Updated: May 23, 2015 12:23:12 am
Much has been said about India’s potential demographic dividend, where much of its population — 62 per cent — is 15 to 59 years of age, and more than half are under 25 years of age. Political leaders — none more so than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made it a key campaign promise — have also acknowledged that India’s education system is failing its young, and that the country could fritter away this opportunity if it does not properly train the huge numbers of young people who enter the workforce each year. Already, there is a gap between the demand for skilled labour and its supply. Studies find that the lakhs of students coming out of colleges and universities are ill-equipped to meet the requirements of a modern economy, falling behind when competing in an increasingly global and interlinked job market. Central to the government’s plan to rectify this situation is the proposed national policy for skill development and entrepreneurship, expected to be finalised soon.
The draft version of the policy exhibits the right impulses. It recognises that one of the biggest challenges is to change the perception that enrolment in vocational training and skills programmes indicates an inability to progress in the formal academic system. Creating an appreciation for skilled manual work, such as carpentry or plumbing, requires a small socio-economic revolution. It also proposes beginning skill training courses early, in Class IX, to integrate vocational training and school-based learning in a manner that makes the former an attractive option. The policy also makes the right noises regarding the need to bring industry and potential employers on board and designing curricula that can nimbly adapt to the changing requirements of the labour market. But it fails to outline how employers and other partners can be incentivised to maintain a high degree of engagement and ownership in such initiatives. At the same time, safeguards have to be in place to ensure that the short-term needs of employers do not trump broader educational and economic goals.
Another important aspect of a successful skill development policy is the creation of pathways that allow people to transition in and out of school or training programmes and the labour market as required, by, for instance, enabling school dropouts to enter the education system again. That means mobility between certificates, diplomas, associate degrees and full degrees. It is not enough to pay lip service to the idea; the government must establish institutional mechanisms to facilitate this without placing unnecessary hurdles along the way.
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