Given the abysmal levels of skilling of India’s workforce—by 2022, 402 million workers will require skill training—it is not surprising that prime minister Narendra Modi should want to launch a special skills mission.
The fact that the mission has been launched in collaboration with 11 different ministries ranging from the ministry of defence to the ministry of power means it will make it easier to cut through the clutter and fashion a unified approach—right now, skills training is run across 70 programmes of various ministries.
With less than 5% of people of the work force possessing skills that industry needs, India’s much touted demographic dividend could end up being a demographic disaster. Lack of skills is an issue that has been raised many times over the years by leading Indian IT companies that have invested heavily in retraining fresh engineering graduates that they hired.
Skilling India, however, is going to be a very tough job. At 40 crore workers, this means India needs around R8 lakh crore over the next 8 years—the current budget is around R6,000 crore a year.
So, raising this kind of money is a stupendous task. There is an additional problem. Right now, there is a very small buy-in from either industry or workers.
For workers to want to spend time and money on acquiring skills, industry needs to be willing to pay them more for it, in order for them to recoup their investments. At the moment, this is far from being the case, even though most industrialists swear by the skilling mission.
Industry is not keen to pay more since there are enough workers available at lower salaries and the fact that worker attrition is high also serves as a deterrent to investing more in employees—this is a short-sighted approach, but it is true.
And unlike in countries like Singapore where vocational training is well-regarded, neither students nor their parents think much of it in India. Since there are any number of colleges and universities offering arts courses as well as engineering and computer science, parents feel better to see their children getting a ‘degree’ as opposed to a 3-6 month ‘certificate’ or ‘diploma’ course.
In which case, India may have to rethink its skilling mission and work on ways to integrate this with school education—this is what the late Rajiv Gandhi had planned with the 10+2 system several decades ago, but was unable to implement.
Another aspect to promote skills is the approval by Parliament of the Apprentices Amendment Act, 2014. That apart, the Apprentices (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2014, too, has been approved by the President. These two moves will make life easier for apprentices. With the passage of the central Bill, the total apprentice seats in the country will rise from 4.8 lakh to 23 lakh. As more youth opt for apprenticeship, it ends up raising the skill levels of the population, which is the main agenda for Skill India.