Skills – Reaching out better


By Ibu Sanjeeb Garg

Beating the Rhetoric

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Sixteen year old Poonam from R.K. Puram in Delhi had just got her Class X result. Her mother, who is a domestic worker, could not have been happier, as she is determined to make her daughter stand on her own feet. Coming from an economically disadvantaged background, the aim now is to take up something that will help her get a job. With the recently declared secondary and senior secondary school results, there are many like Poonam, who are out of school and will now have to make a choice between the different options available. And what are these options? We have been told that it is not a degree but the ‘Skills’ that would make us employable. Concerted efforts have been directed to create the much-needed buzz around “Skill India” and there is an increasing interest among policy makers to standardize the skilling initiatives in the country. We have the world’s youngest workforce and this is perhaps the best time to catch them young.

Most skill development programmes in India target those who leave school (after passing their school leaving certificate examination) and have the basic numeracy and literacy skills that can be honed with job specific skill training. Job role specific course modules have been designed with National Occupational Standards by the industry backed Sector Skill Councils and there is an attempt to align these with global standards. Even the traditional Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), that continue to be the largest and most accountable player in the field of vocational education, have been going through major upgradation in terms of curriculum and employment oriented training methods. There is a continuous effort to link them with industries, so that these institutes can churn out the workforce as per the demands of the labour market.

Targeting young students comes with a big responsibility. We are dealing with the vital and most productive years of an individual’s life and it is worthwhile to enable them to make an informed choice. What is also required is a method to test the aptitude of students so that they can not only enroll themselves in a particular course, but can also enjoy the course and do well. Success of any training programme depends as much on the quality of training as on the interest and aptitude of students so that the knowledge being transferred is put to productive use.

There is a growing focus on Apprenticeship in India with the benefits of workplace learning being internationally accepted. We have had a statutory commitment on Apprenticeship as early as the Apprenticeship Act of 1961, which has been amended five times (1973, 1986, 1997, 2004 and 2014). The most recent amendments in 2014 have introduced crucial instruments such as introduction of optional trades, third party providers, increase in stipends, etc. It has also done away with imprisonment and penalty is limited in the form of fines only. These are positive measures. However, there is a greater need to increase the number apprentices in the country by making it more attractive to employers as well as students. The link to the National Apprenticeship Training Scheme (NATS) on the CBSE public portal is a welcome step. Such linkages through student platforms should be replicated on a wider scale.

The supply side of skill training has increased with an increasing budgetary support by the government. It is equally important to empower the demand side by enabling the beneficiaries to choose what suits them best. Skill Vouchers can be an important mechanism for this. It will be a self-propelled quality check for training providers that will increase their accountability and involvement with students.  It is also an encouraging and motivating measure that can lift the confidence of students.  Giving the power to beneficiaries would also go a long way in building a positive social perception around vocational education.

There should be advocacy measures at every step. The key is to use the right platform at the right time. Simple measures like booths and stalls by training institutes at school campuses can go a long way in building awareness right at the school level. Choice of skill development courses in India continues to depend on word of mouth. The system should evolve beyond this. Parents should also be involved through workshops and seminars, so that there is enough knowledge and enthusiasm about skilling programmes. There should be a user-friendly customer service delivery system in place for every scheme on skills.

The stage for a Skilled India has been set. What is required is channelizing the right steps at the right time so that it ultimately becomes an empowerment tool for the youth of the nation.

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