Skills system in India: Its key issues

SkillingIndia on August 30, 2012 1 comment
Paul Comyn, Sr. Vocational Training & Skills Development Specialist, ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia


ILO’s perspective on the various issues that plague skills systems in India.

The imperative for economic growth combined with concern over the social consequences of failing to offer livelihood opportunities to its large young population, have led the Indian government to invest heavily in skills development and pursue new models to improve the quality and relevance of education and training. The Prime Minister’s National Council on Skill Development has set a target of training 500 million skilled individuals by 2022 pursuant to the 2009 National Skill Development Policy (NSDP). The NSDP intends to meet the 2022 target by expanding public institutions in rural areas; using innovative delivery models such as mobile and decentralized delivery; using skill development centres rurally to provide training information, guidance and delivery; involving local municipal bodies (panchayats) and local government in skill delivery mechanisms; improving access to apprenticeships and raising female participation in training by introducing the Women’s Vocational Programme1. However, a number of significant issues exist, which should serve as priorities for on-going efforts to strengthen the skills system in India and promote more and better jobs for young people.

Firstly, the skills ecosystem in India remains highly contested. Fragmentation of decision-making is evident at both a national level, where 17 ministries and departments are involved in skills development2, and at a regional level, where a similar breadth of structures and responsibilities exist. Whilst a number of state governments have established their own co-ordination bodies for skills development and vocational education programmes3, policy making remains highly fractured with parallel initiatives and duplication of effort not uncommon. Development of a national qualification framework as outlined in the NSDP is a case in point, with both the Ministries of Human Resource Development and Labour & Employment involved in the development of separate frameworks. Given the urgent need for institutions to fulfil a leadership role, further activism by the office of the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Skills Development and the National Skills Development Coordination Board will hopefully bring more coherence to policy and programmes in the skills domain, although the challenges of inter-agency coordination, especially at the local level, will not be easily resolved. The planned strengthening of the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT), as envisaged under the NSDP, may improve inter-ministerial coordination, especially if the Coordination Board uses the NCVT as an independent apex body to monitor and support enhanced governance and coordination of the system.

Secondly, as noted by the Planning Commission, the ‘sheer magnitude of scale’ and ‘duplicated or excessive bureaucracy’ are serious challenges to improving the quality and relevance of education and training in India4. Interventions and investment are required to address deficiencies in delivery and assessment methods, curricula and resource materials and infrastructure as well as the general lack of participation of the private sector and industry. Whilst the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) has made progress in engaging industry through formation of Sector Skills Councils (SSC), industry participation to date has not included worker organisations as an equal industry partner. Whilst SSC have the potential to clearly increase the relevance of training delivered in the skill system, they will take time to become established as lead organisations and to complete development of sector specific standards, assessment and certification frameworks for their industries. The emerging institutional arrangements, including SSC and a strengthened NCVT will have implications for national quality assurance arrangements, particularly when the role of other institutions such as AICTE and CBSE are considered in the context of a new national qualification framework.5

Thirdly, the capacity of the skills system to respond to these challenges is, however, severely hampered by the looming shortage of teachers and trainers. In fact, NSDC predicts 12,000 trainers must be trained annually for posts in Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Industrial Training Centres (ITCs), with a further 27,000 required in other vocational areas.6 Given the current and planned public sector capacity for training of trainers is less that 5,000 places a year, and that little additional capacity exists in the private sector, the shortage of trainers is set to develop into a critical constraint on the supply of skills in the short term. Nationally consistent certification and accreditation systems for teachers and trainers linked to institutional and program quality assurance arrangements are not in place which has meant a large number of trainers are uncertified and untrained, especially in the private sector.7 There is an urgent need to develop and implement a national strategy to address this constraint so that all government agencies and ministries, alongside targeted public private partnerships, can increase the recruitment, training and certification of teachers and trainers that meet minimum technical standards so that the planned increase in training capacity can be realised.

Fourthly, whilst the Indian apprenticeship system is well established and supported by legislative and administrative arrangements that span several decades, by international standards, it is underutilised, with inadequate incentives for employers, and insufficient structure and resources to support quality vocational outcomes. The NSDP recognises the need to expand and strengthen both the formal and informal apprenticeship systems and considered introduction of ‘dual-type’ apprenticeship programmes that combine on and off the job training. Whilst the 2009 Planning Commission Review of apprenticeships8 has led to a series of proposed changes to the Apprenticeship Act (1961) and Apprenticeship Rules (1992), anecdotal evidence suggests that many key stakeholders believe the proposed changes are mainly cosmetic and avoid the need for a more thorough and internationally relevant review of the apprenticeship system.

Finally, the need for more useful labour market information (LMI) for skills anticipation has also been recognized and is a clearly identified priority in the NSDP. Whilst an initial environmental scan of data on the supply and demand for skills has been undertaken by the ILO with the active participation of constituents9, further work is required to develop a national data model that outlines SSC responsibilities for sectoral analysis and gives greater clarity on institutional arrangements, including the role of labour exchanges. Without a clearer understanding of the type of skills required in which sectors, a closer match between skills supply and demand will not reduce the potential for growing youth unemployment.

1Ministry of Labour (2009) National Skill Development Policy, New Delhi: Government of India
2Planning Commission (2008) Eleventh Five Year Plan, New Delhi: Government of India
3FICCI (2010) op cit
4Planning Commission (2009) Planning Commission Sub-Committee on Improvement in Accreditation and Certification Systems, New Delhi: Government of India
5AICTE (All India Council of Technical Education); CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education)
6NSDC (2010) Human Resource and Skill Requirements in the Education & Skill Development Services Sector (2022) – A Report, New Delhi: National Skill Development Corporation/ICRA Management Consulting Services Limited
7NSDC (2010) op cit
8Planning Commission (2009b) Planning Commission Sub-Committee on Improvement in Accreditation and Certification Systems, New Delhi: Government of India
9ILO (2012) Review of the Sources and Availability of Skill Development Data in India: Final Report, New Delhi: International Labour Organisation
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