Today, knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially…Today, knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water…There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you…What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know
– Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators
The amount of change the world economy has witnessed in the last two decades and the rate at which it has occurred is staggering. Everyone will inevitably have to deal with a significant degree of professional change. This shift could be seismic, to the extent that the very nature of a trade or profession is transformed forever.
Skill development holds the key to India’s ability to tap the vast potential of its youth for achieving inclusive growth and for evolving as the hub of the global financial system. However, much thought needs to be invested in designing the right training methodologies. It should focus on learning by doing rather than rote classroom learning.
India’s education system leans heavily on theoretical learning while practical training aspects involving “working with hands” and “learning by doing” take a backseat. Bookish knowledge is rarely supplemented with industrial training in the country. We have inadequate infrastructure for imparting industrial skills to the students who are dropouts of the educational system, particularly in rural India, or those who cannot continue their studies due to financial constraints. This is one of the main reasons for India’s demand-supply mismatch where the industry lacks a skilled talent pool and youngsters cannot find jobs.
The mismatch between academic training skills and employment has widened, leading to a situation where, on one hand, the youth are unable to find employment and on the other, employers are unable to find people appropriately trained for jobs they have on offer.
Technology is advancing faster than we can adapt, upending the job market and delivering unimaginable shocks to both our values and pattern of thinking. Most children entering school today will do jobs that don’t exist yet. Many of these children who are still being educated in the old system will find the new norms, institutions, and patterns of working alien to their ways. The tools of most jobs are in a state of extreme flux. For example, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and other boardroom documents have all been changed by the cloud, and sharing and group editing are the new norms.
Technology empowers but will render millions of jobs obsolete, as smart machines take over repetitive tasks. Many of the schools and universities are structured on the old, hierarchical elitism of colonial times and consider students as empty vessels that simply need to be filled with bookish knowledge. As a consequence, such educational institutions are disempowering students through their outdated teaching methods. A better way would be to treat students as creative, entrepreneurial problem-solvers and give them the skills, resources, and power to generate and drive change both while learning and after they graduate.
The need of the hour is not only for producing appropriately skilled human resources but also for skills development that fosters inclusive growth. The focus must be on improving the quality and relevance of skills while also strengthening the inclusiveness of skills training so that economic and social growth covers all citizens we have to build a new national apprenticeship to enable young people acquire and practice those skills that are relevant for the new world.
Students can best be empowered by bridging the gap between theory and practice. Today’s graduates must be both intellectually and technically savvy to succeed beyond the classroom environment. It’s no wonder that a growing number of universities are enriching their curriculums with real-world knowledge and empowering students with a practical learning experience. Universities will have to increasingly infuse practical elements in learning systems and culture.
The life cycle approach to teaching soft skills
Our skill program is churning out unemployable skills, and not employable skills, for which there is a huge shortage. The private sector has no incentive to impart skills to workers who may then use their resulting higher bargaining power to obtain work elsewhere. In this context, the German system of apprenticeship makes it mandatory for the private sector to impart skills to workers.
The need of the hour is not only giving adequate skills but also developing them in such a manner that it fosters inclusive growth. We should focus on the “one lifecycle” approach which encompasses all aspects related to skill training, including employability. Adopting this approach will ensure that the kind of skills imparted to trainees are marketable and linked with jobs.
It is also important to ensure that specific skills are not scaled across multiple areas in the same region as this saturates the market with limited opportunities for those who are trained. If everyone is trained in becoming a blacksmith, there will be too many blacksmiths and not enough jobs. Imparting locally-relevant skill sets like repairing bicycles, two-wheelers, solar lamps or mobiles, running a poultry unit, and the like, make families self-sustaining.
To this end, Governments should boost investment in lifelong learning to retrain, retool, and reskill. For example, Governments could provide training grants throughout the life of a worker. Governments should also reinforce the supply of skills by strengthening incentives for educational institutions to harness the power of digital technology and new business models.
While we continue our efforts to provide training in more advanced skills, it is also necessary to strengthen the ecosystems for basic subsistence skills in smaller communities. We can design new-generation skills for para-veterinarians, health workers, solar engineers, water drillers and testers, hand pump mechanics, artisans, designers, masons, accountants, technicians, and computer programmers who support their fellow villagers in building and sustaining collective livelihood projects and increasing their economic and social resilience.
In an age of skyrocketing unemployment, it is integral to incorporate marketable and real-world skills within the education system. A system that integrates skills and education can go a long way in ensuring that the youth are better equipped to handle a challenging employment market. Employers need to interact with education providers. Both can benefit from strong reciprocal relations, with employers advising educators what skills they need (and even assisting in designing curricula and extending faculty support) and educators providing students with practical training and hands-on learning. There are compelling economic benefits in rebalancing the labor market; conversely, the human costs of failing to do will be enormous.
Envisioning the bold future
We require a more coordinated and collective impact approach from the various stakeholders if we want to enlarge the network of training programs and ensure that training is closely aligned with specific demands of the industry. It requires developing a clear common agenda around the entire ecosystem of workforce training.
Education will have to be made available in more flexible and innovative forms to enable lifelong learning and deepening of skills and re-skilling as old occupations disappear and new ones evolve. It will also not have to be restricted for jobs that might be on offer, but ones that would stimulate them to see the possibilities for innovation and even the creation of own jobs for them.
We require a more coordinated approach from various stakeholders if we want to enlarge the network of training programs and ensure that training is closely aligned with the specific demands of the industry. It requires intervention at four levels: Quality trainers, market-aligned curriculum, assessment of learning outcomes, and effective matchmaking between the youth and jobs.