For half a century after independence India hardly had a skill development system in place. Vocational education was practically non-existent at schools until the mid 1980s. The industrial training institutes (ITIs) that came into existence in early 1960s barely grew in number until 2007. It was a very rapid GDP growth during the 2000s, which led to a serious shortage of skilled staff. The Indian government began to respond. For the first time in the history of India, the 11th Five Year Plan (2007 to 2012) included a chapter on skill development as did the 12th Plan. Only 2 per cent of the workforce had received formal vocational training by 2004-5 while the formal technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system was heavily driven by the government.
The government did create a National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) in 2010. However, the so-called public-private partnership that NSDC was intended to be, with 49 per cent shares being contributed by the Indian government, and 51 per cent shareholding from ASSOCHAM, CII and FICCI, fizzled out early. NSDC has remained almost entirely government funded, while the private sector has remained resistant to contributing significantly to skill development. The number of private ITIs did grow from under 2000 in 2007 to 10,000 in 2014 (MSDE, 2016). As of April 2016, they are 10,812. Overall there are a total of 13,105 ITIs including 2,293 owned by the government (GoI, 2017). However, the Ministry of Labour which was responsible for them did not have the capacity to regulate them. Nor does the newly formed Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), to which these ITIs were transferred. There might have been rapid growth of NSDC funded vocational training private providers (VTPs), but these offer, at best, courses that last for four months, which is hardly sufficient to equip fresh youngsters with skills that can make them employable.
Given the limited progress since 2007, the number of workers needing TVET is, at least 20 million per year, but the system is barely churning out 5-7 million per year. However, even this high number is misleading because trainings are for
a short term of barely a few months, mostly under the NSDC funded private vocational training providers.
The training conundrum
At the outset, it can be said that the government- and supply-driven systems of TVET tend to fail whereas demand and employer driven systems are more likely to succeed. However, barely 16 per cent of Indian companies were providing enterprise based training in 2009 according to the World Bank, 2010. Indian companies have been free riders on the education system. The shortage of skilled personnel has led to wages rising resulting in rising input costs for firms, so more of them are now providing in-house training (36 per cent in 2014). However, this practice is mainly confined to larger firms that can afford to invest in the infrastructure and trained human resources required to provide such training. The smaller and medium enterprises are still struggling without skills.
The number required to be trained is nowhere as high as the previous government policy had believed (500 million between 2012 and 2022 as stated in the National Skills Policy 2009). Nor is the number even as high as 400 million by 2025, as the current government has stated in the National Skills Policy, 2015. Neither is the number joining the labour force (for whom employment has to be found) anywhere close to the 12 million per annum that is repeated ad nauseam by policy-makers, industry and the media. As per the estimates in a forthcoming mimeo ‘Employment trends in India and three southern states’, by the author, it is no more than 2 million per annum since 2012 though it will increase gradually all the way up to 2030. This increase will especially be among the youth who have been in schools and are getting better educated (secondary enrolment is 85 per cent in 2015). Their expectations for jobs will be higher and most would like to acquire vocational skills, if the opportunity was easily available, accessible and affordable. The demand for quality vocational training will only grow from these youthful potential entrants to the labour force.
The challenges and way forward
The challenge is stupendous and without employer involvement the target can never be met. Such an involvement has to go well beyond the adoption of ITIs by CII and FICCI. It has to take many other forms and very urgently.
First, secondary schools, ITIs and private vocational training providers cannot expand capacity because they are seriously short of industry-ready teachers/trainers. The MSDE is planning to take on retirees from industry and retired army personnel as trainers—a good first move, but it has to go well beyond this action. The industry help must reach the 21 central government ministries offering vocational training which also needs trainers (Press Information Bureau, 2016). In addition, in March 2016, about 2992 secondary schools were to offer vocational courses from class ninth in government and CBSE schools, which also need instructors as do the ITIs and polytechnics. Industry and employers have to offer their staff as instructors to all of them. Moreover, such instructors have to receive pedagogical training, which can be provided in the National Institutes of Technical Teacher Training and Research.
A second reason for the poor quality of our TVET is that trainees receive almost no practical experience. No wonder industries complain that trainees coming from the TVET system have to be trained all over again. Sector Skills Councils (SSCs, incubated by the National Skill Development Corporation), CII and FICCI have to offer to arrange this practical training for schools, ITIs and polytechnic. This should be a part of the deliverables of SSCs and industry associations, which chambers of industry should encourage.
A third reason the quality of training is weak is that youth graduating from vocational schools, ITIs or polytechnics have no understanding of a work environment. This is because they have never experienced an internship while in the TVET system. Employers need to arrange internships through the SSCs, CII, Assocham and FICCI. This is also not part of the deliverables of SSCs or industry associations, which chambers should encourage.
There is a fourth way in which industry should become a more responsible part of the skill development system in India. To ensure competency based training, SSCs are currently responsible for preparing National Occupation Standards (NOS), which are a requirement of the National Skills Qualification Framework. However, a NOS is not a curriculum. There is need to prepare the competency-based industry-ready curriculum. If industry readiness is a demand from industry then employers need to get involved in the preparation of such curriculum. The Central Institute of Vocational Education of NCERT in Bhopal is trying hard with limited staff to prepare the curriculum for secondary schools, but it needs help that can only come from industry. National Institutes for Technical Teacher Training and Research for polytechnics and the advanced training institutes need similar help for ITIs. This is also currently not part of the deliverables of SSCs and of industry associations.
Finally, industry needs to get directly involved in the assessment of trainees and students of vocational education, which should be a deliverable for SSCs and industry associations, which industry chambers should facilitate on a much larger scale than is currently happening. In fact, assessors themselves must be trained to be assessors by industry and educators.
India cannot duplicate the dual educational system of Germany. But we should certainly replicate the duality principle. This principle, theory plus practical training, underlies the skill development systems in countries that have demonstrated success. None of the 21 line ministries of the central government that fund training will produce industry ready trainees without these principles being adopted by industry and employers, especially by ASSOCHAM, FICCI and CII, who were supposed to be co-financiers of the NSDC supported SSCs in the original schema of things.
Given the contemporary scenario of skilled workforce, it is imperative that agencies catering to skill acquirement cannot rely upon supply-driven systems of technical and vocational education and training. It is necessary that potential employers of a skilled workforce demand and drive the skilling initiatives for them to succeed.