Lack of skill development in India is now a well-recognised barrier to national progress. Despite having one of the youngest working populations in the entire world, with more than 54% of the total population below 25 years of age, India’s formally skilled workforce is merely an approximate 2%. This is an especially low number when compared to other Asian countries like China (47%), Japan (80%) or South Korea (96%).
Further as per the India Skills report 2015, only 37.22% of surveyed people were found employable. This indicates the challenge of a gap between the skill sets required for specific roles in the industry and the actual number of employable people who are suitable for such roles.
This prompted the government to set up NSDC in 2009 and recently the Government launched the “Skill India” campaign.The sector has grown and evolved in many ways and consequently the understanding of the on-ground challenges the sector faces have also matured.
To understand this, let us first break down the various activities that together comprise the system of creating an employable workforce and analyze the particular pain points at each stage.
Every organisation that undertakes skills training requires physical infrastructure, an understanding of the regions they wish to operate in (both the demand and supply side), relevant course content and pedagogy, supporting technology and good human resources along with the capacity to train and retain high quality trainers. While most training organisations have these inputs in place, the quality varies and there is no minimum standard.
Content is often outdated or theoretical as there isn’t enough coordination with industry requirements. Job availability, skill requirements and student aspirations change from region to region, making it hard to scale a standardized product. There is a dire lack of skilled Master Trainers for specialised technical skills; currently there doesn’t exist a culture of retired, experienced workers taking up a second career through teaching. In terms of physical space, many existing government school and college campuses have vacancy after-hours, however the government has not been able to develop a system for coordination and efficient utilization of space.
Even though skill training is a pressing need in India, one of the main challenges training institutions face is not being able to attract enough students to their courses. While many factors contribute to this, a sheer lack of awareness and trust is a main factor. Most students turn to their parents for guidance and are often advised to aspire for government jobs that are considered stable and secure. Conversely Indian society does not encourage or respect vocational professions. Vocational professions are perceived as a secondary, even inferior option for students who fared poorly in the formal education system. Indian society as a whole does not ascribe dignity to manual or blue collar work. There is a marked lack of awareness about the fact that certain vocational professions have extremely promising earning prospects in the long term. The government has started to address the social stigma surrounding vocational professions through a national campaign to promote the dignity of working with ones’ hands; however, it will take time for societal perception and behaviour to change.
- Program Delivery and assessment:
We now come down to the heart of the value chain, which is delivering the actual skill training. The Indian labour force requires multiple kind of skills to be developed. The most prevalent are technical training for fresh entrants into the job market and re-skilling or skill upgrades of workers already engaged in an occupation.
An emerging focus on soft skills has also risen. While many trainers deliver good technical skills, workers are not completely equipped to succeed in a formal employment situation unless they develop essential soft skills like language fluency, workplace inter-personal skills and a change in attitude.
While we see the actual training process as crucially important, no less impactful are the methods used for assessment and evaluation. As mentioned earlier, the government has allocated a huge budget to fund private training agencies to deliver skill development to the masses. However, loopholes in the definition of outcomes and unreliable assessment systems have resulted in poor accountability and corruption, with skill training partners and assessment agencies often manipulating data and illegally passing unskilled candidates for money.
- Post training placement and support services:
The biggest parameter that training institutions compete on is their placement rate or the number of graduating students they are able to arrange jobs for. This requires institutions to build enduring relationships within the industries they serve in order to ensure each batch of students have good prospects.
In an ideal scenario, companies should provide trained students a better salary than untrained hires. However due to the oversupply of labour and unreliability of trained student’s quality of skills, industries currently do not have any incentive to recognize skills training through a differential in payment (as we’ve seen above, lack of reliable assessment and hence accountability often results in graduating students still being considered ‘unemployable by the industry’, indicating a poor quality of training). This in turn reduces the incentive for youth to get trained.
Even after placement in good jobs, there is a regular incidence of youth dropping out after the first 6 months for multiple reasons. Those who did not receive soft skill training find it hard to cope with the pressures of a formal work environment. Others who have taken up work in a state or city far away from their home town, after a point cannot deal with the unfamiliar food and language, difficult housing conditions and the lack of social support group.
In the current landscape, there are organisations trying to fill the gaps, especially the large number of training institutes (private or otherwise, including industry trainings) delivering standard content and providing placement services. We can also see an increasing presence of organisations focused on the other aspects of the value chain such as customised content development, focused placement services, etc.
Thus, in light of the challenges across the sector, there is a need to promote and support organisations (programs/models) which aim to provide new and innovative solutions to existing systemic challenges and issues. The focus also needs to shift to the support activities, products and services which enhance the quality of training delivery and the overall value chain.
More on how UnLtd India supports organizations that work to develop skills in India coming up next month, watch this space!