10 million apprentices in 10 years: Simplification, consolidation and formalisation can get the goalpost closer | The Financial Express

10 million apprentices in 10 years: Simplification, consolidation and formalisation can get the goalpost closer

Apprenticeship needs to be made aspirational for the youth.

10 million apprentices in 10 years: Simplification, consolidation and formalisation can get the goalpost closer
Apprentices in India account of 0.1% participation in the labour market.

By Sumit Kumar

After a remarkable achievement of 580,000 apprentices last financial year, the government has set a new goalpost of a million apprentices by March 2023. In the last 2-3 years, we have made substantial progress, reaching the milestone of 580,000 apprentices, registering 70-80% growth in the apprentices’ pool.

Apprentices in India account of 0.1% participation in the labour market compared to many evolved economies that have 4-5% participation. Going by a similar participation rate, India should have 20-25 million apprentices.

While India will reach the million-mark, going beyond that needs focused steps. India’s apprenticeship system is highly fragmented and regulated. The Apprentices Act gets executed under two ministries (the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship and the Ministry of Education), under four governing bodies (DGT, NSDC, RDAT/RDSDE, BOAT/BOPT), under designated trade, optional trade, and has two promotion schemes (NAPS and NATS).

With such fragmentation and diverse regulations, many organisations have stayed away from doing apprenticeships. Over the last two years, the gap between registered employers on the apprenticeship portal and the ones actually executing has widened. This is a reflection of intent versus reality. In 2019-20, against 75,000 employers registered, 22,500 were engaging with apprentices; whereas in 2020-21, the registered employers went up to 120,000, but the active employers were around 18,500. While the increase in registered employers reflects the intention of employers to engage apprentices, only a few end up doing that. The reason is complexity of the system. A simpler system will be more acceptable by the industry.

Also, though the Apprentices Act is the mother law, there are employability enhancement and ‘earn and learn’ schemes run by central and state governments (like NEEM and others). Such schemes have gained immense popularity because they are flexible and are not overtly regulated. At its peak, NEEM had 600,000 trainees in a span of five years governed by AICTE under the MoE. Although the objective is the same—to upskill and enhance the employability of the youth—they aren’t recognised under the Apprentices Act, and hence don’t account for legitimate apprentices. To overcome this fragmentation of training/skilling programmes, it’s better to consolidate them under the Apprentices Act. Also, the participation of SMEs in formal apprenticeships is abysmal, and this needs to be improved.

Apprenticeship needs to be made aspirational for the youth. While stipends are now equated with education qualification (a graduate earns a minimum Rs 9,000 per month, a diploma holder Rs 8,000, XII pass Rs 7,000, and X and below Rs 5,000), apprenticeship training leads to just a certification that restricts their vertical mobility. A degree-linkage will attract more enrolment. It’s quite possible that India already has a million apprentices, but due to informal jobs a lot of them aren’t accounted for. It took 60 years to have 580,000 live apprentices (1 million cumulatively), but 10 million could be achieved in 10 years if we focus on ease of doing apprenticeships and make it aspirational by linking it with higher education. We shouldn’t forget that skilled workforce is key to India achieving the $5-trillion economy goal.

The author is chief business officer, TeamLease.

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First published on: 21-11-2022 at 08:00 IST