The number of references to skill
development in the government lexicon has soared over the years.
With each budget presented by the UPA government, the number of
initiatives to skill India has gone up. Starting with allocation
of funds for reviving Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and
polytechnics and upgrading the Regional Engineering Colleges to
IITs to setting up a National Skills Development Corporation two
years ago, skill development has become a priority like never
The appointment of former TCS chief S. Ramdorai as the advisor to
the prime minister on skill development last week is a clear
indication that the government wants to leave no stone unturned to
skill 500 million Indians by 2022. The objective of training two
out of every five Indians is timely and commendable.
The government's ambitious target of imparting skills to 500
million Indians, as a first step, only tries to quantify the task
and points to the fact that it will engage with the private sector
to achieve the target. While the task of making this a
public-private partnership is huge, bigger challenges will surface
when the range of skills to be imparted and employability of this
skilled workforce is addressed.
While skill training in general covers a range of hard core skills
deployed in manufacturing and technical areas, the role of the
services sector that fuels nearly 65 percent of the Indian economy
is central to any plan to impart skills in India. We also need to
pepper the workforce with a variety of soft skills that can bring
bigger benefits to the Indian economy. The services sector will
also need added dimension of customer care, on time performance
and zero service default levels, to be more globally competent.
While it is a moot point that the government's main purpose is to
enhance employability, it is imperative that it also prepares them
to perform the job efficiently, predictably and up to
Employability must also prepare Indians to have skills for jobs
that are closer to their place of residence to avoid the strains
of mobility on the already stretched urban infrastructure. The
government must make it abundantly clear, while offering
opportunities to Indians to achieve skills, that the task of
finding jobs will be their own. In fact, adding this newly
skillful talent to the existing entrepreneurial system would help
to create employment opportunities for their community.
Before India embarks on this big skill imparting programme through
ITIs, polytechnics and the host of specialized institutes set up
in partnership with a host of private institutions, it must sit
back and reflect as to why did the ITIs, polytechnics and
engineering schools set up in the 1950s and 60s fail to live up to
their promise? Why did the ITIs and polytechnics degenerate at
such a rapid pace? The rate of change of curriculum and adaption
to the changing needs would bring dynamism to this programme. Use
of instructional design and technology would make replication
easier as well as make the entire process far more scalable.
Are skills alone the panacea for all ills? The answer lies in
checking around one's home and work environment. Does the best
plumber and electrician in your neighbourhood live up to his time
commitment? Can the ATM from the best bank promise to deliver cash
at all times? Does your radio taxi driver carry a map to guide you
to your destination in the city? There are good chances that the
answer to all the three questions is a No.
So, along with imparting skills to the workforce the right
attitude to ensure high level of customer orientation that
transcends the typical 'Chalta Hai' Indian attitude needs to be
imbibed. Any certification for skills must also add the service
orientation dimension. The industry body CII has done enough work
to engage its members with the academia, skill developers as well
as industry that needs to permeate to the smallest village.
Such a mass government engagement with the private sector needs to
be handled with care on two counts. Firstly, the output of these "skilling"
institutes is Indians looking to be productive and gainfully
employed. The government will be dealing with the aspirations of
Indians and so 'poorly-skilled' and 'ill-equipped' output could
cost the nation as we are not dealing with parts that can be
scrapped, machined or re-tooled.
Secondly, the government's performance in the infrastructure
sector, especially in the PPP mode, has been less than
satisfactory. Speaking at Davos last month, Indian Home Minister
P. Chidambaram said that only 50 percent of the money contracted
for roads is ever used for the purpose and went on to describe it
as the "biggest swindle" in the country.
We hope that Mr. Ramadorai and those dealing with National Skill
Development Programmes will bring in a work ethic that has a heavy
bias for action, results and zero transmission loss of men, money
and material. Only then will we be able to call the skill
development programme as the new mantra for 'roti, kapda and
makaan' (food, clothing and shelter) for 500 million Indians.
(Sanjiv Kataria, a Strategic communications and PR
Counsel, was brand custodian of NIIT until 2006. He can be reached