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Seven Pillars for National Skills Policy – Ajay Goel’s feature in ‘Human Capital’ magazine

The NDA Government expressed its seriousness about meeting the skills deficit challenge, by creating a National Skills Mission. The Ministry for Skills Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE) is in the process of bringing out a new National Skills Policy. The Budget while continuing most of the skill based schemes of last few years, renamed some schemes and allocated a further Rs. 1,500 Crore for MSDE. One interesting change has been the downsizing of skilling projections of 500 Mn people during 2010-22 to 120 Million during 2013-22, bringing in realism in these projections. The NDA Government has so far, also maintained continuity in the role mandated for the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC). NSDC continues to increase the skill training capacity by so far approving 203 training partners and setting up 33 Sector Skill Councils (SSCs).

Skills Ministry has also, rightly so, continued to promote the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) notified by the previous UPA government in Dec’13. NSQF is designed to enable the learner to acquire knowledge and skills that are required by the National Occupational Standards (NOS) to be able to perform a particular job role. It organizes them as a series of qualifications across 10 levels, from Level-1 to Level-10. Each job role is pegged at a specific NSQF level based on the best fitment with the level descriptors. To bring in standardization of skilling competencies, National Occupational Standards (NOSs) have already been created for over 1,000 job roles by SSCs under NSQF.

Recently skills ministry has launched the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), which aims to skill 24 lakh youth in one year at a cost of Rs. 1,500 crore by giving an average monetary award of Rs. 8,000/- per candidate for undergoing skill training. However this scheme also seems to carry over a major lacuna of its previous version called STAR scheme, by not linking the monetary award to actual employment and lack of interface with employers.
The endeavor of the Government in the National Skills Policy is likely to be on coordination and harmonization of over 70 schemes run by over 21 different Central Ministries, giving a larger role to the State Governments and their respective skills development missions and making sector skills councils effective in improving quality of skilling & industry engagement. The first move has already been made in April’15 by moving the training and apprentice divisions of labour ministry to MSDE, which includes the 12,000 ITIs/ITCs.

Challenges in current scenario
One of the mysterious issues has been the lack of correlation between some crucial numbers. As per National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), 128.25 lakh people were skilled during 2012-14 under the schemes of 21 central ministries. These numbers would increase substantially when we add the people skilled by state governments and the private sector. In addition NSDC under its STAR scheme during 2014-15, certified another 9.1 lakh people. These numbers do not include the lakhs of engineering and general graduates churned out by the Indian higher education system. The moot point is where have these people got employed. The labour bureau survey shows that in 8 key sectors, net employment increased by only 4.57 lakh people during Apr-Dec 2014. In 8 years between 2004-05 and 2011-12, net employment increased by 166 lakhs. Multiple sources of data also point out that net employment has declined in both agriculture and manufacturing sectors during the last 10 years with growth being largely in services driven sector and in daily wage based employment. This should also be looked at in the context of about 120 lakh Indians joining the workforce annually. It is hoped that the new National Skill Policy being drafted takes these numbers into account.

Where does the industry and employers fit into this jigsaw puzzle? It continues to belabor the lack of skills available. While primary drivers of each of the 33 SSCs are large employers, very few have come forward to adopt the NSQF framework in their recruitment policies. There could be multiple reasons, including lack of awareness, not-yet-proven credibility of skills certification provided by SSCs, low growth of net employment etc.

The World Bank Enterprise Surveys 2014 reveal that the percentage of firms offering formal training programmes for its permanent, full-time employees in India is just 35.9, compared to China’s 79.2. S. Ramadorai, Chairman of NSDA and NSDC, describes the situation as a “market failure” where the employers are not investing to skill employees, and employees do not have the ability and willingness to pay for skilling. It is necessary that industry come forward to support candidates for training by forging strong partnerships with training providers and SSCs. For success of the skill development efforts, employers and industry have a larger role to play in determining the standards, curriculum, providing apprenticeship and funding. While formulation of NOS’s is being done by the industry governed SSCs, the effectiveness of these has not yet been established. The much-touted Rs. 1,000 crore STAR scheme which was aligned to the SSCs formulated NOS’s did not have the mandate of placements and only sketchy details are available of the actual placements. The numbers reportedly placed by the largest training provider is at around 20%. It may also point towards a combination of mismatch of a) NOSs with the industries’ requirements, b) actual demand of specific job roles and the training programs offered, c) profile of people trained e.g. already employed, people not wanting jobs etc. and d) lacunae in scheme design and implementation.

Seven Considerations for Success
For any skill development effort to succeed, markets and industry need to play a large role in determining courses, curriculum and relevance. For this, employers need to be put in the driving seat, with the government being a facilitator. The employer engagement needs to be an integral part of the every skill scheme, with a tight linkage across the skilling pipeline, including funding. NSQF envisages making it mandatory for government departments and PSUs to have recruitment eligibility criterion specified by NSQF levels.

The second key part of the national skill policy has to be a strong integration of Skills and applied learning into formal education system in high schools and higher education. MHRD and UGC have created NSQF aligned schemes for Community College and B.Voc. in the higher education system and mainstreaming vocational education in classes 9-12. These have been introduced over the last three years and the NDA government is continuing and expanding these initiatives. While funding process has started, what is needed is a) to avoid funding delays within the financial bureaucracy of MHRD & UGC, and b) a strong facilitation support for curriculum, content design, and teacher training, which is missing in the case of higher education.

Use of technology is the third critical component, which is needed. This includes both digital connectivity and relevant e-content for skilling. Wadhwani Foundation has been engaged in creating such e-content in partnership with employers. MHRD is readying plans to give this a major push. Technology can help alleviate the shortage of trainers and bring about improvement in quality. Once created, the same e-content can be deployed with speed at scale and low cost across the country. If past experience is an indicator, then governmental systems are least equipped to handle such technology-based initiatives and strong partnerships are needed with private sector.

The fourth critical component needed is an agile, dynamic and usable labour management information system. While NSDC has produced district wise skill-gap analysis studies, these are still at macro level, not searchable / usable easily for planning and execution purposes. This is also the charter for the National Skills Development Agency (NSDA) set up by Government of India.

The fifth key element is the rationalization of the various skill development schemes of Government of India. Skills Ministry is uniquely placed to provide this coordination and bring about much needed focus. Along with this rationalization the role of the Central Government needs to become more of an advisor, information provider, creating base level standards and guide state governments. In a large and diverse country like ours it is only at state and district level, that the demand and supply equation can be matched between policy creators, funding agencies, training providers and employers. The skill policy should ensure that NSDC and its SSCs do not become another set of regulators with command and control system.

The sixth imperative for the skills policy is to have a twin focus. While we need to skill the existing and projected school and higher education drop outs for employment, simultaneously India needs to rapidly restructure our schools and higher education system to reduce dropouts, improve learning outcomes and mainstream skill development.

The seventh area which should be brought in is are mechanisms for creating awareness, education & training of policy makers at center & state, academic leaders, employers and various formal education regulators like UGC, AICTE etc. They need to go deeper into understanding the catchwords, rather than just using them. Words like NSQF, QP, NOS, vertical mobility, horizontal mobility, credits, credit transfers, competency based skill framework, multiple pathways, recognition of prior of learning (RPL) etc. are used quite freely and loosely by various stakeholders. It is critical to get into a meaningful depth on these and only then sound policies and implementation mechanisms can be created for their institutionalization.

A relatively less known author Jospeh Ohler, Jr has said, “One can earn a thousand credentials but remain unemployed.” To make sure that our youth who earn skill credentials do not remain unemployed, there is a need that the forthcoming national skills policy integrates these seven imperatives to reap the so-called demographic opportunity, and meet the aspirations of youth, industry and government.

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