs almost 68 million people. That’s the engine of employment rather than big corporates. Big corporates know how to employ because they have a structural process. That’s not the number we are talking about. We talked about million kids coming into job stream in addition to what we need to reskill, and who are already employed… We cannot just move everybody to the unorganised sector (but) make the transition of unorganised sector to organised sector through recognition of prior learning, where the youth has to be certified, say, if he has got skills… These are challenges.
… (Plus) there is no demand-side data available which is accurate. Data gathering and data collection in this country are so poor that I don’t even know what is the kind of job required, for example, within the small area where you are located as an office. If I ask you today, tell me how many carpenters are required within one-mile radius of this place, or how many carpenters, plumbers, artisans, welders etc are required to support a population… we are yet to do that (data collection).
…If I give you a gaming software, and if you play with it, you suddenly find a passion. And I say immediately, by location, here is the training centre where you can go and ultimately there is a demand side where this skill is worthy, go through this and you get a placement. And then extend it to 640 districts in the country… Mapping has got to be done and this detailing is what we are seeking. And it is going to take time.
Udit Misra: Can you give some international examples?
Take Germany. Vocational education is mandatory there. It is three to four years’ education depending on the trade.
Amitabh Sinha: Where are these skills supposed to be imparted? Is it at specialised institutions like ITIs (industrial training institutes)? Or should these be integrated into the normal education stream, in schools, colleges or higher educational institutions like universities?
There is no set format that skilling has to happen only in schools or colleges. It is one of the methods. If you go to school, whether it is a government or private school, we want to introduce vocational education as part of the curriculum in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12. That is one starting point, where every school child has an opportunity to look at trade in addition to things. For example, if you go in for sports—you learn cricket or football in school—why can’t we give credits if a child has done 100 hours of football or 50 hours of football? Similarly, when you are going to college, going in for a BSc or BA programme, why can’t we introduce in addition vocational programmes which get them certificates or diploma in the first year, second year, third year?
There are private providers, too, who have been funded by the National Skill Development Corporation or institutions starting skilling initiatives on their own or for profits, social impact etc. That is another mechanism that is available.
If somebody says I can (give skilling), and he has just a classroom like this… it is also possible. You do not have to invest in equipment… Employment generation takes place within an industry located around the area.
Amitabh Sinha: But that is difficult to achieve in all the districts. Many districts do not even have small industries.
That is where technology comes in. I can train in this room with, say, a welding simulator, weaving simulator—at least 60% of what needs to be done on the shop floor. So technology has played a very critical role in this. We have demonstrated that and we are deploying that also.
Amitabh Sinha: A huge number of students go after degrees, such as engineering, MBA. They get the fancy degrees but don’t have skills. Is there anything in the skill development plan to modify the course content of at least the better colleges at smaller centres?
No, (but) what I talked about… that in any college, in addition to the regular curriculum, introduce vocational courses. At least they can do something beyond what they are doing. Otherwise, see what we are witnessing—for a driver’s job or a clerical job, see the number of fellows with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree (applying)… That is the outcome of what we have created in some of these colleges.
You go to interior Andhra. We went to some of these areas in Karimnagar. There are so many guys with degrees with no jobs. So they don’t do anything.
Shobhana Subramanian: We have become a very high-cost economy in terms of wages and salary since the productivity increase is not at all happening in tandem. We have virtually exported our IT industry to the Philippines because we are now no longer competitive as a result. How do we address that? Will this problem be solved by the skilling exercise?
Productivity has to be part of the equation… (At the same time) we are conscious of the fact that in any transition, certain jobs are going to go away, not necessarily to some other lower-cost country but also due to automation.
Shobhana Subramanian: Then how are we going to address the unemployment issue?
That is why I said let us do the district-level mapping—if you take a district, what are the kind of jobs required? You will find so many jobs we have not even touched through skills. Similarly, take a newer area, take water energy, waste management, take municipality types of job, where servants are required, tomorrow you can see new kinds of job are there…
R Jaikrishna: Most of the skills are qualitative. Is there a metric that says this person is level 1 or 2?
In the small or medium industry—let us say automotive—tell them what all functions employees have to perform and the kind of theoretical foundation and practical hands-on experience on a particular machine needed, and how many hours are required on that particular machine… What is the best way to certify these people, both in terms of hands-on assessment as well as theoretical assessment? (It must be) a collaborative effort so that, say, tomorrow this person trained according to standards published by the skill council is certified by a third party or an independent agency, the industry must (consider) that person at that level… The curriculum has been adopted as that which you prescribed, then give the right wages.
Sushant Singh: Has the ITI model not worked? And what are the weaknesses of that model which you are going to still face, because again the system is dominated by state governments, skills may not be certified by state governments, people may not be learning the right thing, and industry may not be interested?
My second question is that by mandating the wages to a particular skill level, are you not building a licence raj, by not letting market forces decide salaries?
We are talking about minimum pay because the skill requires that kind of compensation for that person. That’s all we are talking about. It is not mandatory or anything. All of us decide the minimum wage that we should pay for this skill, then we must pay that. As for the first question regarding ITIs… The performance of ITIs has been abysmal. And the reason—I have visited around a hundred—the infrastructure is completely behind track… The quality of the instructors and quality of management and governance are itself suspect. These are the things we are trying to address… that if there is a good ITI, what is the linkage that makes it a good ITI? Participation by the private sector, equipment which is modern, passionate leader who is willing to put in his extra to make sure that every youth that will pass will get a job—all of it has to come together.
Sushant Singh: The primary incentive for a person undergoing skilling is better pay, better job. Is this going to address what Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about—the new aspirational class, which goes to colleges and gets degrees? How are you going to counter the challenge of aspirations vis-a-vis reality?
Aspirations come from within the house. Today, you tell parents (their children are going to get) a vocational degree, they won’t accept it. A paper degree is more socially acceptable. TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) has created a platform, Open Ignite, which makes curriculum available free of cost for one year before you take a test, as long as you have Internet access. It is able to address hundreds of thousands of college students from across the country. Students can find out whether they are interested, whether they want to learn a course or not, they can take any number of attempts… When you pass, we fix up an interview to say that you are ready for training.
We want to create such platforms for multiple trades. These are ways of connecting with people. Access to every child and every youth has to be the critical factor, and that is why I said that broadband connectivity is important for the country. We face multiple challenges because of lack of teachers, access, ability etc. That kind of reach we have to get and that kind of advocacy we have to do before we say it’s good to be carpenter, it’s good to be an electrician, an IT professional, it is good to be a nurse. And we have not even scratched the surface with regard to the physically challenged. There are hundreds of jobs they can do. Everything you take in this country is a scale problem. School dropouts, millions; not going to school, millions; girl child dropouts, millions. Persons with disabilities, millions. So everyone is a lifetime project.
If you ask me, we are far away from the target. There is plenty to be done. This is a journey which is not going to end. That is why I started by saying we are very, very far. I don’t want us to get disillusioned (though) as, when we look back, we will say we touched a million kids, which is better than saying we touched no one.
Shobhana Subramanian: I will switch to aviation. You might have had a chance to look at the draft of the new aviation policy. There are two issues here—one, subsidised travelling for the not-so-privileged, and the 5/20 rule (it prevents local airlines from flying abroad until they complete five years in Indian air space and acquire 20 aircraft).
5/20 is very critical. Again, it is an artificial barrier. Why did 5/20 come? Just because two from the same group (Tatas) came through different models—one a low-cost model and the other a service model. You can’t blame them… if a third comes or fourth, let them also. It’s a very artificial barrier.
Anil Sasi: One of the alternatives that is being suggested is giving domestic flying credit for tier 2 cities?
This is complicated monitoring but our comment is, let there be competition, let the best fellows win. If they don’t succeed, we know they will get out as business people tend to come in and get out.
Anil Sasi: There was some controversy about the NSDC CEO being removed abruptly?
I think the CEO decided to leave. And immediately the COO also decided to leave. Now, in institution-building, men may come and men may go but it goes on forever. Unless you have a plan of action for an institution, you can’t run an institution… I am not saying good people won’t leave. They leave because they are in the radar of other competitors, and we have to accept it as a way of life.
Sushant Singh: How is the experience of working in government different from your time in the corporate sector?
In the corporate sector, you take problems and keep narrowing them down till you make them small and fix them. In government, you keep expanding and wonder how you solve them. That is why I said our focus is a lot more on micro. Let’s get something on the ground. Let’s talk about it. What is the thing on the ground—here is training provided, here is a certification, here is a job, here is a youth.
Sushant Singh: Which are the best states in terms of response to skill training?
Rajasthan, Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra, Telangana and the north-east—Assam, Meghalaya. They implemented ITIs with private sector. The states not doing well are West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. They are a big challenge.
Anil Sasi: And is there a difference between working for the NDA and UPA governments?
I think I have to work with the youth, not with the government.
Transcribed by ENS Delhi