Over the last five months, a total of 83,759 workers across a number of big construction sites dotting five states — Haryana, Telangana, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Delhi — have been enrolled into a novel scheme floated by the Central government, one that aims at certifying the skills acquired by workers in the unorganised sectors through traditional, non-formal learning channels.
Of those assessed, nearly all of whom were already employed at the time of assessment, an estimated 7,159 persons are recorded as having got new jobs by leveraging the certification received under this scheme called Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), according to government data updated till end-November 2015. The scheme is targeted at mostly daily-wage workers at construction sites employing more than 200 persons across these states and the Ministry of Skill Development, which is implementing the scheme with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), is now aiming to expand the programme beyond these five states and broaden its scope to include sectors other than construction.
The project may be of particular relevance to a country where just 2 per cent of the workforce is certified as skilled, as against skilled workforce levels of 96 per cent in South Korea, 80 per cent in Japan, 75 per cent in Germany and 70 per cent in Britain. The selling point of the schemes such as RPL, which is a subcomponent of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana that was launched by the NDA government on July 15 last year, is the certification and monetary reward for those enlisting for the demand-driven scheme that aims to mobilise the youth to take up skill training and become employable. Within a year, 10 lakh people will be assessed and certified under the RPL, according to NSDC Chairman S Ramadorai.
The poor skill level among India’s workforce is attributed to the dearth of formal vocational educational framework and lack of industry-ready skills. Most deemed to be outside the skilled category in India are those who have typically picked up a skill while on the job, without any formal degree to back this up. Officials involved in the exercise said the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, 2015, is focussed on schemes such as RPL for reskilling and upskilling the 298.25 million existing workforce, especially those below 45 years of age. Under the PMKVY, 31 Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) have been allocated a target of taking under their fold 5 lakh persons as part of the RPL scheme. The candidates are essentially assessed by third-party agencies empanelled by Sector Skill Councils. The candidates passing the assessment are then certified by SSCs by issuing skill card and skill certificate.
There are two stand-out features about the RPL scheme — the attempt to involve the industry in firming up the checklist of competencies for trades and trying to standardise skill levels across a sector by empanelling independent certifiers and trainers for skill assessment and training. “While the official estimate of the percentage of skilled workers in the overall workforce is around 2 per cent, there are lakhs of people who are illiterate or semi-literate but are adept in the art of craftsmanship or skilling for generations. Varanasi or Kancheepuram weavers, gold and jewellery workers of Jaipur, diamond workers of Surat and many more. These people are skilled and working, they need to be certified. The (RPL) programme is an attempt to bring them formally to the skilling list, starting with the construction sector,” a skill development ministry official said.
A labour ministry official involved in the first leg of the programme said that progress of the RPL scheme in the five states of Haryana, Telangana, Delhi, Odisha and Chhattisgarh has been “particularly encouraging”. He said that while the scheme was open to all the states, the five were among the first lot to show interest in the implementation of the scheme and hence included in the first phase. The evaluation of skills and training is extended by selected training providers who have been empanelled for the job, with sector-wise specialisation.
Officials said the selection of site and for pre-assessing the workers selected for imparting training under the scheme is currently restricted to construction sites having more than 200 workers. Importantly, the workers are pre-assessed on the competencies mentioned in the checklist for various trades prepared in consultation with the construction industry. The training providers being roped in for the scheme, who can be either private sector players or government entities, are being entrusted with the task of charting out the methodology to certify the candidates in both theory and practical training sessions, getting government bodies or industry group’s approval in the vocational skill training and tying-up with corporates to utilise work-site for training.
For the 700-million-strong workforce that India will have by 2020, the prospect of a demographic dividend hinges on the country’s ability to empower workers with right skills. The success of schemes such as RPL on the ground, though, could be the real test.
The expectations-delivery mismatch that leads to drop-out is not unique to India’s vocational education system. Many developed and emerging economies have faced similar challenges and have deployed innovative strategies to overcome them, according to global consulting firm Accenture’s report on Overcoming India’s Skills Challenge:
Its much acclaimed Dual Vocational Training System ensures that there is a job ready for every trainee enrolled in vocational school. After students complete their mandatory years of schooling (usually around age 18), they apply to a private company for a two- or three-year training contract. If they are accepted, the government supplements trainees’ on-the-job learning with broadbased education in their field of choice at a publicly funded vocational school. Trainees who pass the course examination also receive a certificate that enables them to transfer to similarly oriented businesses.
An apprenticeship system forms the backbone of the country’s technical and trades skilling effort. But it faced many problems, including low completion rates, inconsistent training quality, poor wages for apprentices and a lack of mentoring support. In its 2011-2012 Budget, the government earmarked A$101 million for mentoring. The funds support mentoring assistance for up to 40,000 apprentices, over four years, in traditional trades as well as in small & medium businesses. Mentors will be experienced tradespersons and will help apprentices learn to manage difficult situations (such as living away from home) and complete training.
The country’s position as a global leader in manufacturing is supported by its vocational and technical education system. Enrollment in secondary vocational education totals about 22 million, more than half of high school enrollment — the highest proportion in any country in the world. China ensures that teachers in vocational schools stay current with the requirements of modern industry. For example, such teachers are required to spend one month working in industry each year, or two months every two years. In addition, many schools employ numbers of part-time teachers who also work in industry.