- Salvaging the Indian demographic dividend must be a key part of India’s growth story.
- In 2016, the Government of India formed the Sharada Prasad Committee to rationalise the Sector Skill Councils (SSCs), which are employer bodies mostly promoted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry and other industry associations, and improve ‘Skill India’.
- The committee submitted its report in 2016. Now over a year later, it may be prudent to look at the reforms it suggested and action taken in the vocational education/training (VET) system.
Vocational Education/training (VET) system:
- The two goals in ‘Skill India’ are, first, to meet employers’ needs of skills and, second, to prepare workers (young and old) for a decent livelihood.
- The recurring theme in the report is its focus on youth.
- Each recommendation underlines that the VET is not just for underprivileged communities; it is not a stopgap arrangement for those who cannot make it through formal education.
- Such as having a separate stream for vocational education (in secondary education), creating vocational schools and vocational colleges for upward mobility, and having a Central university to award degrees and diplomas.
- Streaming would mean that the ‘diploma disease’, which is resulting in growing tertiary enrolment along with rising unemployment among the educated, would be stemmed.
Example: China, has such a separate stream after nine years of compulsory schooling, and half the students choose VET at the senior secondary level (after class nine).
This requires a serious engagement of employers:
- Private vocational training providers (VTPs) that mushroomed as private industrial training institutes (ITIs).
- National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC)-financed short-term training providers are no substitute for industry-employer engagement with each pillar of the VET ecosystem: secondary schools; ITIs, public and private; NSDC-funded VTPs; ministries that train, and firms that conduct enterprise-based training.
Realisation of human potential:
- Means aligning the courses to international requirements, ensuring a basic foundation in the 3Rs, and life-long learning.
- It implies national standards for an in-demand skill set with national/global mobility that translates into better jobs.
- Short duration courses (with no real skills) that provide low pay for suboptimal jobs cannot be called national standards.
- Hence the current national standards have to drastically improve.
- The focus should be in strengthening reading, writing and arithmetic skills.
- No skill development can succeed if most of the workforce lacks the foundation to pick up skills in a fast-changing world.
- Vocational training must by definition be for a minimum of a year, which includes internship (without which certification is not possible).
- Short-term training should be confined to recognising prior learning of informally trained workers who are already working.
Issue and solution:
- There is a huge ethics and accountability issue if there is no credible assessment board and when there are too many sector skill councils, each trying to maximise their business.
- The Sharada Prasad Committee had recommended that the number of SSCs should correspond to the National Industrial (Activity) Classification (which has 21 economic activities across the entire economy), but which is still way larger than Australia’s six.
- Little has happened except for the number of SSCs dropping from 40 to 39.
- The first policy step should be towards a unification of the entire VET system.
- The second step is to enhance employer ownership, responsibility and their ‘skin in the game’.
- The third policy step is in getting the government to recognise that decades have been spent in building a government-financed and managed, and hence supply-driven system.
- The result is that only 36% of India’s organised sector firms conduct in-firm training (mostly large ones, which are also the only ones that take on apprentices under a Government of India Act).
- Finally, we need more reflection from stakeholders on the actual value addition done by the skilling initiative.
- India can surely become the world’s skill capital but not with what it is doing right now.
- The reforms suggested by the committee can be a good starting point for we cannot let another generation lose its dreams.