India has vast potential for economic growth and development, considering it is the youngest country in the world with a median age of 29. While a young population is potentially a productive workforce, the fact that less than 5 percent of the country’s 420 million workforce is formally skilled, considerably dampens the prospect of Indian industry (and agriculture) becoming globally competitive in the foreseeable future.
To achieve the ambitious targets set by the Central government under its Skill India Mission, there is urgent need for bridging the skilling-education gap by preparing students for industry at every stage of the education continuum. With two-third of the population still working in rural India, the national skilling effort especially needs to focus on agriculture and rural development.
It is only by creating a holistic learning environment that incorporates skilling at different levels of education right from school to college and university (as recommended by the K. Kasturirangan Committee in the draft National Education Policy 2019 pending finalisation by the Union HRD ministry), that we can bridge the education-skilling gap. Because of the critical importance of introducing and intensifying vocational education and training (VET) in schools, AISECT institutions are working closely with the Union government to execute the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) programme to complement regular academic studies with quality skills training.
After completing their schooling, students usually pursue higher education in search of better employment opportunities. But one of the cruel injustices of our education system is that according to the India Skill Report, 2019 of CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) barely 47 percent of graduates are employable, indicating a deep disconnect between academic knowledge and practical skills needed in industry. According to a report of the Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an estimated 11 million Indians lost their jobs last year, with rural India hit hardest. Little wonder that an estimated 12,000 rural citizens end their lives by suicide every year.
With rising demand for workers familiar with emerging technologies and hands-on experience, it’s high time our universities started offering new-age study programmes such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, blockchain and neural networks to prepare students for moving up the value chain in the newly emergent, competitive jobs market. Simultaneously, as recommended by the K. Kasturirangan Committee, all undergrad colleges and universities should also incorporate skill development programmes into their regular degree courses. Short-term training integrated with much needed hands-on experience offered by universities in partnership with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and various sector skills councils has shown positive results in raising the employability of graduates in all sectors of industry.
In this connection it is pertinent to note that over 80 percent of India’s workforce is employed in the unorganised sector of the economy where the formal skilling deficit is even greater than in India Inc, where skill development programmes are conducted by employer companies. It’s imperative therefore to establish separate institutions that impart short duration skills training programmes to help the unorganised sector workforce to transition to better jobs. This is where vocational training institutes can play a big role. VET institutes can close the gap between education and skilling by providing apprenticeship and internship opportunities to students to help them acquire skill-sets urgently required by MSMEs (medium, small and micro enterprises). VET institutes such as the ITIs, and IT skills training corporates such as NIIT and Aptech must actively partner with industry leaders and government bodies to provide quality training to enable youth to improve their employability.
In AISECT institutions, including the AISECT promoted Rabindranath Tagore University we are actively involved with government skilling programmes such as the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana, National Rural Livelihood Mission and National Urban Livelihood Mission. These public-private partnerships are playing a vital role in accelerating initiatives of the Union government to strengthen the skilling ecosystem in the country to complement the formal education system.
India still has a long way to go in terms of bridging the education and skilling gap. Yet the silver lining is that schools, colleges and universities have acknowledged the importance of skills and hands-on learning. The draft National Education Policy 2019 recommends that at least 50 percent of all learners are provided access to vocational education by 2025. Its recommendation that B.Voc degree programmes are introduced is a step in the right direction. But all education institutions need to work together to bridge India’s massive skills deficit to empower the huge unskilled population of 21st century India.
(Siddharth Chaturvedi is executive vice-president of the AISECT group)