Mahendra Nath Pandey is an Indian politician who is the current Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship of India and Member of Lok Sabha for Chandauli since 2014. He has also served as Union Minister of State for the Ministry of Human Resource Development between 2016 and 2017.
In an interaction with People Matters, the Minister shares his thoughts on the current economic scenario due to COVID-19. The economy has come to a standstill because of this current pandemic, with millions of job losses and laborers returning to their homes are an alarming situation and what is the government doing to keep things under control.
Read the edited excerpts here.
You have been the HRD Minister in the past and are now handling the Ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. How has the journey been so far? What were some of your significant challenges and achievements?
While the Ministry of Human Resource Development is focussed on the education of India's citizens, the Ministry of Skill Development is focussed on empowering the youth with skill sets towards being gainfully employed and contributing to the economic growth of the country.
MSDE primarily drives the Skill India Mission that was launched by the Honorable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, and was designed to help India’s youth achieve their full potential, hone their skills, and help in the economic development of the nation. The journey so far has been full of different functions towards creating an employable and stronger workforce. We have revamped many initiatives from policies for skill development and entrepreneurship, to the Apprenticeship Act and the programs for skilling, upskilling and reskilling of the nation’s workforce.
Significant achievements include:
- Over 1 crore youth join the Skill India Mission annually
- Launch of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) to aid those who cannot pay for their skill training and find a means of livelihood for them
- Setting up of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras (PMKKs) – close to 750 state-of-the-art skilling centres for youth
- Introduction of a wide range of reforms to the Apprenticeship Act of 1961, to make it significantly easier for the industry to take on much-needed apprentices, extended it to the service sector
- Reinvigorated the ITI ecosystem through modernization, enhanced pedagogy, revised curriculum, better technology, quality training, and an online examination and assessment system
- Introduction of new-age courses in 12 NSTIs. These include Internet of Things – Smart Healthcare; Internet of Things – Smart Cities; 3D printing; Drone pilots; Solar Technicians and Geo-Informatics among many others.
The country is going through an economic slowdown. How are you planning to link skill development with employment in the current crisis?
Once the nationwide lockdown ends and the COVID 19 crisis is behind us, we expect the country will be at a distinct advantage when it comes to economic recovery. Needless to say, that on one hand while a few sectors will be impacted like travel and tourism, hospitality, automobiles, real estate, and entertainment; on the other hand, there will be a few which will likely see growth – like pharma, FMCG, Health, logistics, and e-commerce.
With a decreased dependency on China, India will see several opportunities come its way. We will have to uplift and enhance our manufacturing and industrial output to reduce external dependency while catering to international and domestic demand.
This recovery will not only be driven by the above factors but also by the entrepreneurial spirit that we have been inculcating in our students over the years, and the focus we have laid on new-age skills that will become increasingly important in the post Coronavirus world. We expect these new-age skills to become highly in demand.
Also, through our e-skilling initiatives, we have enabled possibilities for many to upgrade their existing skills. The lockdown has given many people time to catch up on their skilling requirements and upskill wherever necessary.
Under the leadership of our Prime Minister, we are working on an action plan to reskill unemployed migrant and informal sector workers once the lockdown is lifted. These will not only help rehabilitate those who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis but also make the workforce readily available once economic activity restarts.
How closely are you working with the HRD Ministry in the area of employment? Has there been any discussion about a change in the approach of creating more jobs and upskilling more people post this crisis?
We have been working closely with the MHRD on ensuring integration of skills both at a school and college level so that we can engage with the youth at the right age and tap them at the right time.
Of late, India has been getting queries from the European Union and the US for textiles, homeware, ceramic tiles, engineering goods, furniture, among others as part of one plus one strategy in relation to China. India’s electronics industry is heavily dependent on China, importing about $20.6 billion worth of electronic items in 2018-19, which can be now made in India. We should explore this opportunity and should uplift and enhance our manufacturing and industrial output to reduce external dependency.
Degree Apprenticeship is a new education route, recently introduced by the Government, bringing together the best of higher and vocational training. This new option enables university study and the invaluable on-the-job training typical of an apprenticeship. While pursuing a degree course the candidate can undergo apprenticeship training as an integrated component of the curriculum.
With COVID-19 impacting all the major sectors and employment opportunities will be limited. How do you plan to deal with this?
With each challenge and adversity comes an opportunity. While it is right to say that some sectors will take a hit, there will be a few which will see increasing demand. New job roles will be created to meet demand nationally and internationally. As mentioned above sectors like Healthcare, Logistics, Emergency services, Green jobs, E-commerce, Home delivery services, IT/ITeS will see increasing demand for a skilled workforce. We have always focused on a job-ready workforce. Now that the opportunity will arise, we will be able to meet these requirements of the industry.
In a few segments, like in reskilling and upskilling, continuous and quick assessment of demand will be done by a special research team which will be formed soon. There will be a clear focus on employer-led training for the focussed outcome and we will enable fast-tracking approval for an additional courses. We can expect large scale entrepreneurship led skilling especially supporting the micro-entrepreneurs along with the creation of linkages to the credit network. The focus will be on a blended model for learning with increased scalability and quick turnaround time.
How is the ministry navigating through the challenges brought on by COVID-19?
Firstly, we are trying to ensure that we keep all our students, staff, and partners safe hence all centres were shut with immediate effect of the nationwide lockdown that was announced by the Hon’ble Prime Minister in late March 2019. All our training centres, including National Skill Training Institutes (NSTIs), ITIs, and their hostels across the country have either been converted into quarantine/isolation facilities or shelters for the needy and have been extended to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and to the respective State Governments. 40 percent of this capacity is already being utilized for the welfare of the people.
MSDE has also notified all establishments to pay the full stipend to apprentices engaged with them. Currently, 24,884 establishments are engaging 2.42 lakh apprentices in both designated and optional trade. The Government will reimburse stipends to these establishments.
We have made extensive online resources available through the Directorate General of Training for around 2 million students enrolled in industrial training institutes who are unable to attend classes. The complete curriculum is available through video lessons, question banks, mock tests and e-learning content through the Bharat Skills portal and mobile-friendly application.
What’s your take on the Indian job market at this point? Post COVID-19, how will the future look like?
The sections of population that are likely to be most impacted are – workers from impacted sectors, daily wage earners, migrant workers and those working in the formal economy. There must be quick and continuous assessment of demand and blended models for learning which are scalable and have quick turn-around time. There will be heavy focus on reskilling and upskilling. This recovery will not only be driven by the above factors but also by the entrepreneurial spirit that we have been inculcating in our students over the years and the focus we have laid on new-age skills that will become increasingly important in the post Coronavirus world.
What is the ministry doing to help people who have lost their job because of COVID-19?
The nation is witnessing thousands of migrant workers, many of whom have been rendered jobless by the nationwide lockdown imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, continue to return to their villages and home-towns. The government is planning on using these workers for infrastructure projects, a move that could help address two crucial problems – joblessness and workforce shortage. We are trying to find opportunities to link the semi-skilled and skilled workers so that they can earn their livelihood and at the same time support the local economy. We are also looking at agriculture, agri-processing and healthcare as immediate avenues to restart skilling with a focus on reverse migrants.
What are your plans for the Ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in the coming four years?
We have received a significant amount of feedback and suggestions on what changes we can make to our various initiatives to make them more efficient, with better outcomes. We are evaluating these and making some tweaks to the programs with a continued focus on apprenticeship, reskilling and upskilling as well as certification and standardization of existing skills.
Beyond that, we are all working together to overcome the challenges and continue our work in this environment where there is a new normal in place.
The Ministry is currently in the midst of planning the next phase of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, the umbrella scheme under the Prime Minister’s Skill India Mission along with other initiatives like IndiaSkills, Rozgar Melas, etc.