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A time to upskill

A small start has been made. Technology could show the way forward.

Written by S Ramadorai | Updated: August 20, 2014 8:25 am
We are faced with the challenge of skilling 500 million people by 2022, of which the NSDC is committed to training nearly a third. We are faced with the challenge of skilling 500 million people by 2022, of which the NSDC is committed to training nearly a third.

History teaches us one lesson more clearly than others. Big changes happen silently — at least to start with. A transformation has already begun in the skilling space. It is too early to call it a revolution, but I see signs of one taking shape. Let us look at the big challenges before we put the need for skilling in perspective.

Less than 10 per cent of the Indian workforce has had formal skill training, while in countries like South Korea, it is closer to 98 per cent. We have had two consecutive years of rising unemployment. Nearly 95 per cent of our workforce is in the unorganised sector, which is a way of saying the people working in this sector have had no formal training in any skill. Agriculture and construction constitute a large part of this sector.

Since its formation five years ago, the National Skill Development Corporation, a unique public-private partnership, has skilled over 2 million people. This year it is aiming to skill 3.3 million people, having skilled 1 million people the previous year. Over half the districts in India have NSDC training centres which offer 720 courses covering nearly 750 job roles in 27 important sectors.

We have made a good start. But this will not suffice when we are faced with the challenge of skilling 500 million people by 2022, of which the NSDC is committed to training nearly a third. We are talking about skilling no less than 60,000 people every single day between now and the end of 2022. While the initial years of the NSDC were focused mainly on the supply side, that is, creating physical and institutional infrastructure, the second phase must and will see greater involvement of the end-user industry. The 31 sector skill councils (SSCs) under the NSDC provide the vital link to industry. The SSCs have developed over 800 standards for specific job roles. This ensures that the skilled hands we produce meet the needs of the employers from Day One. But there are two big challenges. One, there is resistance to seeing the obvious benefits of hiring skilled people in place of casual hires, and two, paying the right wage for the same. Neither of these challenges can be met unless industry has a buy-in. This can happen only through patient and persistent advocacy. We need to reach out to industry, particularly small and medium firms, and show them the benefits of hiring skilled hands.

We need models to bridge the gap between the worlds of work and education. The National Skill Certification and Monetary Reward Scheme, also known as STAR, is one such model. STAR, the world’s largest voucher-based skilling programme, has been a phenomenal success, having enrolled 1.3 million aspirants in less than a year of roll out. The biggest achievement of STAR has been the quick building of an ecosystem in which training providers are aligned to systems and processes as per NSDC requirements. The ecosystem includes Aadhaar, NPR and banks coming together to enable direct transfers. STAR demonstrated that efficient scheme implementation was possible.

As for institutional support, it is encouraging to see that the Centre and most states have recognised the need to support the Skill India mission. In his budget speech in June, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had reaffirmed his government’s commitment to skill development by announcing the Skill India mission, which will encompass the national multi-skill mission programme.

The traditional brick and mortar model of the skilling ecosystem is not conducive to being scaled up. We have to use technology for mobilisation, testing aptitude, delivering course content, assessment, certification, placement etc. The NSDC has, through its innovation platform, funded such organisations that are introducing technology in training centres. With the increasing penetration of the internet and mobile phones, the NSDC is also embarking on massive open online curriculum(MOOC)-type projects to deliver a part or all of the training programmes online. With a mobile front-end for training and assessment, the potential to use technology to scale training initiatives is immense.

We have also created an Enterprise Resource Planning-based system called the Skill Database Management System that tracks enrolment, certification and placement. This can serve as a central database for the entire skilling ecosystem. Last year, we had 11,000 employers, a majority of whom were small businesses, looking to hire from this database of skilled people. This will grow.

Finally, for the skilling mission to succeed, it must be a national movement. It must go beyond just being a government deliverable to becoming a people’s movement. Just like the freedom struggle caught the imagination of all Indians because they had a stake in it, we must build Skill India into a movement that catches the imagination of all stakeholders and results in participation of all with shared benefits.

The writer is chairman, National Skill Development Agency and National Skill Development Corporation. Views are personal

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