In July 2013, 18-year-old Rajesh passed out of an ITI in Rajasthan, completing a vocational course in computer hardware. Today, Rajesh works as an assistant in his neighbour’s car garage. After six months of a fruitless job search, he took up this one, earning Rs 5,000 a month. Rajesh’s training has gone to waste, with both his time and the government’s resources spent to no avail. This is not a unique story.
There are hundreds of youth like Rajesh who complete government training schemes but cannot find employment commensurate with their new skills.
Over the next few decades, India has an opportunity to reap a potential demographic dividend. The working-age (15-59 years) population is growing. India’s median age is 27 years — a decade less than China’s. As per a recent UNFPA report, 356 million Indians are in the age group of 10-24 years — more than the total population of the US. India needs to equip this large youth pool with industry-relevant skills. Failing to do so could lead to a huge demographic burden.
To grab this opportunity, the government has set an ambitious target of skilling 500 million youth by 2022, a number first predicted by C.K. Prahlad in 2007, and thereafter adopted as the target in the National Policy for Skill Development (NPSD), 2009. The present government has gone a step further by creating a ministry for skill development and entrepreneurship. The skills mantra has caught on, with the government soon to launch a national skills mission. Over 20 Central ministries are funding skills training through 70-plus schemes. State skill development missions are busy meeting their own targets. But in some states, the missions exist only on paper. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) is striving to meet its target of skilling or up-skilling 150 million people by 2022.
But are these programmes working? Are they leading to better employment opportunities and wages? Are they increasing the productivity of firms? The success of most government schemes is judged by whether input and output targets are met — numbers enrolled and numbers of trainees certified. The government is yet to develop a central system for tracking outcomes. There are no central checks to verify whether placements reported are accurate, no monitoring system to see what wages are earned or whether jobs are commensurate with training and aspirations.
There is a need for a more nuanced understanding of the impact of vocational programmes on labour market outcomes. However, there is a dearth of such rigorous evaluation in developing countries. For instance, results from randomised evaluations of two similar skilling programmes in Latin America are inconclusive. “Youth in Action”, a programme that provided disadvantaged youth in Colombia a combination of in-classroom and on-the-job training, significantly raised both employment and earnings among women, but not among men — although it increased men’s probability of moving to the formal sector. In contrast, the “Youth and Employment Programme” in the Dominican Republic had no significant impact on employment and only a modest effect on earnings. Design features that possibly led to the greater success of the Columbian programme were more specific and longer in-classroom training, more intense on-the-job training, stronger complementarities between the two and a larger number of private partners.
A lot more rigorous research is needed in India to unbundle what makes certain training programmes more effective than others. Evidence on programmes that work is critical for developing effective models. The Tamil Nadu government is conducting a survey to adopt an evidence-based approach to designing vocational training programmes, in collaboration with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). The survey seeks to better understand industry’s willingness to engage with the government’s skilling programmes and the value it sees in hiring passouts. It is expected to enable the government to design, test and improve these programmes. Another ongoing study focuses on evaluating the National Employability Through Apprenticeship Programme, a PPP of TeamLease Skills University, the CII and NSDC, under the human resource development ministry’s National Employability Enhancement Mission. The study will evaluate the returns to apprenticeship training as well as its potential benefits to firms.
These are examples of the evidence-based approach to designing development programmes that India needs. Rigorous evaluation is critical to ensuring that we develop a fuller understanding of the skills training most likely to work — so that we don’t end up spending public funds on expanding vocational programmes merely to meet ambitious targets, without ensuring that these translate to better outcomes in terms of jobs, wages, improved quality of life and productivity.
The NPSD sadly failed to emphasise this crucial component. Most ministries rely on retrospective evaluations that are often unable to isolate the real impact of programmes on outcomes, thereby making decisions on continuation and improvement difficult. Will the new national skills policy, to be finalised by the skill development ministry soon, be different?
The writer is policy manager at J-PAL South Asia, and formerly a consultant to the erstwhile Office of Advisor to the Prime Minister on Skill Development. Views are personal
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