By Namita Dalmia & Gaurav Goel
Vocational training institutes, including 15,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), and private short-term training centres, which train more than 10 million people annually, have been closed since March. Together, these institutes offer short-term and long-term courses that range from one month to two years. With the prime minister’s recent call to ‘Skill, Re-Skill and Upskill’, the importance of their role in nation- building has been highlighted even more.
Following the lockdown, some vocational training institutes started leveraging technology to provide training. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) partnered with TCS to enable training partners to move classes online, but we will need a lot more of such examples to mitigate the structural issues faced by the skilling ecosystem.
Firstly, training institutes don’t have sufficient industry linkages. This means the curricula in training institutes are not as attuned to industry needs as they should be. As industries battle for survival, the way they operate will likely evolve. This could further widen the gap between what the current curriculum mandates and what the industry requires.
Further, skill training is incomplete without a substantial practical component. Arguably, such training is best delivered in live settings. The absence of industry linkages also mean that a vital element of training has been missing. Some training institutes use a simulated environment to bridge this gap.
However, given the current situation, the fear of getting infected further limits practical training opportunities, even if institutes conduct online classes.
Third, the eventual objective of training is gainful employment. However, job opportunities are seeing a decline as firms minimise costs and freeze new hiring.
The good news is that the tools to overcome the current adversity already exist. This crisis can be translated into opportunity by focusing on key innovative ideas that can overcome both current and structural challenges, and produce long-lasting impact.
First, we need to create a pull factor for apprenticeships. Apprentices are graduates working in industries to be skilled on-the-job. They can be hired for 1-3 years, depending on the job. The Centre pays 25% of their stipends. In October 2019, the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship (MSDE) conducted an Apprenticeship pakhwada (fortnight) during which industry partners committed to engage 4.5 lakh more apprentices, over and above the apprentices they have already hired, and states committed another 2.5 lakh. This is a great time for another national-level apprenticeship campaign to increase awareness about the merits and incentives associated with hiring apprentices. A push by MSDE to streamline the apprentice hiring process to make it hassle-free will accelerate industry implementation.
Second, training institutes should move towards a dual system of training (DST), whereby students split their time between training in the industry and studying in classrooms. Since 2019, 27 ITIs in Haryana have been working with 40 industry partners to implement DST. In the first year itself, almost 30% of candidates who participated in DST and are graduating this year have already received pre-placement offers from manufacturing, automobile and food production industries among others. States can support the adoption of DST by delineating rules for managing industry partnerships, involving industry in admissions, curriculum design, and assessments as well as operationalisation in a phased manner.
And finally, it is imperative to build infrastructure for dynamic skill-job matching. Databases of skilled workers exist in silos and are not easily accessible to employers or job platforms. MSDE has started mapping migrant workers to available jobs in their location based on their skills. NSDC has also recently launched ASEEM, an integrated skill management information system. An open-API, interoperable digital system can enable dynamic sharing of job-seekers’ information including their verified skills and preferences. It will also be important to provide this information in a secure manner with the explicit consent of users.
Earlier this year, a report by International Labour Organization claimed that India is staring at a 29 million skill-deficit by 2030. This is a pre-Covid estimate. If the skilling ecosystem does not respond to the pandemic with speed and foresight, these numbers are likely to see a steep increase. By focusing on bold reforms, we can hope to accelerate impact in a sustained manner.
Dalmia is director, investments, at Omidyar Network India, and Goel is founder & CEO, Samagra | Transforming Governance