Apprentices Act: Why it needs reforms

February 22, 2021 3:00 AM

Degree apprenticeships are the future of learning, be it at educational institutions or at the workplace

Since Covid-19 has set the precedence of remote working, apprentices should be allowed to undergo on-the-job training remotely for such roles.Since Covid-19 has set the precedence of remote working, apprentices should be allowed to undergo on-the-job training remotely for such roles.

By Sumit Kumar

India has a potential of 15 lakh apprentices based on the participation rate of apprentices in evolved economies, which is around 3-4%. But the Indian labour market has 0.1% apprenticeship engagement, with just 25,000 employers out of 6.3 crore enterprises engaging with about 4 lakh apprentices—which means just 16 apprentices being engaged with each employer. Although 70,000 employers are registered with the apprenticeship portal, only 25,000 engaging speaks volumes about the intent versus reality.

A recent survey on apprenticeships revealed that about 48% of employers lack awareness and understanding, and don’t see value in apprenticeships. The complex apprenticeship system, which has bifurcated jurisdiction, governance and execution guidelines, creates a mesh of confusion amongst employers, keeping them away from adoption of apprenticeships. Other deterrents are lack of sources to hire apprentices, inaccessibility to the skilling pool under various government initiatives and the scare of scrutiny from authorities.

Since 1961 when the Apprentices Act was written, it has gone through six amendments, the latest in September 2019 when degree apprenticeships were introduced. In the 2020 Budget speech the finance minister mentioned that about 150 higher education institutions will execute degree apprenticeships. But as per the UGC, degree apprenticeships get executed in the form of BVoc, which has abysmal enrolment rate as per the higher education enrolment survey. In July 2020, the UGC came up with much-needed relevant guidelines for degree apprenticeships based on credit system and modularity under the New Education Policy 2020, which gives flexibility to the learner due to modularity built-in and involves equal involvement of industry.

In 2021 Budget the minister announced further amendments to the Act. Employers seek convenience in executing apprenticeship training both in terms of management and compliance. The need is more apparent in the case of MSMEs. The role of the third-party aggregator (TPA) as introduced in the 2014 amendment should be extended under apprenticeship training under the National Apprenticeship Training Scheme for engineering and non-engineering students along with designated and optional trades. A tripartite arrangement should be allowed between the apprentice, the employer and the TPA to impart confidence and allay the anxieties of establishments in engaging more apprentices and meeting their obligations under the Act.

Given the focus on apprenticeship-embedded degree programmes under the NEP 2020, a university could also be made the third party in such apprenticeship contracts, playing a role akin to the TPA to protect the interest of students engaged as apprentices. Such a tripartite arrangement between the apprentice, the employer and the university will help accelerate adoption of degree-linked apprentices and reduce the gap between education and employability. Such an arrangement is possible under Section 8(2) of the Act read with Rule 6(b). Apprentice rules already introduced the definition of degree apprenticeship in 2019 by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). The rules also need to include ‘university’ in the definition (Rule 2 of the Apprentices Act) as the entity that will execute this programme and spell out the role it will play in such execution. Covid-19 has set a new normal of working remotely.

During the lockdown, it was seen that organisations were able to maintain continuity in apprenticeship training remotely even for the on-the-job training portion through digital interventions for certain knowledge-based job roles especially in IT/ITeS and BFSI sectors. Since Covid-19 has set the precedence of remote working, apprentices should be allowed to undergo on-the-job training remotely for such roles. Having a single jurisdiction for apprenticeships instead of tussling between the Ministry of Education and the MSDE will help.

Degree apprenticeships are the future of learning, be it at educational institutions or at the workplace. The integrated approach between academia, youth and employers solves the youth un-employability problem by channelising youth towards formal employment through degree apprenticeships; affordability problem of quality education by financing through earning while learning; and the talent crisis by empowering employers to create relevant talent in-house by integrating corporate learning with higher education. Changes in the Act should take cognisance of these facts to hasten up apprenticeship adoption.

The author is vice-president, NETAP, TeamLease Skills University

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