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WILL TO SKILL

At 67, India is striving to hone the skills of its young population to turn the country into a global source of manpower.

The skill-building initiative holds considerable significance for India in view of the potential “demographic dividend”. Around 2 crore students are getting enrolled into higher education but their employability remains abysmal. For instance, around 25 per cent of graduates from technical courses are industry-ready, while this ratio is 10 to 15 per cent in general streams.

Around half of India’s population is aged below 25 years. By 2022, 64 per cent of the population will be in the 15-59 age group. They will need better skills to be able to get jobs.

This year’s Union budget promises to launch a national multi-skill programme called Skill India with an emphasis on nurturing employability and entrepreneur skills. The government has started efforts to bring the skill development initiatives — now conducted by 18 different ministries — under the umbrella of one ministry.

The mission will also provide training and support for traditional vocations like welders, carpenters, cobblers, masons, blacksmiths and weavers, finance minister Arun Jaitley had said in the budget speech.

At a recent programme on skill development, finance secretary Arvind Mayaram said coordination on skill development initiatives was at times a problem as 18 ministries run the programmes. The idea to bring all schemes under one ministry means a concerted effort to achieve the target.

The ministry of skill development is in the process of taking a formal shape. Sarbananda Sonowal, the minister for skill development and entrepreneurship, has said that the government's focus is on "skill, scale and speed". By 2022, India will need 500 million skilled people.

The target to train 500 million people by 2022 may not be new one. However, the government's decision to bring all skill development initiatives under one ministry would accelerate the process, policy-makers feel.

The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), the leading agency to impart skill courses in partnership with various organisations, has set a target to train three times more people in 2014-15 than what it achieved in 2013-14. The corporation provided skill training to 1 million youths last financial year and has set a target for training 3.3 million this year.

While 150 million people will be helped by the NSDC, the Union government will train 350 million through several initiatives.

By 2022, the global shortage of skilled manpower is expected to be huge. India, with its young population, can fill in the gap if they are skilled.

However, the skills being honed must meet global standards. The NSDC, started in 2010, has set up 31 sector skill councils, which suggest standards for training programmes. The sector skill councils include experts from industry and validate courses in retail, security, automobiles, IT and IT enabled services, beauty and wellness, tourism, healthcare and physical education.

The NSDC is now running 720 courses in partnership with several organisations. It has 136 partners with over 2,500 training centres spread across 366 districts in the country.

Schools, too, are running vocational courses. Human resource development (HRD) ministry officials said that a centrally sponsored scheme - "vocationalisation of secondary and Higher secondary education" -- had been revised.

Under the scheme, vocational courses are aligned to requirements of industry on the basis of skill gap analysis. The courses have been introduced in secondary and senior secondary schools in some states. The ministry wants to start such courses in all states this year.

At present, nearly 5 lakh seats are available in government run Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and polytechnics. Nearly 12.8 million people are entering the labour market every year in the country. Nearly 95 per cent of the workforce does not have any certification.

The government has put in place the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) that seeks to promote vocational education and training among students by facilitating seamless mobility between general and vocational streams.

Under the NSQF, a range of skills acquired as family vocations -- from jewellery-making to carpentry to hair-cutting -- can be assessed and given certification. The move is expected to help millions of workers in the unorganised sector without any formal training in their respective fields.

Once they acquire government-certification, the bargaining power of barbers, carpenters, cooks, tailors, masons and plumbers will go up.

The NSQF provides a framework for assessing skills acquired, aligning them to occupational standards and qualifications, at 10 levels. Each level in the NSQF will be defined in terms of competency levels that would need to be achieved. The competency levels will be laid down with the involvement of industry through sector skill councils.

Those who have learned the skills through experience or practice can demonstrate their skills before an authorised assessor and get certification commensurate to their level of competence. This is called Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

After getting certification, the persons can pursue higher skills also, officials said. For example, if a barber gets level-1 certification in hair cutting, he can pursue higher levels in streams like beautification or managing a spa.

The higher courses will combine further skill training and general studies on various subjects like communication, health and hygiene.

The framework will be anchored by the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), an autonomous body attached to the finance ministry. It will take five years for identifying all the skills, determining standards and learning levels in different skills. The detailed guidelines on implementation of the scheme are yet to be worked out.

Another area of focus of the framework is promotion of vocational education training by introducing multiple exits and entries between skill training and general education. This means students pursuing school education can choose to shift to vocational education for a certain period and again return to the general stream by doing a bridge course.