Got Skills? More Money, Alone, Will not ‘Skill India’

By Tushar Madan —

Students taking a computer based training course. Thaths’ flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Since he took office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has focused on jump-starting an underperforming Indian manufacturing sector, increasing exports to fuel economic growth, and ultimately creating more jobs. New Delhi has set ambitious targets of training 403 million people by the year 2022 and creating over 100 million new jobs in the same time period. For India to reach its potential in the international marketplace it must take advantage of its young demographic by ensuring high-quality vocational education and training (VET). The best way to ensure India is able to fully access its economic potential is by examining best practices in countries with successful VET transitions, such as Singapore and China, and adopting said practices to uniquely fit India. While India is devoting significant resources to the creation of vocational training programs, the money is not always well spent. Examining the best practices developed in other Asian nations offers guidelines for building a more successful program.

The Modi administration’s ‘Skill India’ initiative, launched in 2015, leads the charge in training India’s youth. The initiative’s goal is now to provide skills training to 10 million youth over the next 3 years and, in doing so, create 100 million jobs by 2022. The 2017-2018 Union Budget included large additional allocations for multiple skilling programs under the umbrella of ‘Skill India.’ These include the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra (PMKK), a network of multi-skill development centers meant to focus specifically on employability. The budget includes funding to expand the PMKK program into 600 districts. The budget also includes funding for the second phase of the Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhance (STRIVE) program, a joint effort with the World Bank. This increase of about $330 million in funding for STRIVE is meant to help transition the program to focus specifically on improving the quality and market relevance of vocational training currently available in the government-run Indian Technical Institutes (ITI), while simultaneously strengthening apprenticeship programs.

In addition, the Union Budget 2017 sets aside approximately $254 million in order to establish 1,500 Multi Skill Training Institutes across the country. These institutes will both focus on basic development of skills as well as on encouraging entrepreneurial innovation. The largest new initiative announced by Finance Minister Jaitley in the budget speech, another partnership with the World Bank, is SANKALP (Skill Acquisition & Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion Program). SANKALP, which has a budget of $600 million, is meant to provide market relevant training to 350 million youth.

The Modi administration plans to increase the intensity of its skilling efforts. But the limited data available show that India’s current programs have had dubious success. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), for instance, could only identify 5 percent of PMKK graduates that were employed between 2015-2016. A simple increase in spending on these programs will not necessarily fix any of their shortcomings; the Modi administration should identify existing problems and examine best practices established by neighboring countries.

One major design flaw in the current programs is the lack of communication between industry and educators. The ultimate goal of ‘Skill India’ is to increase the employability for youth across India, but employers have little say in the curriculum of public vocational training centers. Though some programs, like the PMKKs, are creating public-private partnerships to help bridge that gap, these efforts are not yet widespread. China faced this problem in the early 1990s; in response, the government mandated that all vocational education involve one year of workplace training and that industries participate in curriculum design, teacher training, provision of training equipment, and placing students for internships. While India’s NSDC has engaged in creating public-private partnerships with the cab-driving industry, specifically through partnerships with Ola and Uber, it needs to do a better job of ensuring similar cooperation in other, higher-skilled industries. Private institutions in India are ready for this focus on jobs – some are trying to get the ball rolling independently; the Wadhwani Foundation’s National Entrepreneurship Network, for example, is already providing training for teachers and entrepreneurial education at over 500 colleges and universities. The foundation recognizes that they need the government’s help to truly make an impact; New Delhi ought to capitalize on these potential partnerships.

Another problem facing Skill India is the social stigma that accompanies vocational education. In academically rigorous school systems like India’s, a decision to pursue vocational training is often seen as a failure. In Singapore, which has built one of the world’s leading examples of a successful vocational training, faced a similar problem. In response, the Singaporean government took steps to completely rebrand vocational education. These days more Singaporeans engage in vocational training than pursue traditional higher education. Prime Minister Modi has shown a willingness to follow Singapore’s example on vocational training. Just a few months ago, he laid the foundation stone for the first ever “Indian Institute of Skills”, modeled on Singapore’s widely acclaimed Institute of Technical Education. Such institutions will not only increase the prestige of vocational education in India but can also allow a more centralized source of curriculum creation and innovation in vocational training.

India is poised to become the world’s second largest economy, with the world’s largest labor force. In order to achieve its potential, however, it will need to properly train its youth and create more jobs. While the initiatives mentioned in the Union Budget 2017 suggest that New Delhi has the right mindset for the future, there are still many obstacles to overcome. By examining best practices in countries with successful vocational education programs, such as Singapore and China, and adopting those practices to India’s unique environment, India can make far more efficient investments in vocational training.

Mr. Tushar Madan is a researcher with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS.

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