We must make efforts to strike a balance between skills and education
If we put together some of the disturbing facts that have surfaced in recent times, the writing on the wall is pretty clear. As many as 147 standalone B-schools and MBA programmes offered by engineering institutions across the country closed down in the last academic year. The number of Common Admission Test (CAT) registrants have constantly declined over the last couple of years, and amongst those who registered last year, 22% didn’t show up on exam day. Of the 1.5 million engineers Indian churns out annually, 30% remain unemployed. Further, as many as 58% of our graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. These facts clearly indicate that degrees are losing their signalling value. There are two reasons for the same. One, degrees don’t guarantee skills. Two, degrees can be fake (ironically, made-in-India fake degrees lead the pack globally).
More alarming is the fact that the NOC data suggests that 90% of our jobs require skills and zero knowledge, while 90% of our kids coming out of colleges and universities have knowledge but zero skills. In light of this predicament, we need to redefine vocational education and make efforts to strike a balance between skills and education. There is an artificial partition between education and vocation. This divide has to end, resulting in jobs and extending certain training schemes for non-engineering graduates as well. There has to be an intersection and interception of three most important factors—education, employment and employability. One of our biggest issues is our society’s view towards vocational skills. This bias is dysfunctional and is stealing our youth of their future. Our dogged push towards degrees is actually setting our children up for failure. However, hope is still lurking around. Much of it is based on some impactful initiatives which can definitely create precedence for widespread change in our environment.
In a country where million new faces are getting added to the workforce, we need to equip them with the right skills to make them employable rather than destining them to ignonimity. We need vocational universities built around the concept of community colleges which allow vertical mobility. For example, the TeamLease Skill University is attempting to do exactly the same and its difference from any other regular university would be three things: (1) They pray to one god, jobs; (2) academic modularity; and (3) they offer blended learning through a combination of classroom, cloud and distance education.
Massification of apprentices
The biggest short-term impact in our current equilibrium skill situation would come from rebooting our dysfunctional formal apprenticeship regime. India has only 3,00,000 formal apprentices because of the outdated provisions of the Apprenticeship Act of 1961. Smaller countries like Germany and Japan have 6 million and 10 million apprentices, respectively. We need at least 20 million apprentices in India and the recent amendments to the Apprenticeship Act shall hopefully contribute to that number. We also need to encourage many more public private partnerships such as the NETAP (National Employability through Apprenticeship Program) which creates flexibility and inspiration to skill millions and provides them with the necessary academic corridor to build their career.
We need to marry MOOCs with apprenticeships for those who want to create an opening balance in their career.
MOOCs is also an effective upskilling tool for those who are already in the formal workforce but are feeling the pressure on account of the competitiveness, fluctuating economic certainty and unemployment, to keep them employable. Also, the growing availability of broadband and the digital revolution have opened new forms of learning content delivery. Cost, scale, quality is an impossible trinity in skill development. Vocational universities, MOOCs and NETAP are innovations which represent an optimal solution around the three.
Lastly, the ministry of skills is a masterstroke. The government, so far, has been organised vertically while India’s problems around skills and jobs are horizontal. The creation of the ministry of skills as a horizontal is a brave move and all eyes will be now on how imaginative and forward thinking our National Skills Policy would be to address one of India’s biggest roadblocks towards future growth and prosperity.
Though all stakeholders seem to know what needs to be done around jobs and skills, we still miss the bus in execution. While the signs are optimistic, the task ahead is uphill. Time to show some courage and walk the talk.
The author is the president of Indian Staffing Federation, and senior vice-president, TeamLease