The challenge is not jobs, it’s the wages: Manish Kumar, MD and CEO, NSDC

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Published: October 1, 2018 1:20:16 AM

Starting tomorrow, 400 participants from across India will compete at the country’s biggest skills competition—IndiaSkills 2018—and the winners will represent India at the 45th WorldSkills Competition in Kazan, Russia, in 2019.

Manish Kumar, MD & CEO, National Skill Development Corporation

Starting tomorrow, 400 participants from across India will compete at the country’s biggest skills competition—IndiaSkills 2018—and the winners will represent India at the 45th WorldSkills Competition in Kazan, Russia, in 2019. While these 400 participants will showcase their talent across 46 skills, 10 traditional skills and four demo skills, for the first time the Abilympics—the ‘Olympics of Abilities’—is being organised for persons with disabilities, who will showcase their talent across 10 skill competitions.

Manish Kumar, MD & CEO, National Skill Development Corporation, says that IndiaSkills 2018 witnessed over 50,000 entries this year. “Competitions like these help the youth benchmark their skills against peers in other Indian states and those around the world, and help us improve the overall standard of vocational training in India,” he says. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he talks about the skilling ecosystem, achievements, placements and future trends. Excerpts:

What all changes have you seen in the skills ecosystem of the country in the two years you have been with NSDC?
I joined NSDC in July 2016, and today there is much more ‘appreciation’ about skilling. Earlier, the state governments didn’t perhaps believe in ‘skilling’ as much as they do now. There is greater faith and, importantly, greater conviction that skilling is important. Another thing is that we are focusing more on quality of skills than ever before.

Also, the international interest in Indian skills is growing. Developed countries like Japan and Sweden are showing interest and we are sending skilled workforce there, and not just blue-collar workers but even white-collar (especially to countries like the UAE who want to become a knowledge economy). There is a lot of interest from Africa—Indian skills training partners are teaching people there. Essentially, people are moving from India to these places and knowledge is moving from out there to India.

At what rate are Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras (PMKK) coming up?
Of the 712 districts, more than 500 have a PMKK right now (about 460 are operational). By the end of this year, all 712 districts will have an operational PMKK.

A lack of skilled workforce affects production. Should corporates step into skill development in a big way?
Corporates need to step in, in a big way. They know the demand; they understand the ‘need’ more than we do, because they are the ones who are directly affected. The government has made changes to the Apprenticeship Act, making it easier for corporates to get into skilling; the Act is now friendly towards industry, it is not onerous or restrictive. For example, it allows you to create a job role specific to your requirement. The flexibility given is huge.

Have placements emerged as a big challenge to Skill India? What is the true picture?
Ideally, we would like to see 100% placement, and as long as it’s not 100%, it’s a challenge for us. I personally believe there are enough jobs. The challenge is not jobs, it’s the wages. For example, a person might want to shift from a small city to a new job in Mumbai, but might not take the step as he might feel his utility isn’t being maximised by that movement, and that it’s expensive to move. He needs higher wages, but the industry doesn’t pay because it’s a competitive market.

Also, some people don’t get employed because they take a skilling course, but eventually realise they are not good for the same. For this, there is a need for counselling upfront, and we are starting counselling in a big way. Then there is low reporting—if people are paid lower than the minimum wages, the employer might not report. Also, attrition is high in some industries.
So, it’s a combination of factors for placements not being 100%.

Can skills be imparted digitally?
We are using virtual reality and augmented reality; we have tie-ups with AWS, TCS, IBM, Adobe, etc, towards digitalisation of skilling. Veative, one of our partners, teaches how to operate, say, an oil rig, using VR. Complex skills can be easily learnt using VR and AR.

Whose job is it to capture demand-side data and map it with skill providers?
We have 38 Sector Skill Councils (SSC) and we expect them to know the demand in their respective areas. For example, the healthcare SSC should know what is the demand in its sector, how it is progressing, and so on. As far as responsibility is concerned, it lies at multiple points, right down to the district level—you need a network of people/institutions that help you gather that information. However, this area does require more attention and work. There is also a need for validation, especially at the state government level. We are working on it.

How do you evaluate SSCs?
We’ve started a ranking system; it helps both us and SSCs to focus on key areas.

Is geographical mapping of skills important?
Yes, it helps you understand how the economy is developing. It makes planning and resource allocation easier; it also makes the choice for an individual, who is looking for jobs, easier.

The Indian society views vocational education as a reluctant option for those who are less privileged or incapable of pursuing mainstream education. Will this perception change?
It has to change, and there is a reason. Our whole education/training system was programmed on industrial civilisation. Then came the internet in the 1990s, and data and information became important. It’s not a factory-line era any more. Today, small chunks of knowledge are important. Education itself is changing—there is now a Bachelor of Vocational Education degree. How we perceived a plumber in the industrial era is not how we are going to judge him in the new era. A plumber’s own capacity is going to be different. For example, today, underwater welding is one of the highest paid jobs in the world, because it’s a complex skill. It will change for all other skills.

Apart from skill competitions, what else will take place at IndiaSkills 2018?
The event will host career counselling, skill exhibition, try-a-skill, among others, for the youth, as also state ministers’ conference, skill conclave, industry roundtable, etc.

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