The stagnation of the ITIs didn’t occur only because services rapidly became the dominant sector of the Indian economy while the ITIs remained skilling factories for the manufacturing sector.
Against a backdrop of a large skilling gap—as per government data, less than 5% of the workforce is formally skilled, compared to say 28% in China and 75% in Germany—Delhi planning a Skills and Entrepreneurship University is welcome news. The university, as per news reports, will focus on ensuring graduates are skilled in accordance with market needs. So, it will not be enough to just bring existing Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), polytechnic institutes, and skill development centres under the aegis of the university, as is planned; the need will be to ensure that the training programmes are upgraded significantly given how obsolete ITI training has meant poor uptake of pass-outs by industry. The proposed university will also be open to collaborations with foreign skilling institutes and universities.
For the university to have any meaningful impact, it will need to address the shortcomings of the present skilling ecosystem in the country. The stagnation of the ITIs didn’t occur only because services rapidly became the dominant sector of the Indian economy while the ITIs remained skilling factories for the manufacturing sector.
Manufacturing itself has shifted decisively towards Industry 4.0, which is founded on emerging technologies that the ITIs are largely not equipped to train people for. It is simply not enough anymore, for instance, to hold a Bachelor’s degree (vocational) in computer science without competence in data analytics or machine learning. Industry’s tech-positive turn is also impacting services—secretarial assistants, for instance, require a much more sophisticated set of skills than they did in the past. With near-logarithmic progression of technological developments, the need for continuous up-skilling has emerged as a key demand. Data from the World Economic Forum show that nearly 54% of the country’s workforce today is in need of re-skilling, with nearly 41% needing re-skilling/up-skilling levels that could take anywhere between a month and over a year to achieve. Increasing automation also imposes a higher ask, in terms of both skill requirement and minimum learning levels. While the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that in a mid-point scenario, automation will cost the country 57 million jobs—it will add 114 million jobs at the baseline scenario—100 million new jobs will require secondary-level education, and jobs requiring college level education will go up by 50%.
India’s manufacturing sector has staggering levels of under-education—in textiles/clothing alone, as per an Icrier estimate, 55% of the workers with no formal education, nearly two-thirds of those with below-primary-level education and 54% of those with primary-level education hold jobs that require higher educational attainment. This means any meaningful skilling effort will also need to tackle poor educational attainment. Yet, the gap between education and skilling remains quite wide. Skilling efforts will also have to fight societal attitudes towards skills training/apprenticeship. To be sure, the mismatch between skills training and industry requirements dims apprenticeship’s appeal—industry is reluctant to invest in apprentices given they come with low-level/outdated prior training. But, the fact is that significantly large numbers opt for a regular degree course, even if it does little for a person’s employability. Merely having a skills university will not address this.