Why Development of Skill Centres Is Essential For Rural Development

The small number of industrial training institutes and craft training centres that already exist need to be upgraded, and the whole issue of skill-based training of informal workers needs to be re-evaluated.

This is the third and final in a three-part series on policy and development decisions that rural India needs in order to recover from the pandemic and its after-effects. Read part one here and part two here.

The training of villagers and migrants in a variety of craft skills can go a long way in improving their future lives. This is an issue that has been proposed and discussed over the last few decades with respect to the building industry, but the proposal has not been systematically implemented on a state-wide scale.

The small number of industrial training institutes and craft training centres that already exist have not been upgraded, and the whole issue of skill-based training of informal workers now needs to be re-evaluated. Instead of the government investing large sums of money in providing the necessary facilities, the responsibility needs to be shifted to the actual beneficiaries of sophisticated craft skills.

Skills related to the building industry

In the case of the building industry which happens to be one of the largest employers of workers in the informal sector, a simple examination of the present position suggests that the system needs to be dismantled, and the responsibility both for the training of skilled craftsmen and their employment be shifted to the builders who make the maximum profit from the projects that they implement.

It is important that they be made responsible not only for developing skills, but also to ensure safe conditions on building sites. They need to shift to updated methods of building, along with ensuring job security for all workers. The system of daily wage labour being supplied by middlemen who do not really protect the workers’ long-term interests, needs to be done away with.

A worker pushes a wheelbarrow to collect cement at a construction site of a residential building in Mumbai. Photo: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas

Despite the fact that the building industry has steadily grown over the years with more and more construction related to industrial growth, as well as increased urban development, actual conditions on many building sites remain unsafe and primitive. It is common to see bamboo or wooden balli scaffolding, along with wooden ramps, all tied together with ropes. Workers on such sites including women work without proper safety gear and harness and carry building material like bricks and concrete, in pans on their heads.

Accidents are frequent, and workers lives are at risk, but in the absence of any control, and because this system is cheap, contractors continue to avoid upgradation to save expense. This is a dangerous system that needs complete overhaul. This is possible both by the enactment of stringent laws as well as by training large numbers of skilled workers. The use of unskilled workers needs to be steadily reduced, and ultimately done away with. The training of skilled craftsmen needs to be made an integral part of all building projects.

The use of tubular steel scaffolding properly bolted together, with mechanical hoists and lifts for the vertical movement of men and material must be made compulsory. Concrete mixers with flexible pipes for the delivery of mixed concrete is also necessary. Safety conditions with the proper enclosure of all buildings under construction must be ensured.

For the implementation of such proposals all workmen need to be trained. Along with this, traditional skills related to carpentry, woodwork, cutting, polishing and installing of stonework, welding of steel, etc. along with the use of new machines and improved tools need to be taught and implemented with short-term training courses.

Also read: The Modi Sarkar’s Project for India’s Informal Economy

One of the important aspects of improving building techniques is the need to train experienced workmen and engineers in project management. This involves proper co-ordination of different craft skills to ensure overall time and cost control with the help of pert charts, and the regular checking and upgrading of the different aspects of work on all building sites. Proper project management ultimately results in better construction at cheaper costs.

It is important to ensure the provision of proper accommodation for workers when construction sites are far from their villages or areas where they live. In all large-scale development projects, a separate area should be allocated for building a complex of affordable dwelling units in close proximity. In order to ensure that the living needs of skilled and unskilled workers and their families are taken care of, the entire complex along with community support facilities should be financed and maintained by the builders implementing projects, along with the provision of safe transportation to individual building sites. On the basis of proper planning by architects and engineers, support facilities like schools, health centres and informal sector shopping complexes should all be part of such organised LIG settlement.

The proposal to provide living accommodation for workers on building sites is not new. This was a standard requirement of all large building projects in the Middle East during the construction boom in the 1960s. All contractors had to provide proper living and support facilities for all the labour that they brought from overseas for construction projects.

In India, the miserable conditions on most of our construction sites along with the exploitation of labour still continues throughout the country because of lack of government intervention and control.

Contractors must also be responsible for the provision of crafts and skill training institutes which would provide training in construction-related skills, along with separate courses or advanced training in IT-related construction systems. These should be permanent educational institutes, which would be periodically upgraded in relation to the latest available construction technology. Such crafts and skill training institutes may over time become self-supporting, maintaining a close link with the building industry.

A number of such institutions located in the rural areas of each state would help to not only provide employment, but also ensure proper and systematic development of all rural areas on a continuing basis in the future.

Also read: Why Healthcare and Education in Rural Areas Should Be Prioritised Immediately

Similar to the craft skill institutes there should also be a set of industrial training institutes located in areas where industrial complexes are proposed so that workers may learn how to handle and work on sophisticated new machines, to improve the cost efficiency and delivery of products.

The importance of agricultural training institutes

One of the important components of rural development is a need to help farmers across the country with both information and improved technology related to agricultural development on a continuing basis. This can be best done by developing a number of agricultural training institutes.

The need for this has become increasingly important in recent times as can be seen by the large numbers of workers having returned to their homes in the villages. Migrants who have returned to their villages would now much rather strengthen their link with the small pockets of land that they own, and learn how to improve their income from agriculture, rather than return to casual work in the informal sector in towns and cities from where they have been expelled.

A farmer in Punjab. Photo: CIAT/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Under the circumstances systematic training provided by local agricultural development institutes would help them and their children to establish a stronger base in their rural homes. Such agriculture institutes in different states could also help focus on local conditions, and different forms of farming, forestry or horticulture that may be improved and developed on a long-term basis. Workers would much rather improve and develop a framework for future growth based on their own abilities rather than hand over control of their farms and farm products to multi-national corporations.

The importance and seriousness of this issue has been clearly highlighted by the recent farmers’ agitation. It is indeed unfortunate that the government has still not recognised the seriousness of the farmers’ commitment to their land.

Also read: The Peril of Overlooking the Environmental Crises Behind the Farmers’ Protests

As part of rural development new industries related to different aspects of agriculture and horticulture could be developed. These could be cold storage units, small- and large-scale food fruit processing plants, and other related facilities, for which skilled labour of different kinds will be necessary.

As part of the agricultural development of rural areas the location of mandis for the sale and trade of farm products is important. This is where the future small towns of rural areas in each state would grow and develop over time. Along with warehouses and cold storages for farm products, there would be the showrooms for the sale of tractors, and shops for the sale of all variety of farm implements. Over time such markets would grow to provide food provisions along with all manner of goods that farmers and their families would need. It is important that the location of such market or mandi towns be developed with proper connections to major transport networks.

Long-term development calls for regional planning in each state

For long-term development, each individual state needs to prepare overall regional plans by demarcating topographical conditions and natural features in relation to the overall network of transportation systems and the location of various settlements. This can be effectively done with the help of GIS aerial surveys so that accurate state-wide plans are available.

Various rural areas may then be clearly demarcated, and long-term plans be prepared for the development of specific urban and rural areas. For the preparation of development plans on a comprehensive basis, the active involvement of architects, town planners, and urban designers, along with a range of supporting professionals is absolutely fundamental.

Ranjit Sabikhi is an architect and urban designer. He was formerly a Professor of Urban Design at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.