Skills in India and the relevance elsewhere

In the next five years, India needs 70 million more vocationally skilled people to join the workforce. This means an increase of vocationally skilled workers from 12 to 25 per cent by the end of the 12th Government Plan. The CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) Skills Report widens the lens to 2022 and this highlights the need for 450 million skilled workers. This is a huge challenge which has to be met by innovation as well as increasing the capacity of the current approach.

The challenge, says S.S. Mantha Chair of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) in an interview with the well respected National daily Hindu newspaper lies in that 80 per cent of new entrants to the workforce have no opportunity for skill training and the existing training capacity is only 3.1 million per annum as against 12.8 million joining the workforce. Then, there is the huge issue with the informal sector – an issue which all emerging and developing countries share –  which stands at 395 million workers; which is 86 per cent of the total workforce.

Talking with people in Construction; Chemicals; Retail; Logistics; Ports and Seafaring this past three weeks in India people are concerned. There were a number of ideas that came across loud and clear.

1.      Pre-vocational courses at High School. These courses would be offered in India’s Class IX and X. Right now, only 8 per cent of high school students are offered vocational education of any sort at this stage as an add-on or, as an alternative to academic studies. It stands lower than learning a third language.

As with other countries, the vocational route in education is not strong and only 3 per cent of high school students opt for this against the need to increase this to 25 per cent asap. To emphasise the point, almost three-fourth of new jobs created will require vocational skills if India’s workforce is to retain its competitive edge.

English language is an issue here since only 7 per cent of the Indian population have the level required to learn through it versus their local language.

2.      Industry needs. Right now, several States within India rely heavily on migrant labour to satisfy demand.

Much is said about the IT industry – but it employs no more than 2 million people in India. This will be bolstered by cloud computing which could double that number. The issue is to answer the need for skills across sectors like construction; logistics and manufacturing. Services will follow.

Given it’s scale, we cannot ignore the informal sector with many skilled workers, in this huge element of the economy, needing some certification for their competencies and skills. Such certification is needed to give them some status and respectability by way of recognition of their competencies and skills.

Back to pre-vocational courses – industry needs to do more to get across what their industry needs and, what it offers. The race to the bottom on price has blunted the message about career paths and, many companies are just looking to fill short term vacancies. Come the downturn, skilled workers are laid off.

We need to be very careful about this short termism. The Peabody Trust back in the 1930’s made the point that the unemployed were not something that you put in a fridge and take out when you need them again. We have to understand that skills and competency fades fast when a worker loses their job. Do we know enough about this? If we did, companies would be less willing to do this. For example, near Hull the BAE Factory is laying off highly skilled engineering workers at a time when the offshore wind energy industry is about to take off. What are workers to do in the time lag between one industry declining and another growing? This is not a spectator sport. A job is the lifeblood of a community.

3. International Standards. Companies like Larsen & Toubro, a major Indian Engineering company, are taking an active role in promoting the International standards required to turn India into a world class skills hub. Working with the Construction Skills Training Institute (CSTI) and the Construction Industry Training Board of the UK they are developing and promoting modular training. At present, this covers seven trades: Carpentry; Masonry; Bar Bending and Steel Fixing; Plumbing & Sanitary; Trade Assistants; Welding and Electrical wiring.

4. Technology. At the Barcelona Mobile Conference last week, Airtel CEO Sunil Bharti Mittal highlighted that the mobile market had expanded tremendously with low-cost feature phones. Now, comes the need to repeat that recipe with under $100 smart phones. Already, feature phones are being used in developing markets for banking and buying. They could so much more and become a fundamental training tool.

Affordability is key and, the innovative acumen to develop skills training content to fit the access generated. Telefonica is backing Mozilla’s B2G Web-based mobile operating system as part of an attempt to offer smartphones that cost a tenth of an iPhone’s price. The same applies with Android phones.

Mobile technology is vital to the whole skills challenge but, there is a major gap between the teaching and learning establishment across the globe and this huge opportunity. We need to close the gap.

Remote learning in remote rural areas; at sea; and, for a serious development of lifetime learning is a must. There are not enough outstanding teachers out there to inspire and develop to the level required so, we need to explore ways to take excellent teachers to these remote areas. This is happening and everything from You Tube to other web based content is being deployed. This is the new normal and needs to be reflected across the board. All too often the mature markets are selling legacy solutions when the context is ripe for leap frog solutions.

5. Gender disparity. Getting an education India is particularly difficult for girls, who are often viewed as an economic burden by their families. A girl is considered ‘paraya dhan’ or property of the family into which she will marry. As a result, girls’ education is often not valued as it is seen as an investment whose returns will be reaped by another family.

Chief of UNICEF’s Uttar Pradesh field office Adele Khudr believes that empowering women and adolescents in these communities will ultimately bring about lasting behavioural change, once families begin thriving rather than just surviving

Note. The Goal-3 of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) requires elimination of gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and in all levels of education not later than 2015.

Several of the points raised above are valid elsewhere. Pre-vocational courses is one area where Archomai have been active using simulators as a means to introduce 14 to 16 year olds to equipment that is hugely expensive (Port Cranes and Trucks) and for which, because of their age, they are ineligible to train on the actual equipment itself.

In India, where many of the High School recruits are from rural districts, it is not surprising that many managers lament that the recruits haven’t even seen a welding machine or, been anywhere near the wheel of a car but this is not far removed from the EU where, with youth unemployment running at over 25 per cent (it is over 40 per cent in Spain and 38 per cent in Italy) there is very little chance that young people will have access to and any chance to experience high tech equipment.

Then, there is the focus on industry led initiatives. We have referred to this elsewhere on this Blog. We believe that this is a far better route to take than “outsourcing” industry skills training to generalist companies that have mushroomed in the UK.

However, the greatest difference between the developed and the rest of the world’s economies is that where we have few jobs to go to the emerging world have not enough skilled people to fill the jobs. In India, the challenge is to capitalise on the demographic dividend of a young workforce but the same applies to mature workers where a failure to offer jobs to those who are trained may reap the same consequences. There is an old saying that makes the point: idle hands are ready to do the devils work. THis is more a political than a religious point to be made.


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