The Indian government has long recognised the need to upskill the country’s young people, especially those in rural areas. Some of the attempts to train a new generation, however, have failed to meet the huge demand. Sidharth Balakrishna examines some of the practical challenges with the government’s schemes and suggests potential solutions.
Recognising the urgent necessity of creating productive employment and getting young people into the same, to ensure that the demographic dividend actually benefits the country, has been the focus of successive governments in India. Given that more than 12 million people in India enter the job market every year, the current government launched an enormous exercise called ‘Skill India’ in 2015 with the aim to train as many as 400 million people in the country in different skills by 2022.
Despite the various efforts and programmes undertaken by the government and other agencies, the objectives have almost always fallen short of expectations. One government-appointed committee, for example, recently called the targets “too large, unnecessary and unattainable”.
One of the major issues being faced by all skill development programmes in India is trying to ensure that the training provided to young people actually results in them being linked to employment. In many cases, it has been seen that this linkage has been problematic. This has largely been due to a host of factors. Perhaps the most significant was that the general skill level of young people from rural areas being extremely low. A study by the ministry for Skill Development in 2015-16 found that less than five per cent of India’s workforce was formally skilled – much lower than many other South Asian or European economies.
The result of this was that potential employers wanted young people to be trained for much longer periods of time than most programmes provided for, meaning that significant efforts needed to be made to improve the work ethic of such young people. These young people were not used to working regular hours on a daily basis in, say a manufacturing environment. Rather they were more used to working in agricultural fields where they could choose when to work, the number of hours and have the option to take long afternoon breaks.
Absenteeism among young people who were undergoing training was also relatively high, due in large part to the fact that government schemes generally allowed for training to be provided free of cost. Even after being offered a job, there were a number of times that the trained young person was not willing to relocate outside their existing city of residence, as they felt their living standards would fall.
All these issues necessitated the need for a different approach towards the challenges of implementing skills improvement training programs. In one such initiative, I was involved with (which subsequently was recognised for delivering better results) the approach followed included a number of different measures that stressed the need to change attitudes and focus strongly on continuous engagement with the young people selected for training.
In this initiative, it was realised that considerable pre- and post-counselling of trainees was extremely important. Trainees were therefore adequately briefed on what was expected of them in terms of their work ethic and the nature of the job. They were also given information on the benefits of training, told where they could expect employment, and asked whether they were willing to relocate before enrolling them.
In addition, despite protest from some, in a bid to ensure the enrolment of serious students and lower absenteeism, it was decided to take a small amount of money as a security deposit from the trainees. This was to be returned to them if they attended a minimum number of classes and successfully completed the training. This was a small measure that brought a very substantial difference in the outcomes post the training, since it served as a screening tool towards ensuring only those who valued the training enrolled.
Crucially, it was decided to provide on-the-job training before the actual placement that simulated actual work conditions during training. This was vital for success as the trainees developed a better understanding of what to expect when they actually joined the workplace. Recruiters found the candidates to have a better work ethic.
All these changes ensured that both the trainee and the training provider had some ‘skin in the game’. In some cases, community involvement was also ensured by getting the community to provide the training venue – often the Panchayat Bhavan or an alternate hall.While challenges continue to exist at the ground level, these measures have served to address some of the issues that have cropped up with regards to delivering results pertaining to the skill-related initiatives of the government and a wider dissemination of the ‘lessons learnt’ could help those people and agencies engaged in this sector. This need to effectively skill and upskill people must also be seen in the context of some estimates stating that as much as 69 per cent of Indian jobs are susceptible to automation.