Both industry and the government will need to do the heavy-lifting to get the skilling space in the country to thrive.
The UGC prodding colleges and universities to offer undergraduate courses that include industrial training and apprenticeship is a much-needed step towards improving employability of the youth. Unemployment may have fallen to 7.35% in recent weeks but remains elevated. Job losses have been huge and the recovery looks uncertain for many. Against such a backdrop, the need is to make degree-holders more employable so that they are able to compete in a tight job market; the bulk of engineering graduates, as some surveys have shown, were considered unemployable, and the problem is likely to be far worse across other disciplines. Given the degree programmes UGC is batting for are to be developed in consultation with the Sector Skill Councils, the AICTE and industry bodies such as Ficci and CII, chances are this problem will be addressed to a considerable degree. The structure of such degrees is likely to put students on shopfloors for as long as a year, distributed across the duration of the degree course.
The relevant guidelines, released July last year, are quite progressive and optimally treat such undergraduate courses on a par with regular courses, especially when it comes to eligibility for admission into postgraduate courses. While the guidelines stipulate that at least 20% of the total credits of degree programme with apprenticeships embedded be assigned to the apprenticeship/internship, India can, take a leaf out of Germany’s book for some vocationally-oriented courses. Germany has been a trendsetter in skilling and marrying apprenticeship to academics, and those who opt for its “dual knowledge system” typically spend 70% of the length of the programme at the workplace/shopfloor, learning on the job, and 30% in the classroom. This system has guaranteed, as per a clutch of surveys, very high levels of employment among those enrolled, even as early as in the final stages of completion of the course. Such programmes are not just certified by the university but also by university guilds in the country, leading to greater acceptability of graduates by potential employers.
While the system is backed by a piece of legislation, the highest standards of training, academics, as well as apprentice well-being are upheld through close collaboration of universities, companies, industry associations and labour unions. The other crucial aspect is standardisation of a course across the country, which has meant a student certified for completion of a programme run by a university in one region is treated on a par with graduates of a programme run by a university from a different region; to that end, it is expected that the Indian higher education regulator asking universities to furnish details of the programmes they wish to run will lead to some degree of standardisation across geographies.
Industry bodies can play a big role in this since they would be best place to assess a common level of requirement. Both industry and the government will need to do the heavy-lifting to get the skilling space in the country to thrive. While India spends just 1% of its GDP on skilling, if the country is to meaningfully join the global supply-chain the spend must go up to at least 7%. Industry must also partner these efforts. In Germany, 400,000 companies, big and small, officially participate in the dual education effort—80% of the country’s large companies engage apprentices though this route—in sharp contrast with just 30,000-35,000 in India.