The sheer creation of capacity by itself cannot solve the employability problem for the country. There is no doubt that there is a definite need to have people skilled to enable India to take the leap it needs to. Unfortunately, this need is just backed by a latent demand due to a large number of industries still unaware of the need to have a skilled workforce. Given the abundance of cheap and untapped labor, many organizations are under the assumption that having a few skilled workers in specialized roles will be more than enough and will automatically fulfill this dormant need for having a skilled workforce. At the grassroots levels, capacity building is essential when one is talking about schools and colleges. Unfortunately, the same is not taken seriously enough when referring to the establishment of vocational education and training programs. While the government has established a definite need to skill people and has set itself an ambitious target of skilling 500 million people by 2020, it is essential that the government through establishment of policies ensures that there are jobs for these employees who go through these skilling programs. This brings to the forefront the important and almost critical need to socially evangelize the genre of vocational training and education, ensuring that in the years to come, vocational programs and courses are given the same level of credibility as formal education. For this to happen, the formation of private-public partnerships is key as is the passing of policy to incentivize players from the private sector, who are making great strides in the space and thereby, bringing the government that much closer to achieving its goal.
At Centum Learning, we have managed to train directly almost 120,000 people in the last 1 year. The last year has also seen our network expand to close to 110 skills development centers in rural areas across 65 districts and approximately 170 operational centers in urban and semi urban areas. The last year alone has seen us spread our knowledge dissemination across various domains, which has resulted in the creation of over 1,50,000 jobs. Basis the requirements of the industry, we have created content and launched different courses and skills programs across different sectors like facilities management, housekeeping, hospitality, distribution, DTH, accounting and mobile repairing and we are looking at rolling out programs in healthcare and renewable energy in the near future.
While our rural initiatives are extremely well highlighted, let us not forget the urban poor for whom we are doing a fair amount as well. We have formed strategic alliances with state governments to increase the employability quotient of the urban youth who are either just slightly above or fall below the poverty line. While it is easy to say and assume that due to the abundance of opportunity in urban areas, jobs would be easy to come by even for unskilled youth, in many cases they remain unemployed. We should not look at this negatively and instead should be heartened and encouraged by the fact that India is waking up to the demand and need for a skilled workforce no matter what the industry. Buoyed by this fact, we are looking to bridge the gap through our vocational skills development programs that we have started specifically for these youth, in an attempt to help them transform their lives.
Centum Learning has also partnered with NSDC to set up Centum Works Skills India Limited, which focuses on skills development initiatives primarily in the rural market. One of the biggest challenges faced with regard to skills development is that the cost associated with it remains high due to the unwillingness of the candidates to spend money on a training program, despite knowing that it will benefit them in the long run. As you go to the bottom of the pyramid and into rural areas, it gets more and more difficult to get individuals to pay for skilling and development programs.
Given the goal of the government, there is a lot of activity that is being undertaken by both industry and government. What is noticeable in this attempt to bridge the skill gap in our country is that some of these activities are positive and are steps in the right direction, while there are others that need to be relooked at in terms of either the concept or thought and in some cases its implementation. The overall visibility of skills as a transformational focus area for the government is big, given the steps that they have already taken, beginning with the establishment of NSDC as an umbrella body to monitor the skilling initiatives across various states in India.
Going forward, there are two ways in which this business can be grown. The target for Centum Learning over the next 3 years is to expand its presence to over 380 districts and in FY 12-13 alone, to be present in at least 90 districts across India, 250 cities or towns and train and skill 170,000 people. The greatest advantage that Centum Learning possesses is that as an organization, it is completely domain agnostic, which allows it to remain flexible and react to the demands of industry across sectors. This flexibility and ability to react to the market has enabled us to consistently maintain a 75 percent placement record of skilled candidates, which is one of the most successful in the industry. It is important to note that this impressive record does not come easy and the road to success is littered with challenges and obstacles. To start with, it is difficult to walk into a small town or village and proclaim that by attending our programs, people’s lives will be transformed. The first thing that comes into the minds of people is that this is too good to be true and there is a fine print to it, which is not being revealed or that this is nothing but a bunch of baloney. Our teams then go in and evangelize and counsel these youth to the farthest extent possible to show them that our programs can really make a huge difference to their lives. We work with the local governments, panchayats, village elders and other influential members of the village or town to find a way to get people to listen. In many cases, we have actually sat with family members to explain to them how their son or daughter will benefit from learning a particular skill that is on offer. The next big challenge we often face is that while people may be interested in learning a particular vocational skill, they may not wish to migrate to a city or town where the job opportunities exist. There are many such roadblocks that we face on a regular basis, which we take head on. In most cases, we have been able to ensure that people understand the long-term benefits of learning and mastering a skill. Therefore, eventually we invest on an outreach program and follow a 80-20 rule, where we go out 80 percent of the time to convince people to develop a skill through vocational training in an attempt to transfer their lives and 20 percent of the time, people come to us looking for that change in their lives.
As a country, India has a big task at hand and I have a mixed view on the steps we are taking to resolve the situation. Some of the steps are good – the fact that the government has a scheme, the fact that NSDC has been formed, the fact that there is a lot of visibility on this by the media and from the Prime Ministers’ office, show we are on the right path. But I think some of the schemes need to be more realistic, because today industry is not as spread out geographically in the country and therefore, employment opportunities are not as widely spread out as people are. So, often there are some parts in the country where there is a lot of unemployed and unskilled or under-skilled youth, who we would want to skill, but there is very less developmental industry to employ them even if they are skilled. As mentioned earlier, the challenges faced by players in the space like us range from the social stigma attached to vocational training over formal education to people being content with the way their lives are and they are to not willing to relocate to where the jobs are. However, there is no doubt that the private sector is excited and very interested in the various schemes setup by the government to help bridge the gap between the demand and supply of skilled individuals, but in the words of the great poet, William Wordsworth, there are miles to go before we sleep.