The Private Sector’s Commitment to the National Skill Development Programme is Shaky

The number of people needing technical and vocational education is at least 20 million per year, but the system is barely churning out 5 million per year.

Government and supply-driven systems of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) tend to fail. Credit: Graham Holiday, Flickr CC BY 2.0.

Government and supply-driven systems of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) tend to fail. Credit: Graham Holiday, Flickr CC BY 2.0.

In India until the middle of the 2000’s, employers were hardly interested in training within their own enterprises, let alone the system outside their enterprises. However, rapid GDP growth during those years led to a serious shortage of skilled staff. The government of India 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. But the government-and-supply-driven system was not going to change overnight.

The private sector has remained resistant to contributing significantly to skill development, unless they are receiving funding from government. The number of private industrial training institutes (ITIs) did grow from under 2,000 in 2007 to 10,000 in 2014, but the Ministry of Labour – which was responsible for them – did not have the capacity to regulate them. Nor does the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship have the capacity to regulate for quality of training.

The government did create a National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) in 2010. But the so-called public-private partnership that NSDC was intended to be (with 49% shares being contributed by the government of India, and 51% shareholding from ASSOCHAM, CII and FICCI) fizzled out early. NSDC has remained almost entirely government-funded. There might have been rapid growth of NSDC-funded vocational training private providers (VTPs), but these VTPs offer, at best, courses that last four months (maximum length), which is hardly sufficient to equip fresh youngsters with skills that can make them employable.

Government and supply-driven systems of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) tend to fail, while demand and employer-driven systems are more likely to succeed. For half a century after independence, India hardly had a skill development (SD) system in place. Vocational education was practically non-existent until the mid 1980s at school level. The ITIs that came into existence in early 1960’s hardly grew in number until 2007 and there were barely 250,000 odd apprentices in the formal economy. Only 2% of the workforce had received formal vocational training by 2004-5. The formal TVET system was heavily driven by the government.

Barely 16% of Indian companies were providing enterprise-based training in 2007 according to World Bank data. Indian companies had been free riders on the education system. The shortage of skilled personnel has raised input costs for them, so that more of them are now providing in firm training (36% in 2014). However this is mainly confined to the 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.

Given the limited progress since 2007, the number needing TVET is, we have estimated, at least 20 million per year, but the system is barely churning out 5 million per year. The number to be trained is nowhere as high as the previous government policy 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. Nor 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 nauseum by policy-makers, industry and the media; it is no more than 7 million per annum.

But the challenge is stupendous in any case. Without employer involvement the target can never be met. But 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 (VTPs) cannot expand capacity because they are short of industry-ready teachers/trainers. The MOSD 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. Industry help must also reach the 21 central government ministries offering vocational training which also need trainers. In addition, about 2,992 secondary schools were approved (by March 2016) to offer vocational courses from class nine in government and CBSE schools in the last two years, who also need instructors, as do the ITIs and polytechnics. Industry and employers have to offer their staff as instructors to all of them. However such instructors have to receive pedagogical training possible in the National Institutes of Technical Teacher Training and Research (NITTTRs).

A second reason for poor quality TVET is that trainees receive almost no practical training. No wonder industries complain that trainees 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 poor quality of training is that youth graduating from vocational schools, ITIs or polytechnics have no understanding of a work environment. 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 also chambers should encourage.

Fourthly, 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, but a NOS is not a curriculum. This requires a competency-based industry-ready curriculum. 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 from industry. Similar help is needed by NITTTRs for polytechnics and the Advanced Training Institutes for ITIs. But 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 currently happening. But assessors themselves must be trained to be assessors, by industry and educators.

India cannot duplicate the dual educational system of Germany (which is a reason that Germany is a manufacturing giant), but we should certainly replicate the duality principle. This principle theory plus practical training underlies the SD 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 five principles being adopted by industry and employers – in other words by ASSOCHAM, FICCI and CII, who were supposed to be co-financiers of the NSDC supported SSCs in the original scheme of things.

Santosh Mehrotra is Prof of Econ, JNU, and author of Indias Skills Challenge (OUP 2014).