Skill ‘Made In India’
By definition ‘skill’ means an ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carry out complex activities involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and people (interpersonal skills). The skilled workforce in India is unfortunately extremely low and is estimated to be only 2 per cent of the total workforce
Skill makes dreams happen. They build economics. They make people rich and famous.” feels dynamic young entrepreneur Emi Lyalla, and he’s not incorrect.To fulfill Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of ‘Make in India’ thereby turning the country into a global manufacturing hub, better and faster skill up-gradation is essential. This is not only for the available task force, but also for more than 10 million youths, who join the workforce every year. The future prosperity of India as well as its people depends ultimately on the number of persons in employment and how productivethey are at work.
By definition ‘skill’ means an ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carry out complex activities involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and people (interpersonal skills). The skilled workforce in India is unfortunately extremely low and is estimated to be only 2 per cent of the total workforce, compared to countries like South Korea (96 per cent), Japan (80 per cent), Germany (75 per cent) and Britain (70 per cent). In India, the outreach of formal training is very limited, especially where distances are great and political unrest prevails, informal economy (activities and income that are partially or fully outside government regulation, taxation, and observation)becomes large, and literacy and educational levels are low. These factors leave a large number of people with few or no employable skills. Women and disadvantaged groups often face additional barriers in accessing training. Whatever may be the reasons can we accept suchlow skill levels in a country that has such a rich heritage?
Two and a half thousand years ago, India had produced the first plastic surgeon, Sushruta. Around the same time the game of chess originated in India. In the 17th century the British borrowed the Indian traditional skill of cotton cultivation and fine-fabric weaving. Around 500 AD Aryabhatta revolutionised modern mathematics by inventing the zero. Can you think of a life without a computer today? But for Aryabhatta, the computer would not have existed. Certainly we cannot and should not accept such a low level of skilled workforce in India today.
There is an enormous impact of skills in several areas. Although skills do not create jobs by themselves, yet it is a necessary precondition for improving incomes and being fit for a job.In terms of quantitative impact, estimates for European countries show that 1 per cent increase in training days leads to 3 per cent increase in productivity, and that the share of overall productivity growth attributable to training is around 16 per cent. Available evidence establishes that a combination of good education with training empowers people to develop their full capacities and help them seize employment and social opportunities. Skill raises productivity, both of workers and of enterprises. These in turn contribute to boosting future innovation and development. It also encourages both domestic and foreign investment, and also growth in jobs, lowering unemployment and underemployment. Appropriate skill also leads to higher wages, when broadly accessible, expands labour market opportunities and reduces social inequalities. Therefore, skill development needs to be an integral part of economic growth and employment strategies.
Demographically, India is a country of 1.28 billion people. There are two distinct characteristics that put India in a unique situation. One is the huge divide in the rural and the urban population. About 70 per cent of its population lives in the rural areas. Two, is the working-age (15-59years) population is growing. Therefore, over the next few decades, India has an opportunity to reap a potential demographic dividend. The “demographic dividend” means that compared to other large developing and developed countries, India has a higher proportion of working age population vis-à-vis its entire population. India needs to equip this large pool of manpower with industry relevant skills. Moreover, equal opportunities for education and training must be provided to all, both urban as well as rural to avail this dividend effectively. India has thus far failed to do so which has lead to a huge demographic burden.
Availability of quality education is the foundation for future skill development. Education for all, and children in school and not at work, is an essential foundation of future training. Basic education gives each individual a basis for the development of his or her potential, laying the foundation for employability. As per NGO Pratham’s report in 2015, based on the survey in 577 districts and 16,497 villages, the overall situation with basic education continues to bedisheartening in India. The report for the year 2014 revealed that for six years in a row school enrolment in India was 96 per cent or above for the 6-14 age group. But the percentage of children passingout of school remained at 3.3 per cent. This is the same as it was in 2013. Weak quality assurance, very few or poorly qualified trainers, poor infrastructure are some of the reasons for this result. Compared to this in China, all citizens needed to attend a nine-year compulsory education which the government funds. It includes six years of primary education, starting at age six or seven, and three years of junior secondary education (middle school) for ages 12 to 15. Chinese Ministry of Education reported a 99 per cent attendance rate for primary school and an 80 per cent rate for both primary and middle schools.
Building bridges between the world of work and training providers, in order to match skills provision to the needs of enterprises is essential. I was stunned to know that recently in UP, more than 23 lakh persons had applied against 368 posts of peon in the state secretariat. Not only that, over two lakh applicants were Graduates and 255 candidates were PhDs. This not only reflects a very high degree of unemployment, but also shows how the current education system does not focus on training young people in employable skills that can provide them with employment opportunities. As a result, a large section of India’s youth have outdated skills. 33 per cent of graduates are unemployed. While the rising unemployment level among the youth in India is a worry, a much bigger cause of concern is that with the rising level of education, the rate of unemployment has progressively increased. According to the Labour Bureau’s “Third Annual Employment & Unemployment Survey 2012-13” the unemployment rate amongst the illiterate youth is lower than educated youth. A comparison with the earlier report by themshows that the unemployment level of literate youth has increased during 2012-2013 over 2011-2012. Ironically, on the demand side, most industries in India are struggling with the scarcity of skilled labour. The Indian universities and professional institutions churn out hordes of degree and diploma holders, most of them are unemployable because they lack the skills that manufacturing and services industries look for. As a result of this skills mismatch, i.e. skills obtained through training and those required by the job often do not match, resulting in skills shortages in some areas and, simultaneously, a surplus of workers with skills that are not in demand, contributing to unemployment. Weakness in linking skills supply and demand also limits positive impact on employment and productivity.As a result,the existing demand and supply gap of skilled workforce in our country is around 30 Crore. Contrary to this, according to tradingeconomics.com our neighbouring countries—Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam have unemployment rates at or below 3 per cent.
Continuous workplace and lifelong learning enables the existing workers and enterprises to adjust to an increasingly rapid pace of change. The need to upgrade skills applies not only to young people in schools, universities and training institutions, but also to the current generation of workers. In order to keep the available task force in India productive both in the urban as well as in the rural areas need to be trained from time to time. General academic qualifications are no longer good enough and the idea of sitting in an office and doing a repetitive job is fast becoming obsolete. Automation is taking over these jobs. Everybody has to actually contribute continuously, a utility to succeed in this modern society that we have collectively created. I am a strong votary of lifelong skill and knowledge enhancement. Coming from a middleclass family and daughter of an educationalist, I have managed to survive with dignity in this fast changing environment only by continuously upgrading my knowledge and skill level in order to remain relevant and useful.
Worldwide, many of the jobs that will be generated over the next two decades do not exist today. In order to cope with tomorrows need ‘rather than being taught to memorise vast amounts of technical details, students need to learn to think in functional contexts and take analytical approaches to problems,” thinks Michael Axmann, an expert in skills development systems at the ILO. He elaborates:“With vocational education and training, for too long we made our students develop a brain that acts like a computer with a small processor and a huge memory, but what they actually need to succeed in today’s world of work is a brain with a much bigger processor unit while the memory capabilities could be much smaller”. By this kind of skill development we can prepare our youth for the future. This was much better understood by Swami Vivekananda more than one and a half centuries back when he said:“If I had to do my education over again, and had any voice in the matter, I would not study facts at all. I would develop the power of concentration and detachment, and then with a perfect instrument I could collect facts at will’’.
The ILO’s (International Labour Organisation) Recommendation No. 195 (2004) provides policy guidelines on human resources development, education, training and lifelong learning. The countries around the world have increasingly recognised that a well-defined national skills development policy is vital for sustainable and balanced growth. By developing a national skills policy a country can, among others, bring coherence to the system, facilitate coordinated reforms. The key principles of a sound skills development policy are shared responsibility; integration into growth, employment and other development strategies; providing support to lifelong learning; and, promoting equal opportunities for education and training. An ILO review of country experiences (ILO, 2008) shows that countries that have succeeded in linking skill development to improved employability, productivity and employment growth have directed their skills development policies towards meeting three objectives: matching demand and supply of skills; maintaining the employability of workers and the sustainability of enterprises; and sustaining a dynamic process of development.
Therefore, skills are fundamental for individual employability and national competitiveness. A sound and well-balanced skills development policy can assist a country in achieving the above-mentioned objectives. Understanding the needs, in 2009, the National Policy on Skill Development had been formulated by the Ministry of Labour & Employment and approved by the Cabinet. The objective was to create a workforce empowered with improved skills, knowledge and internationally recognized qualifications to gain access to decent employment and ensure India’s competitiveness in the dynamic global labour market. It aimed at increase in productivity of workforce both in the organised and the unorganised sectors, seeking increased participation of youth, women, disabled and other disadvantaged sections and to synergise efforts of various sectors and reform the present system. But the required focus and force was missing in its implementation.
After all these years of experimentation, fortunately, the present NDA government has realised the pressing need to scale up our skilling efforts if we want to include our rural and semi-urban youth into the national development process and take the country forward. The present government is very keen to grab this opportunity of India’s ‘demographic dividend’. With China approaching the Lewis Turning Point, India can think of taking advantage of these opportunities to strengthen its manufacturing base. Lewis Turning Point, named after economist W. Arthur Lewis, is a term used in economic development to describe a point at which surplus rural labour reaches a financial zero. Keeping all theseconsiderations,in 2015 NDA government approved India’s first integrated National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. The Policy acknowledges the need for an effective roadmap for promotion of entrepreneurship as the key to a successful skills strategy. The Vision of the Policy is “to create an ecosystem of empowerment by skilling on a large scale at speed with high standards and to promote a culture of innovation based entrepreneurship which can generate wealth and employment so as to ensure sustainable livelihoods for all citizens in the country.” The national policy is conducive to a more holistic response to human resources planning by drawing together the various government agencies and providers of education and training. Over 20 central ministries are funding skills training through more than seventy schemes.The government has set an ambitious target of skilling 500 million youth by 2022.
But the implementation of skills development is a shared responsibility of the central government and the state government with social partners playing a critical role. The policy disseminates a set of required changes to be pursued in order to achieve the vision in a coordinated manner. In a federal country like India, a policy is only effective when its implementation takes place at the State levels. Setting achievement targets by the states, developing clear implementation plans are important since the implementation would be done only at these levels. State skill development missions are creating their own targets and implementation plans. But these initiatives in different states are extremely varied. In some states, the policy exists only on paper while in some others the implementation started with full preparedness. Rajasthan is the front runner in this. The prestigious Gold Trophy for the ‘Best State’ has been awarded to Rajasthan jointly organised by ASSOCHAM and Union ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. In order to be a major player in ‘Make in India’ initiative, Rajasthan seeks to skill 15 lakhs youth in 5 years and also aims to train 400 million youth by 2022. Some other initiative can be seen in Tamil Nadu. Rigorous evaluation process is critical in ensuring that we develop the skills training to be effective so that we do not end up misusing the public funds. The Tamil Nadu government is conducting a survey to adopt an evidence-based approach in designing vocational training programmes, in collaboration with J-PAL, a leading international research network. In Kerala the state government has launched the ASAP (Additional Skill Acquisition Programme) project, which is focusing not just on vocational training, but also prioritising vocation education in schools.
Apart from the thrust generated nation-wide, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is constantly trying to galvanise support internationally. In his recent visit to Germany, he and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to prepare a road map for cooperation in skill development. The German system of‘dual system of vocational education and training (VET)’ is regarded not only as the pillar of the educational system in Germany but a very effective system ofrelevant skill development worldwide. In Germany, two-thirds of the young people undergo vocational training in this‘dual system’. This training would ideally last for two to three and a half years, depending on one’s occupation. It is described as a ‘dual system’ as the training is carried out in two places of learning: at the workplace and in a vocational school. The aim of this training system is to provide a broad-based basic foundation to advanced vocational training and impart the skills and knowledge necessary to practice a skilled occupation within a structured course of training. An acute skills shortage in Germany’s IT sector in the late 1990s led to the development of new apprenticeships designed to meet the sector’s specific needs, with strong emphasis on helping young people to plan and carry out their work independently. The IT apprenticeships are now highly popular and have led to a smoother recruitment process and spearheaded a reform process aimed at making the “dual system” more flexible and more relevant. Michael Axmann cites the example of Germany’s latest reform of its long standing “dual system”, which combines apprenticeship training by companies with school-based theoretical training.
The Indian State and the Higher Education System
A Reflection On Contemporary Events
The UGC’s decision to discontinue the fellowship is believed to be based on the following reasons—misuse and non-transparency in fellowship disbursement and that the fellowship is limited only to Central Universities. Moreover, the UGC insisted that the fellowship would only be allotted to selected students based on merit
The Indian Higher Education system—one of the largest education systems in the world—has been overwhelmingly fraught with issues of quality and inclusion. The manifestation of such a situation locates itself in the abysmal performance of Indian higher education institutions in the world rankings of institutions of higher education around the world and the critical concerns of low enrollment of students in higher education (especially students from economically and socially disadvantaged communities). For instance, in 2013 none of the Indian universities featured in the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings of the world’s top 100 universities and in the same year India was the only nation among the BRICS nations not to find a place in Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) world university rankings. On the other hand, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education in India, according to the All India Survey on Higher Education 2011-12 published by the MHRD, stands at a meager 20.4 per cent, wherein the enrollment rates of students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are only 12.5 per cent and 4.2 per cent respectively.
Among other factors which influence educational outcomes (meaning the knowledge, skills and abilities that a student attains from education), educational inputs (broadly referring to the financial and human resources like teachers available to students) become very significant in higher education. In India, successive governments have invested less than 4 per cent of the GDP on education in spite of the recommendations of several versions of the National Policy on Education to spend 6 per cent of the GDP. The state of government funding in the Indian higher education system cuts a sorry picture. With the change of political regime at the Centre in 2014 and the present Prime Minister’s rhetoric on the youth-led ‘development’ and ‘ease of doing research and development in India’ before the general elections, the un-doubting Thomas’s might have hoped for a better higher education. However, hopes were shattered as the Finance Minister slashed spending on education by 16 per cent in 2015. Among major consequences of such a policy decision was the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) recent decision to discontinue the Non-NET fellowships—a move that has resulted in massive university student protests from all over the country termed #Occupy UGC.
The Non-NET fellowship was instituted by the UGC in 2008 to financially support M.Phil. and PhD students of Central Universities who were not recipients of the UGC Junior/Senior Research Fellowship and other national fellowships. The fellowship amount went up from Rs. 3000/- to Rs. 5000/- and Rs. 5000/- to Rs. 8000/- for M. Phil. and PhD students respectively, only after student protests. The UGC’s decision to discontinue the fellowship is believed to be based on the following reasons—misuse and non-transparency in fellowship disbursement and that the fellowship is limited only to Central Universities. Moreover, the UGC insisted that the fellowship would only be allotted to selected students based on merit.
The first reason doesn’t hold water as the fellowship is disbursed through a formal and institutionalised manner by the concerned university. For a university like Jawaharlal Nehru University with comparatively lesser intake, it is possible to support all the eligible students. This is not the case, however, with universities like Delhi University. The second reason has been dealt with in the past. Students from central universities have voiced their opinion to include State universities under the fellowship’s purview. In a recent video (doing the rounds on social media), Yogendra Yadav admits that when he was a member of the UGC, policies were being structured in order to extend the fellowship to state universities and also introduce financial assistance for students enrolled in graduate and post graduate courses. However, such policies never saw the light of day. It is important to understand that this fellowship was meant for assisting all students who were not getting national level fellowships. Thus, bringing in the question of competition and merit defeats the very purpose of the fellowship.
When students started protesting at the UGC building in New Delhi and UGC Centres in several other cities, the state resorted to the use of repressive measures which resulted in the physical assault and injury of several protesters. Concerns have also been raised with the government’s alleged plan of privatizing higher education, which would lead to the exclusion of marginalised communities from the higher education system. With the UGC cornered, Smriti Irani tweeted that the non-NET Fellowships would not be scrapped and it was announced that a review committee would look into the matter. This was seen by the protestors as a ‘eyewash’ and protests intensified. The protestors instead demanded a written official order from the UGC stating that the non-NET fellowship would continue.
A deeper understanding of the issue points to the increasing distrust in the UGC in particular and the state as a whole. Earlier this year, research scholars from several academic institutions were protesting at Jantar Mantar against the government’s failure to fulfill its promise of hiking the Junior Research Fellowships, Senior Research Fellowships and Post-Doctoral Fellowships. Even after assurances from the HRD Minister the students were not willing to call off their protest stating that such assurances had been given to them in the past but no action had been taken.
In the larger context, the present regime needs to accept that this growing distrust of the people is a result of unfulfilled promises, failed assurances and expectations fuelled by it. The State’s paradoxical rhetoric and functioning cannot contribute to any mode of ‘development’. The present definitions of ‘development’ include social indicators such as education and health. With India being estimated to be one of the youngest nations in the world by 2030, any exploitation or attack on the Indian education system and the youth by the State is bound to have catastrophic consequences on the future of this country.
By Anindya Dutta Gupta
Another praiseworthy initiative taken by the present government, which is extremely necessary for skill development and nation building, is ‘Yoga’. Our Prime Minister is trying to connect Patanjali’sYogawith the life style of every Indian. Around 400 CE Patanjali compiled 196 Yoga Sutras taking materials from age-old traditions of India.The text fell into obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda.
Today the globalised world is demanding skilled manpower to convert growth opportunities into jobs and stable incomes. The bulk of employment is still being created through agriculture, which is subject to seasonal fluctuations. Even the Skill based manufacturing sector is sensitive to these seasonal changes as the processing of agricultural products majorly determines its overall production cycle. It’s true that India has comparative advantage in terms of having a younger workforce than China and all OECD countries, but the drive to scale-up high is needed. The world will witness an unprecedented shortage of skilled workforce in coming years and
India should be in a position to meet this challenge.
Once again I am quoting Swami Vivekananda, since I could not find a better role model. He said: “The difference between an ordinary person and a great person lies in the degree of concentration.” Yoga not only enhances concentration but also helps in controlling one’s senses, will and mind. With these, I am sure; we Indians will be able to reap demographic dividends tenfold. Let us all work together, young and old, to achieve this national mission. According to Chanakya “An educated person is respected everywhere. Education beats the beauty and the youth.” With collective knowledge and skill we will regain our rightful place in the world.
By Madhumanti Sen Gupta