Skills Education in India : Improving Access

Skills based education is marred by multiple access barriers like limited infrastructure facilities, quality of training, rigid entry requirements, lack of financial support, and negative perceptions. These shortcomings exist more for the disadvantaged, especially women and rural communities. Developing our human resources reservoir that not only feeds to the domestic market but also the global workforce and labour crunch is the urgent growth imperative. Indian workforce needs to be trained across the four levels, from White Collar to the Rust Collar workers linking them to job opportunities and market realities.

The skills challenge doubles up for us with a swelling young working age group population. Often referred to as the ‘Demographic Dividend’, the skills vs jobs requirement mismatch often leads to economically inactive working age group people. While this impacts the economy and the particularly the growth of the domestic industry, it is a huge social and civil risk. Examples of growing unrest, for eg the red belt or the increasing insurgency are a wakeup call.

The skills challenge magnifies for India on three accounts:

  1. Quantity: For a billion plus people country which though is the second largest supplier of skilled manpower to the world and boasts of over 65% of the total population below 35 years, having a robust skills training and certification system which reaches out to most if not all people is a mammoth task.
  2. Quality: Given the volumes and highly input oriented training systems often students completing their skills diploma’s and certificates are not attuned to the industry and application of these skills. Quality of delivery, instruction, and outout hence mars productivity resulting in on the job losses for the industry, slowing down the economic activity sometime derailing the growth engine.
  3. Access: India has a very large geographical spread, difficult terrain and varying social economic conditions which make implementation of standardised, quality control skill instruction a huge challenge. Learners often have no access to training programs due to the inability to pay fees or entry barriers to training.

On top of this the ‘aspiration mismatch’ resulting from the lack of social appreciation of skills makes it further more challenging to bridge the huge skills demand – supply gaps. Sadly, careers emanating from skills are a matter of chance for majority and not a well though choice. Other challenges in implementation like shortage of trained trainers and teachers, mismatch in the curriculum and industry expectation and a lack of global recognition of certification for L1 to L4 courses.

Barriers to access

1. Values and viewpoints

Perhaps the most common misconception about vocational education is that it is meant for learners who are not likely to be part of the formal educational system. It is often a term associated with drop-out students and learners with special needs, thus creating perceptual barriers. The rigidness of the prevailing caste system also creates barriers. Though the attitudes are changing because of urbanization and penetration of media, it still deters learners in rural parts in choosing occupations, which they perceive to be lower to his/her caste based occupation.

2. Entry Requirements

A majority of vocational and technical courses offered in India require educational qualifications for entry. For instance, in order to get admission into an Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), a high school degree having 10 years of education is required. This kind of entry requirement may deter interested learners who do not have the necessary entry-level qualifications. In addition, subject related requirements further distances learners from the institution. This may be more acute in the case of women / rural communities that already face traditional barriers when it comes to education.

3. Infrastructure

In India the per capita availability of institutions, imparting formal education is much higher than those imparting vocational education. Poor availability of vocational institutions results in ignorance about the available options for the community and consequently, poor utilization.  Infrastructure issues – location of institutions, classrooms, equipment, workshop, and trained teachers etc also affects the quality of training, thereby affecting learners’ future access to jobs.

4. Financial Support

Low economic status and limited access to finance, which often is the case in rural areas, does not allow learners to finish their high school and enroll in the vocational courses. For such learners training involves dual costs – the cost of the training itself and the opportunity cost of their lost labour.

5. Career Opportunities

Close to two-thirds learners pursuing vocational education are not employed in the trade they were trained for. This is probably because, (i) a mismatch between the skills attained and those actually in demand and (ii) a mismatch between the skills taught and the graduates’ own labour market objectives

Tackling barriers to Skills Development

Government has shown its strong commitment towards skilling people by allocating sizable public expenditure for skills education, formulating a National Policy on Skill Development in 2009, and creating enabling institutions such as Prime Minister’s National Council on Skill Development and National Skill Development Corporation. However, to achieve the goal of skilling 500 million people by 2022 it is important that the enabling institutions continue focusing on the principles laid down in the policy, especially those related to skilling the disadvantaged.

The following measures may be adopted from a policy perspective:

  • Introducing special mechanisms in the delivery of training to increase participation by women, including mobile training units, extension schemes, and in-plant training;
  • Monitoring progress in increasing the participation and integration of women in training and employment and holding training institutions accountable for equitable intake of women;
  •  Significantly expanding training provisions for rural poor, youth, and vulnerable groups in rural areas. This could be achieved through greater equitable integration into existing institutions, structures and facilities;
  • Promoting training in non-traditional fields for women through the establishment of specific training programmes and pilot support schemes; training programmes for women and rural poor could include personal development and  life skills training modules and literacy training;
  • Increasing the pool of women trainers and provide certification for training;
  • Designing targeted interventions to address vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, to increase their economic empowerment;
  • Combining income skills training with provision of technical inputs, credit and supplies, careful selection of students that are capable of using the supplies and providing continuous support and mentoring schemes;
  • Introducing more work-based learning and linking trainees with mentors/masters to gain experience of a specific trade; integrating business, self-employment and entrepreneurial concepts into training activities, especially in follow-up phases, and search for trainers with relevant backgrounds and familiarity with both the formal and informal sector.

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