The need for stronger qualitative standards in STEM skilling initiatives
India, today stands at a juncture where its working population, with almost 5 million more entering the labour market looking for jobs. But given how technology has defined skill requirements, getting jobs isn’t as easy now. This while layoffs and job loss still remain prevalent in tech facing sectors. In a recent report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has revealed that almost 11 million Indians lost their jobs in 2018. As India's unemployment rate grew to 7.4 percent while a recent ILO report states that most new jobs being created fall within what can be called “vulnerable jobs” as their low skill requirement means easy replacement. Previous years have also witnessed mass layoff within sectors like IT due to changing skill requirements. Many who survived such exodus were faced with the need to reskill and adapt to the newer way to work.
Skilled talent in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (collectively known as the STEM) today is important to sustain a growing economy. Primarily because a major factor driving economic productivity in recent times has been the developments in the field of science and technology. The collective application of developments in those fields have constantly kept businesses on its toes; a situation where adopting newer technology at the right time can prove critical to the organizations' survival. From a consumers perspective, skilled talent in STEM fields has been successful in creating products and services without which life would today certainly feel incomplete. The tech giants of today like Microsoft and Google have been built on the shoulders of skilled individuals. By virtue of the role that technology plays in the world today, skilled talent in STEM fields today becomes critical for the country’s economic and technological growth. But India falls behind when it comes to having quality STEM talent and the right means to run upskilling initiatives to make them employable.
According to reports in Business Today, industry experts and academicians agree that one of the chief contributors to such a talent mismatch is the disparity between college curriculums and industry expectations. Although this has been the case for quite some time now, the situation has finally reached a point where millions with STEM qualifications enter the jobs market without having the right skills (mostly the qualitative aspect) and hence aren’t able to get good satisfying jobs. The disproportionate representation of the genders in STEM employees further accentuates the problem.
Can budgetary changes help?
Looking at previous budgets, the focus on ensuring skilling programs becomes available and accessible to masses has been clear. In 2017, over 17,000 crores were reportedly allotted to ensure Skills India Mission was effective in ensuring proper results. This renewed focus in the budget that year also led to other aspects which were further developed. An initiative like SANKALP (Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion Programme)— the biggest initiative under the programme— was launched off at an investment of Rs 4,000 crore. The aim of this was to provide relevant training and skill-building opportunities to over 350 million young people. Besides, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, the nodal agency that looks at the smooth running of India’s skilling initiative, also added it would set up 100 India International Skills Centres that will conduct advanced courses in foreign languages to help youngsters prepare for overseas jobs. In previous years this focus was reflected in how NITI Ayog set up a national programme to foster skill acceleration in areas of AI, robotics, machine learning.
Incentives can also help bring in private players to help build training programs in partnerships with universities, a trend followed in many developed countries like the US and Singapore. This also ensures that the quality of skilling building sessions doesn’t go down. As budgetary subsidies can be used to introduce incentive structures into the market, skill development initiatives might find the right boost by creating an incentive to start more e-learning platforms. This can help out of work employees or students easily access learning content to meet skill requirements across key sectors that employ STEM graduates. Using the latest learning methodologies to make skilling an engaging and productive force when it comes to STEM courses. The budget can also help create provisions for good quality learning platforms that are tuned to needs of reskilling the need of which, as time continues, is going to expand within the currently employed population.
India produced the most number of graduates of any country worldwide with 78 million fresh graduates in 2016 alone, of which 2.6 million were STEM graduates. This puts India in a position to outstrip the US in terms of STEM graduates produced annually, given that it currently leads by a margin of over 2.5 million. But numbers aren’t the major problem, it’s the quality of such training initiatives. A report last year showed that although the number of STEM graduates has increased over the years, the talent gap in such sectors has also gone up. The report noted that ‘the average level of shortage of skilled talent in this sector has risen from 6 percent in 2014 to 12 percent in 2018. While the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has sanctioned the setting up of over 10,000 institutes across India by the end of this financial year aimed at increasing the reach of STEM courses, the issue of skills gap still needs to be addressed. In addition, Indeed said initiatives such as Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship should help serve as a great opportunity to create the right talent pool. But these still remain localized approaches to create a talent pool of skilled STEM graduates and qualitative measures are yet to show significant change.