The billion people challenge

While SETU and National Skills Mission are steps in the right direction, implementation is key to the Budget’s skilling plan

In its first full Union Budget, the government seems to be making good on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make-in-India initiative. The core campaign revolves around making India the manufacturing hub of the world, and for this to happen we need a highly skilled pool of human resources. Finance minister Arun Jaitley’s announcement to launch a National Skills Mission to provide employability skills to the rural youth is a step in the right direction.

Jaitley rightly pointed out that while India is one of the youngest nations in the world, yet today less than 5% of our potential workforce gets formal skills training to be employable and stay employable. The employability skills gap is costing India dearly with uncoordinated initiatives between the Centre and the states, and disjointed efforts from various organisations, the private sector and educational academies.

By 2020, we will have over 12 million youth entering the workforce every year and most of them will not be first-day work ready. The efforts towards providing skills development need to be made more comprehensive and cohesive. The National Skills Mission’s objective to consolidate skill initiatives, spread across several ministries, and standardise procedures and outcomes across 31 Sector Skill Councils, will provide the much-needed structure and hopefully stop turf wars between ministries whose proposals run parallel to each other.

However, the funds proposed to buttress the skills development agenda are meagre, given the enormity of what needs to be achieved. Jaitley’s announcement that R1,500 crore has been allocated for the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana, which seeks to enhance employability of rural youth, is inconsequential if compared with the allocation for, say, defence. In fact, Sarbananda Sonowal, the minister of state for skills development & entrepreneurship, who has the daunting task of coordinating with 20 Union ministries that handle skills development programmes, remarked that Skill India is Modi’s dream project and hence “there can’t be a crisis of budget.”

The focus on higher education, enabling realisation of India’s extraordinary potential and aspirations for economic and technological development through up-gradation of 80,000 secondary schools and ensuring that they are within a 5-km reach of students, along with the lofty commitment to make sure that no student misses school due to lack of funds, is noteworthy. But the government needs to engage in a high decibel campaign to make skills development and vocational training an “acceptable, alternative” education option for the youth. Even today, career options such as plumbers, masons, electricians, painters and other ‘trades’ are looked down upon by both urban and rural youth as most would prefer having a lower-paying white-collar job than a relatively well-paid blue-collar job.

Interestingly, the government has proposed Nai Manzil, a scheme that would enable youth without the school-leaving certificate to get employment. This also means that we have to do away with our preference for paper degrees. This may just be what is needed to turn around the current ‘negative’ perception around vocational training and employable skills development. Jaitley noted that skills development should start from class XI for those who opt for it. Urging the industry to give stipends to these students who will work as trainees shows that the government has given thought to making skills development a reality instead of remaining a mantra. Several countries including China, Germany and Japan have already adopted such a model and have shown success in skills development for its youth.

Self-employment instead of salaried employment
India is a nation ready to fly but for this to take place at warp speed our youth need to be skilled, risk-hungry, educated and motivated. And what better motivation than being a job-creator than a job-hunter. The Budget announcement of setting up a Self-Employment and Talent Utilisation (SETU) mechanism will go a long way in encouraging entrepreneurship in the country. Jaitley announced that SETU will be a techno-financial, incubation and facilitation programme to support all aspects of start-up businesses, and other self-employment activities, particularly in technology-driven areas. An amount of R1,000 crore is being set up initially in the NITI Aayog for SETU.

The finance minister also noted that there is a growing interest in start-ups. “Experimenting in cutting-edge technologies, creating value out of ideas and initiatives, and converting them into scalable enterprises and businesses is at the core of our strategy for engaging our youth and for inclusive and sustainable growth of the country,” he said. But setting up a SETU mechanism by itself will not suffice, what is required is industry participation that could be by way of mentorship, alliances and technology know-how. An initiative of this sort does not only have the wherewithal to generate billions of dollars in value but also millions of jobs for the unemployable youth. If India’s unemployment and never-ending skills gap is to be tackled, then self-employment and entrepreneurship is the key.

The Union Government’s first Budget is pro-infrastructure and investment in infrastructure will go up by R70,000 crore in 2015-16. What this also means is that the Budget is pro-employment since the infrastructure projects that will come up over the next couple of years will need skilled workers who will help in nation building. If all of these proposals take off, India will truly rise.

By Sanjeev Duggal
The author is CEO & director, Centum Learning

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