While the population of several of the world’s leading economies is ageing, India remains young and poised for growth. Our youth will propel growth not only in India but also in the world for the next three decades. This is truly India’s golden sunrise, powered by skills, leading to economic growth and global leadership.
But to realise our demographic destiny, we have to equip and continuously upgrade the skills of our working-age population. To get a sense of the magnitude of this challenge, consider the following: 50 per cent Indians younger than 21! A huge challenge, as well as opportunity, is to create jobs, means of livelihood for at least 10 million of our youth, many of whom might opt to work abroad and hence need world-class skills for a global economy.
The journey of skilling India commenced in 2009 when the National Policy on Skill Development was formulated. The last five years have witnessed a period of intense planning and preparation towards achieving this mission. Skills missions have been set up at both the national and state levels, and in different sectors, to facilitate implementation on the ground. The Sector Skills Councils (SSC) have formally identified and listed various job roles, occupation standards, qualification packs and clearly delineated the skills required for these roles, defined assessment criteria. Training partners to scale up in multiple sectors have been chosen and funded. We have upgraded our ITIs and also helped our training partners to set up training centres in rural and remote areas hitherto unserved.
Having thus put a clear action plan in place, we are now well and truly in the midst of the implementation phase. All stakeholders including training partners, content providers, certification agencies and employers are working together to ensure an outcome-driven approach. Last year we launched the STAR (The National Skill Certification and Monetary Reward) scheme to incentivise youth to voluntarily enroll for skill development. Till date, over 1.4 million youth have been trained for nearly 300 job roles in 19 different sectors under this scheme.
One strategy that we have consciously adopted in this skilling drive has been a willingness to tap all the capabilities and resources available in the country in a synergistic fashion. Rationalisation of government schemes for a common set of outcomes and a scale deployment through the State Skill Missions have progressed well. The Railways and Post Offices have widespread presence in the nation and their infrastructure must be sourced for skill development initiatives. The Rural Broadband initiative, when implemented, will provide network connectivity to 2,50,000 Gram Panchayats and this infrastructure can be sourced to offer skill development opportunities. NGOs and social entrepreneurs are playing a crucial role in skill development. About 93 per cent of our workers are in the unorganised sector, most being in the least developed regions in India. So we need a deeply penetrative effort that addresses local needs and sensitivities. It is heartening to see a new generation of social entrepreneurs and NGOs already tackling this challenge, but we need more of it.
As Gandhiji famously said, India lives in its villages; 73 per cent Indians live in rural areas, so we need more focus there. Social entrepreneurs and NGOs are being encouraged to set up skilling infrastructure and training programmes in villages. For those who prefer local work, we are looking at products and services required by the rural economy so that young people can be employed within their own environment. Repair and maintenance of technology products and equipment that rural people own, agro advisory services, entrepreneurship in agri-
allied sectors, such as horticulture, are some options we are pushing.
But the challenge ahead is daunting. A large section of potential beneficiaries of this programme hail from some of the most economically and socially backward sections. At best, they have only a few years of schooling and have little awareness of the manifold opportunities that await them. Also, the scale of the challenge is so massive that traditional approaches, in spite of one’s best intentions, can only scale that much. Innovation on a disruptive scale is required to overturn this status quo.
Importance of technology
Technology plays a very significant role in this. From mobilising youth and creating awareness to deliver at-scale training, revolutionising assessment, meeting the skilled labour-demand gap, and providing a digital MIS backbone for capturing, analysing and managing outcomes, technology is a crucial key to achieve our mission.
It is well established that mobilisation is one of the big challenges in the skilling mission. Missed call ecosystems, SMS alerts, IVR systems, rural BPOs and digital campaigns can greatly help in reaching out to the millions who need to benefit from the skilling initiatives.
To realise our demographic dividend, we have to continuously upgrade the skills of our youth.
Technology can play a big role in tackling the scale challenge. India has a mobile phone subscriber-base exceeding 900 million. Internet penetration is quite impressive and is expected to grow quickly. The Rural Broadband initiative is poised to provide 100Mbps connectivity to 2,50,000 panchayats. The Railways too has enabled high-speed broadband access in its network of 8,000 stations. We are examining if we can use this reach to deliver online educational services to the masses. Technology today allows creation of multimedia-rich learning content replete with images, animations, audios and videos that are sure to be much more appealing to the target audience intrinsically allergic to traditional learning ways. Gamification of skilling is a must. We want to setup high-tech, high-touch learning centres at the broadband access endpoints to allow learners to experience vocational skills learning in hitherto unknown ways. Besides training potential, such centres have visual appeal to attract and motivate learners.
Vocational skills acquisition involves many hours of hands-on practice. Welding with a torch is necessary to acquire welding skills, and driving can be learnt only by going behind the wheel. The initial stage of this learning process is spent in familiarising oneself with various controls, developing the necessary motor skills and internalising the right safety practices. Practical constraints including cost of consumables and restricted time on shared resources limit the total practice time possible. This translates to inadequate training, poor outcomes and high dropout rates. Simulators, that closely mimic the real experience from both an operational and look-and-feel point, can help overcome this constraint. They use exciting technologies to provide an immersive, game-like feel to the learning process and get better results. We have successfully deployed welding simulators and are piloting more for car driving, forklift and tractor operations.
India has a number of marginal farmers who make a living through rearing a few cows on fodder grown in about an acre of agricultural land. Poor fodder yield leads to poor milk yield constraining their livelihood. A novel technology we’re promoting brings together electronics, agricultural science, cloud computing and mobility to enable high-yield cultivation in indoor environment. We have deployed DIY (Do It Yourself) resources to help farmers set up and operate these indoor fodder units themselves. A pilot initiative is on in the Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh where man-animal conflict limits farmers’ ability to grow fodder in traditional ways.
Amidst this focus on vocational skills, we have not lost sight of the aspirational nature of the Indian workforce. Towards this, we have rolled out an online IT employability skills training programme for science students, which touches nearly 3,00,000 science students and helps them to capitalise on the increasing demand for science talent in the IT industry.
Cyber security is an area receiving a lot of attention as IT takes on an increasingly pervasive role in our lives. There is a large and increasing unmet demand for cyber security professionals capable of assessing vulnerabilities, securing systems, responding to attacks and so on. With an eye on this opportunity, we must focus on cyber security courses both at the school and college levels.
Governing a mission of this scale requires a high degree of information accuracy and transparency. We are in the process of developing a digital platform in PPP (Public Private Participation) mode for multi-
stakeholder participation. This system will contain a National Skills Registry and be linked to a Labour Management Information System and UID. By helping address the management of scale and capturing real-time information, this platform will offer a high degree of information accuracy and transparency thus enabling social audit.
To track and ensure outcomes, we have made it imperative for all skill development initiatives to adopt a data and metrics-driven approach. Impact assessment studies are being conducted to assess the consequences of various initiatives and outcomes in the most critical regions.
In summary, a wholehearted effort is on to skill India on an unprecedented scale. With the concerted efforts of government bodies, industrial institutions, training partners and corporate houses, one hopes to continue to scale to meet the aspirations of the youth of our nation and be the skill capital of the world. Technology will be a key enabler in all stages from mobilisation to governance. The success of this mission will, in no small measure, be a result of the innovative ways in which we can use technology for common good.
The writer is Chairman, National Skills Development Agency (NSDA)