Getting things done in skills needs unblocking traffic jams at the intersections of education, employability and employment.
A heated argument with a senior member of this government about inaction around fixing the regulatory cholesterol of the Apprenticeship Act ended with him telling me, “The government has many things to do. You need to learn how to be more patient.” I couldn’t resist reminding him that the 20th point in Indira Gandhi’s 20-point programme of 1975 was fixing India’s apprenticeship regime. Thirty-nine years after making it a policy priority, India has only four lakh formal apprentices. Germany has 30 lakh, Japan has one crore and China has two crore.
The transmission losses between talk and walk in fixing our apprenticeship regime are symbolic of broader policy challenges in moving from what to how to done. Getting things done in skills needs unblocking the traffic jams at the intersections of education, employability and employment. More importantly, this needs a more adventurous and decisive state.
Adventurous because tackling India’s skill challenges — 10 lakh kids joining the labour force every month for the next 20 years — needs room for innovation, change and risk. Decisive because India isn’t getting done what it has identified it needs to do. The next government must fix five troublesome intersections.
First, the intersection of employability and employment. The mismatch between what is taught and what employers need continues to bother both sides. Apprenticeships are the lowest-hanging fruit in skill reform because they bridge this gap with practical experience, have a higher expansion rate than classrooms and supercharge a fresher’s resume.
India can rapidly raise the number of apprentices to 10 million by changing the regulatory thought-world of treating an apprenticeship as a classroom rather than a job. Specific interventions to amend the Apprenticeship Act of 1961, empowering and resourcing the 29 sector skill councils of the National Skill Development Corporation and converting employment exchanges — 1,200 of which only gave four lakh jobs to the four crore registered last year — to career centres that offer counselling, assessments, apprenticeships, training and jobs are required.
Second, the intersection of college education and employability. Ending the apartheid between vocational training and college education needs moving away from infrastructure-obsessed college regulatory norms (confusing university buildings with building universities), being agnostic to delivery (same credit for classroom, distance and online), and creating a qualification corridor (mobility between certificates, diplomas, associate degrees and full degrees with multiple on and off ramps).
Specific interventions include scaling up the National Skill Qualification Framework, deregulating distance education because the social signalling of a degree matters and domestic MOOCs aren’t legal, even though overseas ones are available, giving continued…