Over the last 10 years, the Indian government has undertaken significant efforts in improving both the scale and quality of skilling, like setting up the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) in 2009, launching the Skill India mission in 2015, and the flagship skilling initiative, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMVKY) in 2016. This, in turn, is expected to drive economic gains and social mobility for individuals as well as trigger a productivity dividend for enterprises.
Despite the progress made so far, today, learners face a multitude of challenges on their skilling journey. Two ecosystem barriers contribute directly to this: Informational asymmetries and limited quality assurance.
As far as the first barrier is concerned, there is a fundamental lack of awareness around why skills matter at the individual level. There is also a paucity of timely and reliable data on the supply of and demand for jobs, which makes it difficult for those seeking employment to identify what opportunities they should pursue. There also exists limited access to impartial and credible sources of information on high-quality service providers and high-potential opportunities, which means that jobseekers and learners end up relying on personal networks or proximate training providers. As a result, they end up training in skills that are not responsive to the local and changing market needs.
Regarding quality assurance, currently, there are three primary overseeing bodies that manage the quality assurance process. The National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) manages long-term skilling programmes while the National Skills Development Agency (NSDA) and the NSDC regulate short-term programmes. There is also an imbalance at various levels of the process that need correction, for example, incentives for different service providers are misaligned leading to situations where outcome-based disbursement models favour assessment agencies over training providers.
To unlock the potential of the skills ecosystem, these frictions must be smoothened through technology-led change, as well as through market-enabling governance. Until now, technology has played an enabling role in making existing systems and processes become smoother and more efficient (for example, digitisation of course curriculums). Moving to a technology-led transformation will help reach scale, promote inter-operability and create digital public goods for all to use, that is, the internet equivalent for skills. Automated and scalable forms of interactions can help improve trust and credibility in the ecosystem and enable better decision-making by learners, service providers and employers. Two leading initiatives in this direction are (i) creating and adopting digital certificates that allow consent-based sharing of information in a machine-readable format, to ensure better security and authenticity and ii) open APIs that can enable stakeholders in the ecosystem to tap into large, centralised sets of information (e.g. public registries of trainers, students etc.) and build market solutions (e.g. ratings for training centres).
Consolidated and market-enabling governance can also help create the right incentives for service providers to cater to the needs of learners and employers effectively. A seminal step in this direction has been the creation of an overarching skilling regulator, the National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) by merging NCVT, NSDA and regulatory functions of NSDC. Over the next year, it is expected that NCVET will develop minimalistic and user-friendly guidelines to recognise and regulate two of the most important stakeholders in the skilling ecosystem — the awarding bodies, who accredit training institutions, and, the assessment agencies, who assess learner performance. In turn, it will be incumbent upon the awarding bodies to monitor and regulate the functioning of affiliated training providers. NCVET will be a forward-looking regulator and will support disruptive innovation in the ecosystem like models that reduce the gap in market-based data between learners and service providers. NCVET will be a presence-less and paper-less regulator: It will take decisions that are rooted in evidence and real-time data driven, and, adopt a spirit of disclosure and transparency in its interactions. Most significantly, NCVET will adopt a learner-centric lens to its decision making.
To push the skilling agenda forward, it is important for the government to adopt the role of an ecosystem facilitator. This can foster informed decision-making by learners and employers, increase employer trust, and, enable upward and horizontal mobility of skilled workers. Technology and governance must work closely together to drive this transformative change.
Krishnan is secretary, ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship, government of India. Kudva is managing director, Omidyar Network India