Difficulties in curbing fraud, a flawed incentive structure and a focus on infrastructure over placements are deeply hurting the Modi government’s flagship skilling scheme and subverting its larger goals.
Jaipur: “People are not getting jobs even after graduation, how can you expect it from a 200-hour training course?” asked Sumit Gupta, a trainer at a Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) training centre in Vidhyadhar Nagar, Jaipur.
The course Gupta is referring to is the Modi government’s flagship outcome-based skill certification and reward scheme – the PMKVY. Overseen by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, the initiative aims to impart skills to ten million youth across the country and ostensibly make them employable. The scheme imparts 150 to 300 hours training (depending on the job role) for 221 job roles across 34 skill councils at PMKVY training centres to candidates of Indian nationality who are either school/college dropouts or unemployed.
The training is intended to develop and certify skills against industry standards. The scheme in itself doesn’t guarantee any placement. However, the training partners may provide placement assistance.
PMKVY is implemented through public-private and public-public partnerships and directly implemented by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), a private-public partnership organisation with representatives of government and industry associations on its board.
Monitoring of the training centres
The focus on placements, or guiding applicants towards jobs after they finish their skilling, has been an integral part of the PMKVY. And yet, for most of the time the scheme has been running, the way skilling centres are graded has allowed placements to slip under the radar.
Continuous monitoring under the scheme is based on computing a skilling centre’s score out of a total of 100 points. These are further broken down into accreditation (50 points), compliance (20 points) and performance (30 points), which enables grading (represented by star rating) of the centres. If a centre scores between 85 and 100, it is given five-star grade (highest) and if it is below 40 points, it is awarded one star (lowest). Seats are not allocated if the grade is below four stars.
Performance standards (30 points) involve placement performance (nine points), pass percentage of the candidates (six points), organising placement mela (three points), organising Kaushal mela (three points), trainee feedback (three points), quality of training based on trainee feedback (three points) and enrollment target achievement (three points). PMKVY has set a threshold score of 40% to be achieved by the skilling centres with regard to performance standards. This effectively enables the centres to skip the placement points which form only 50% of the total score under performance standards.
“Only 15 marks out of the total 30 marks are reserved for all placement related activities and we need to attain only 12 marks (40%) under performance standards. Why will someone invest money and energy [in placement] when there is no compulsion,” Suresh Kumawat, a trainer at Gangapur city PMKVY centre told The Wire.
Too much focus on infra and branding?
The scheme has clear guidelines for the skill centres with regard to the infrastructure they are supposed to have. This includes classrooms and labs (IT and tools) each with the specified area of ten square feet per trainee, a placement and entrepreneurship cell, library, pantry, reception and waiting area, counselling cell, extra classrooms and toilets.
Points are reserved for each facility at the centre. Four to six points are awarded each for availability of air-conditioners in the campus, power backup, Internet connectivity, library, pantry, parking, lifts, CCTV cameras, overhead projectors, toilets. Zero points are given in case these facilities are unavailable.
Questions like ‘If the training centre is well plastered/colour distempered or white washed’, ‘floor is tiled or cemented’, ‘walls or roof are made up of tin/bamboo sheets’ and ‘exhaust fan available in classrooms’ are mandatory and negative answer to any one of them rejects the application form.
“What is the need of air-conditioned campus in a rural area? Candidates here would happily study even without an AC if the teacher is good. Inspection also revolves around checking these irrelevant compulsory facilities. Instead of inspecting the infrastructure and facility, they should ask question the trainees from their course. More focus should be on training rather than infrastructure,” Rashmi Rathore, a trainer at the PMKVY Kalwar village centre told The Wire.
“It requires significant investment to start a centre. Those who are doing it genuinely are facing the brunt,” added Rathore.
Branding forms an essential part of the scheme. Banners, signage, templates and standees carrying Prime Minister’s image and quote with specific design, position, size, high quality material and language specified in the branding and communication guidelines of the scheme are mandatory at each training centre.
“The guidelines specify the most expensive material to be used for the banners and standees. It costs approximately Rs. 15,000 if one sticks to the norms,” said Bhagat Singh, a PMKVY trainer.
Loopholes in employment generation
Training incentive per candidate under PMKVY varies from Rs 5,445 to Rs 10,890 depending upon the job role. The payment is disbursed to the training centres in three tranches, 30% of the total training cost is paid to the centres on the commencement of the batch against the validated candidates and 50% after assessment and certification. Only 20% of the amount is put on hold for the placement of the candidates.
“Many centres don’t take up placements as the amount paid against them is quite low. They impart training till certification and then shut the centres. Placement of hundreds of candidates solely on the basis of a skill certificate is a difficult task,” a trainer told this correspondent on condition of anonymity.
Training partners (TPs) are also required to organise at least one Kaushal mela every six months for building awareness and enrolling suitable candidates. Incentive of Rs 20,000 per Kaushal mela is given to the TPs only if a MP/MLA/DM/SDM/BDO is invited in the mela, if the venue chosen is reasonably big, if the mela is advertised properly and there is press coverage. If the event is not covered by the local press, 1.5 points out of three points given for the mela in the performance standards are deducted.
However, no incentive is provided to the TPs for organising the Rozgar mela where at least four companies are required to be invited to offer employment to the candidates who have successfully completed their trainings under PMKVY.
Speaking to The Wire, Liyaqat Ali, government representative of PMKVY said, “Placements are not guaranteed under the scheme. In case of centres not able to provide employment to the trained candidates, their placement payouts will not be paid and further seat allotment will be cancelled. Twenty percent of the training payout is already reserved for placements. Therefore, no incentive is given for the Rozgar mela.”
Placement payouts are paid after the centre provides a valid proof of employment through appointment letter issued by the employer, salary certificate, salary slips issued by the employer and salary payment proof (bank account statement or passbook entries) showing the monthly credit details. Payout can also be made in case of self-employment if the candidate issues a self declaration letter.
“Many centres bribe the candidates to seek self declaration letter for self-employment and avail the placement payouts,” said a trainer who declined to be identified.
Aadhaar-enabled biometric attendance system
Aadhaar numbers and bank accounts are now mandatory for a candidate to enroll for the course. The NSDC portal has an automatic Aadhaar verification facility. Aadhaar-enabled biometric devices are used to capture the attendance of candidates and trainers every day. In case of a mismatch in the biometric, the candidates are asked to update their Aadhaar cards.
Attendance plays a crucial part in monitoring training of the candidates. Payments to the training centres are made on the basis of training hours calculated through the biometric device. Base cost per candidate per hour is fixed at Rs 36.30.
“Minimum four hours training is required to be given to the candidates daily to complete the 200 hours course. Enrolled candidates are required to punch their fingers every day before the beginning of the training and after its completion to calculate the duration of training,” said Kumawat.
“I was told by the trainer that after the training, Rs 6,000 will be transferred in my account by the government if I score good marks in the online test. Also, it would be easy for me to seek a loan in the future if I have a PMKVY certificate. I used to go to the centre every day, punch my finger for attendance and come back. There was no learning. Trainer helped me in the test. I’m still waiting for the money transfer in my account,” said Shailendra, a trainee at the PMKVY centre in Ambabari.
“Life didn’t change after the training under the scheme. Though I possess a skill certificate for ‘Unarmed Security Guard’ position but without any job it is useless for me. The salary I will be paid for this ‘skill’ will not be sufficient to live on,” Rakesh Devanda, a beneficiary of PMKVY, told The Wire.
While the second phase of the PMKVY scheme has introduced more regulations to monitor its implementation and curb fraud, it appears that there are still many hurdles to cross before employment opportunities come naturally.
In May, The Wire reported on how a government-appointed committee had found that the first phase of the PMKVY scheme had spent over Rs 1,500 crore in skilling over 18 lakh people, but failed to achieve key objectives such as high rates of job placement.
The panel’s grim assessment of the flawed nature of government-subsidised skilling should offer lessons as to how PMKVY must desperately improve: “The unmistaken conclusion is that…an amount of Rs 2500 crore of public funds was spent to benefit the private sector without serving the twin purposes of meeting the exact skill needs of the industry and providing employment to youth at decent wages.”
Shruti Jain is a freelance journalist.