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The ecosystem must support the Apprentices Act
In the last one year, about 300,000 people have undergone skills training in various ways through the skills development corporations and in various companies, which offer skills training. The numbers are not very large as compared to our need. And most of the corporations that are engaged in skills training are not able to grow the numbers. The reason is that people who come there are not able to make the connection between the jobs they want and the skills training that they get, for various reasons. On the one hand, candidates are not willing to pay for getting trained, and on the other hand, employers are still not able to assure these skills training providers that jobs will be available for the people once trained. Therefore, we need to get the ecosystem in place, which will enable the required connect between skills development and jobs.
The strategy at the national and state level is to start skill development corporations and provide required training, but all this needs to be dovetailed into one other large reform that is required for India. And this large reform is that skills training companies need to focus on providing actual work experience. Instead, what is currently given are theoretical classes with very little emphasis on actual work experience. Thus, there is an urgent need to bring reforms and amendments to the Apprentices Act so that companies, hotels, business institutions can take apprentices for a term up to 2-5 years and pay them a stipend, and the government can possibly subsidize the stipend so that more people can be taken in by the industry players. This will ensure that people are given on-the-job training, given a certificate and absorbed into relevant jobs.
The traditional artisan model, which existed in India for centuries, continues to exist and work, but it is losing its appeal because we do not respect artisans in this country. Further, there is very less dignity of labor in India and parents often want their children to become graduates and hold government or corporate white collar jobs only. To break this lockjaw and ensure a lot more people are employed, India needs to amend the Apprentices Act and make it a benign piece of legislature sans any criminal prosecution and use it as a development tool. The industry is very eager to get apprentices, but they do not want to bear the liability to answer the government or bribe the government officials who misuse this provision.
My personal view is that the existing strategy is not working and requires an immediate course correction. It is not working because the basic ecosystem is not in place to support the same. The immediate need is to bring amendments to the Apprentices Act. For example, in a country like Germany, there are 2.5-3 million apprentices working in the industry. The ecosystem makes it possible for people with vocational skills to get absorbed in well-paying jobs because there is respect for people with skills. In India, this linkage between vocational schools, skills training and the employer is broken, which can be reinstated by bringing reforms to the Apprentices Act.
A fundamental challenge in India is that 56 percent of the population in India depends upon agriculture and agriculture contributes to only 14 percent of the GDP, growing at a rate of only 3%. And the gap between people who depend on agriculture and those who do not, is expanding and this is creating social tension. The only way to tackle this problem (and it must be tackled on a war footing) is through large scale skills development, large scale vocational training that will bring the great mass of people from the agriculture side into the industry/service sector/ trade/ hotels/construction, etc. And to do this, we have to move at least 200 million people in the next 20 years from the field to the factory.
Manipal Global Services has a skills development subsidiary in partnership with City & Guild, which aims to develop skills for people in the services sector. In the first 2 years, we have trained 20,000 people, with very many being gainfully employed and the aim is to skill 50,000 more people in the next 2 years. Having said that, the important thing is not to merely provide skills to people, but ensure that people get employed. Only spending money on skilling people will not get India anywhere because the true test of skill development is employability. So, there is a challenge, but I am confident that we will be able to succeed.
In this scenario, the average investment required to skill an individual to make him/her employable is between Rs.15,000-20,000 for a course spanning 3-4 months. And substantially it is the candidate who needs to foot the bill. Our joint venture in which City & Guild provides support in terms of course structure and training methodology is making steady progress. And then we partner with local employers to create the ecosystem to ensure people are provided skills required by the industry.
There is a great need for a change in strategy for India to address the issue at hand. India needs a different strategy; the Apprentices Act has to be made to work in a benign manner, because skill development happens by working and not merely by classroom learning and theories.
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