The ‘Skill India Mission’ has set an ambitious target with the aim of skilling over 400 million people by 2022. So far, the development of skills has primarily been driven by the requirements of the market. Although substantial progress has been made with considerable help from the private sector, it clearly continues to be a supply driven system. The need of the hour is to shift focus to the industry. The system should be demand driven and bridge the skills gap.
India is poised to become the world’s youngest country by 2020, with an average age of 29 years, and will account for around 28% of the world’s workforce. In the following decade, the country’s population, in the 15-64 years age bracket will swell, thereby increasing the working age population from approximately 761 million to 869 million between 2011 and 2020. Consequently, until 2020, India will be experiencing a period of “demographic bonus”, where the growth rate of the working population would surpass that of the total population.
These favourable demographics position India to fill the void created by countries with an ageing population, and become a major player in global business. The manner in which India uses this opportunity will determine whether it will reap its demographic dividend or not. Apart from tackling spatial challenges arising from a remarkable disparity in the demographics of its states, India will have to address the critical issues of creating jobs and preparing its youth to participate in its economic growth. The Skill India mission aims to reap this much-talked about ‘demographic dividend’ by creating skilled manpower and increasing employability of the working population.
Over the past couple of years, India has witnessed significant developments in the skill development landscape. Various organisations have been set up at national and state levels to scale-up skill development efforts being undertaken across the country. A number of agencies — around 17 ministries, 2 national-level agencies (NSDA and NSDC), several sector skill councils (SSCs), 35 state skill development missions, and several trade and industry bodies are working in tandem to strengthen the national skill development agenda.
Is it enough?
It is a well-established fact that vocational training plays a pivotal role in helping to bridge the industry-academia gap. All stakeholders in the skill development agenda, however, must understand that galvanizing the Skill India mission into action requires consideration of multiple socio-cultural factors. It only when these factors are embedded in the essence of the application process we can expect the mission to be a true success.
One of the factors that must be addressed is the public perception toward vocational training. Skill development through vocational training is yet to achieve acceptance as a feasible alternative to formal education. It has always been considered by students and parents as the career choice for the less academically-qualified. The impression still persists that vocational training is for school drop-outs, rather trained skilled workers. Hence, these courses are perceived as lacking credibility as students do not have adequate evidence of people receiving jobs after completing vocational training. This results in excessive attention and resources being given to academic rather than vocational education.
Lack of awareness on the part of the students and parents also affects the adoption of vocational training. Students do not have sufficient information about industry requirements and vocational courses available to meet such requirements. In addition to that, they are unaware of how vocational courses can improve their career prospects. Lastly and most importantly, the low prestige associated with vocational streams or blue collar jobs prevents youth from taking vocational education. There is limited integration between formal and vocational education systems, and people with such skills are not compensated sufficiently. These elements create a skewed picture of vocational education and create hurdles in the acceptance of these courses.
It is evident that the success of skill initiatives is highly dependent on awareness generation programmes targeted at the youth. These programmes could play an important role by creating awareness about existing skill development courses and their relevance among prospective students through a spectrum of media such as websites, newspapers and magazines. This would increase student mobilisation and also lend credibility to skill institutes, thereby giving a boost to the overall vocational system in the country.
In this regard, the Government of India, through DGE&T, conducts All India Skill Competition for Craftsmen every year to offer recognition to trainees and foster a healthy spirit of competition among the trainees of ITIs/ITCs. Apart from this, it sends participants for the World Skills Competition, which is held every two years and symbolizes the peak of excellence in vocational training. There is need for more such opportunities to be created.
Thus, vocational training institutes as a fraternity must strive to create a positive perception about vocational training. There must be a consistent and emphatic push towards creating awareness about fields that extend beyond traditional, mainstream careers, such as beauty, banking and aviation and hospitality. As a nation our mission is to transcend employment problems and create a generation of entrepreneurs. We need to work towards the goal of transforming India as a nation of employed to a nation.
By Shrutidhar Paliwal is the Vice President and Head – Corporate Communication and Media Relations at Aptech Ltd, the leading education and vocation skills training company