A new perspective on redefining skills training in India

SkillingIndia on October 11, 2012 Comments
The academic curriculum needs to reflect in part what the industry needs, but that doesn’t mean that the curriculum is completely based on that.


John Yates the CEO of IndiaSkills (Manipal City & Guilds) opines I think vocation needs to be marketed as valuable as higher education.

SkillingIndia: Is there a need to redefine skills training, certification and delivery in India? Why?

John Yates: Yes, it needs to be redefined. The issue with skills in India is different from my experience in the UK. Employers at the moment in India don’t engage with skills training in the way they do in other countries. I think it’s important that employers become the centre of the definition of the curriculum. Then they will know that the people that they employ with these qualifications can do the jobs they expect them to do. Until employers commit to investing in training, and pay higher salaries for their trained workers, it is difficult for the rest of system to be redefined. The FICCI skills pledge is a good example of redefinition where everyone has committed – employers, skill training providers, and the government to skilling the nation.

One other redefinition from my point of view that needs to happen is regulation. We need to see the situation in the long run –it will be helpful for the government to require certain employees in certain job roles to be certified. For example, the government needs to regulate certain jobs so that there is no danger to life and limb, for example, people working in construction and engineering. In areas where there’s high public risk, regulation should be implemented and people who come in contact with danger should be certified. That’s another area which needs redefining. Finally, the area which needs to be addressed is the huge gap between the rich and poor. We need to look at how we need to support and skill the poor in a sustainable manner. Skills for migration, and skills which are sustainable under the eco-system within their own communities are other areas we need to work on.

SkillingIndia: How can we achieve that?

John Yates: There is a need to have a strong partnership between the government, skills industry, education training providers, and the industry itself. We will be fortunate if they can all come together. I think its government’s responsibility to help with the skills framework, regulation, and skills policies where it’s appropriate. It also needs to contribute to marketing and creating a perception in the nation that vocation is a relevant pathway; careers in vocational education, trades using your hands and skills are a great alternative to the university. Industry needs to equally get involved by helping us to design pathways through employment from entry levels upwards on a meritocracy basis,  so people who come in with basic levels skills and education can up-skill continually to reach the higher level positions. The skills providers can provide training and curriculum to support that progression. There needs to be a partnership between all the stakeholders.

SkillingIndia: How can you get all the elements together?

John Yates: At the moment, the way to get them together is to make it commercially viable for this activity to take place. So, you need skills training providers to know that they can make money from skills training; you need employers to see a return on their investments in training; you need government to see improvement in terms of the economic prosperity in the country. I think it needs to be pump primed by the government providing some funding for some apprenticeship programs. I would like to see private training providers, National Skill Development Corporation, government ministries and key employers, etc. get together to redefine the apprenticeship programs and their funding so that we can get started around one particular area in skills development. Programs can be funded partly by government and partly by employers, for instance as we have in the UK. The UK Government invests significantly in apprenticeships and as a result employers have engaged and gained heavily from apprenticeship programs. British Telecom (BT) gets more applicants through their apprenticeship programs than Oxford University for their degree program. BT has around 18500 applicants for 500 places for their apprenticeship programs, whereas Oxford University has 17000 applicants for 3000 places. You could say that BT has a higher attractiveness to young people than Oxford University because BT has designed apprenticeship programs in such a way that kids joining that program are more loyal, understand the business better, work longer and can in many cases still end up with a degree as a result.

SkillingIndia: Which vocational skills sets are currently in demand in the labour market in India? Are the vocational certifications offered in line with those in demand?

John Yates: There is a mismatch between skills that are demanded by industry, skills that are required and those at the moment being trained. Again the difference between India and other countries like the UK is the dominant informal sector, for example, construction, where a significant majority of construction workers are informal labourers. They have no training; they come from the rural community, work on the site and then go back to their harvest. They do not have any permanent contract with the construction company and have very limited training at their work site. Other places in the world will see more formal construction qualification requirements before you join the construction site. Thus, there is a mismatch between the number of people working in that sector and the number of qualified people in that sector, and as a result of lack of the necessary skills. Poor quality construction can result, and the mismatch can be dangerous.

 The demand at the moment is in areas like banking, finance, insurance, retail, etc. However, the mismatch is more in the informal sectors like construction. There is a definite need for quality improvements in the training. We need developers, contractors and their sub-contractors to be aligned around the requirement of training.

SkillingIndia: Having vocational skills is important, but, how can it be made more desirable for the youth to pursue it?

John Yates: I think there are two ways in which skills training can be made desirable. I think the first is creating vocational pathways. So that when people come for entry level jobs they can see there are other jobs they can progress to by taking more qualifications – so that they can see that the job is not a dead end, but a path. And that path can lead to the CEO position. This should be created by a qualification framework that allows you to enter, exit and re-enter education at different levels as one progresses in his/her work. We need to have a flexible education, which enables a person to further skill, up-skill and re-skill when required to get further in their career. I think vocation needs to be marketed as valuable as higher education. I think it’s a tough marketing exercise because there is a centuries of prejudice over the world, and not just in India. Higher education is considered to be more valuable than vocational education. But there are many examples where an alternative system can work. Germany respects vocational work as much as qualified graduate work. In UK you can earn more as a plumber than a graduate can, particularly if you are running your own business. I think youth needs to have case studies, they need to see examples of gurus or of entrepreneurs, they need to have role models who have not come through formal education, and who have dropped out young. We need to show them examples. People need to come forward to talk to the youth. We need a marketing campaign where it strikes on how things can be different. For that we all need to work harder. Again, it’s between the government, industry itself, but also the training industry to produce those case studies and explain to the youth how things can be different. We need career counsellors, and schools to explain to youth what the alternatives are. People need to know that their life is not at an end just because they didn’t pass through 10+2. Also, we need to do testing, understand what the person’s skills are, what their interests are, and help and advise them on the next best steps for them.

SkillingIndia: How do you merge interests, knowledge and skills together?

John Yates: In my view the youth and everybody else needs to understand that having a well paid job doesn’t just allow you to do things that you enjoy doing. Besides, having a particular talent, there are other things you need to do to be employable. People need to understand how they need to groom themselves, prepare CVs, manage themselves, and understand how success comes from hard work as well as enjoying the talent they possess. Employers, too, need to give people a chance to exhibit their skills. They need to show the employment and financial connect to young people and explain how the youth can use their skills in the work environment and understand that some things will be easy for them and others will be difficult. Some things may need to be learned on the job too – but, at least they will still be doing a job that gives them a chance to prove those skills. Again, it’s a tough one. However, it does require employers to listen and understand what young people are saying they want so that the right options can be explained to them.

SkillingIndia: Should schools start merging corporate expectations with academics? What’s your view? Will it help the youth to be more employable?

John Yates: Yes, the academic curriculum needs to reflect in part what the industry needs, but that doesn’t mean that the curriculum should be completely based on that. People need to learn mathematics for business purposes, and there may be elements of additional curriculum that could be amended, organized in order to suit the work environment. For example, children should start to learn, in my opinion, how to use excel and other business tools as much as they should learn how to do mental mathematics. These days you tend to use a calculator or excel in order to work, and you need to understand some basic things around how business works. Pure maths alone isn’t sufficient. But, an academic curriculum that is completely applied to business is not right either because you need to know some fundamentals around critical thinking, research, persuasive arguments, negotiations, all sorts of things that you learn in liberal arts type curriculum. I think a vocational curriculum at school level should be introduced and designed with the respective industry, but, carefully done, so that the academics don’t get compromised. Kids still get to go to universities, pay and survive the universities. It has to be a blend of vocational benefit and academic rigour. The UK tried a diploma programme at schools that blended academic work with vocation, and it wasn’t successful. So we need to work hard on the design of the program. In fact, the Ministry of HRD is working hard on that right now in India and a pilot is underway. I wish it every success!

SkillingIndia: To what extent can the academic and industry requirements can be merged without too much interference in each other’s space?

John Yates: That comes down to the government policy issues. I think we need to look at what are universities for? What are skills for and how are they funded and how do we demonstrate the success of academic and skills teaching? If one of the factors in judging whether the teaching is successful is the employment of graduates then perhaps universities and colleges have to become a bit more self- regulating because if 100% graduates don’t get a job and – we know there is a significant problem of underemployed graduates – then there is something wrong. Whether or not academics like it or call it interference they aren’t doing their jobs if people have studied with them for three years and their students are not getting a job at the end of it. So, my view is you do have to create funding regime that is attached to successful placements in work.

SkillingIndia: Are there any upcoming trends in vocational skills training in India? How will they help in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of vocational skills training?

John Yates: It’s still a very emerging model, but I think there are a number of things happening that are positive. I think we are seeing the use of blended learning, we are seeing the use of technology – people study online or go through distance education. This is good for acquiring knowledge, but, does not involve any physical skills training. For knowledge elements it’s positive. Technology is also used to collaborate, communicate, assess and that’s increasing efficiency, reducing costs and time and also helping learners through their studies quicker. In the UK, for example, City & Guilds have an eportfolio platform called Learning Assistant, which helps the learner collect evidence of their skills online – so that the learner’s get through studies 40% quicker and they enjoy it too. These are some of the trends. Besides, skills training providers like Manipal City & Guilds employ new models, for example, we do sourcing of employees for the employer, training and placing of trained students who are job-ready from day one. We act like an efficient outsourced HR function for the employer. We are specialists in this activity for certain job roles and employers can leave this work to us. That’s another trend.

SkillingIndia: Is this training only for the youth or for people who need re-skilling as well?

John Yates: It’s just as important for re-skilling or up-skilling. It should not be constrained to youth. Given the demographic dividend issue, the bigger challenge is to cater to the huge numbers of the youth but, training approaches can be applied to re-skilling and up-skilling of others. In fact, as your career progresses your work tends to become more managerial in nature, and your training needs to reflect this. Often this kind of training can be done from a distance since it involves more knowledge than skills, and therefore efforts can be made more efficient by using technology.

SkillingIndia: Should assessments vary for youth and adults?

John Yates: I have a strong opinion about assessments. They should be robust, measurable and quantitative in nature. I don’t think there is a co-relation between age and pass marks or grades and whether somebody is competent in a skill or not. It should not be determined by age and the assessments applied should be the same. You are either competent or you’re not. It’s that simple. However, the approach or medium of testing can be different. Youth tends to be more comfortable with technology; they might be comfortable with electronic assessment whereas older people are not, but the questions should exactly be the same irrespective of the medium. You should not prejudice for or against people in the use of technology. It should be consistent. Again you can either perform or not perform a skill, which is not an age issue.

SkillingIndia: Any last thoughts…

John Yates: As a Britisher I, and we all come from an environment where we all – government, the industry, training providers, etc – compete very hard with each other trying to win market share. However, here, the issue is not about the market share, but how can we help a huge number of people to up-skill or skill. We need to learn from each other and share each other’s experiences, and reapply what works on behalf of each other. I have talked to many other CEOs from other businesses openly about how to make this thing work. Of course, we feel happy when we do better than others, but we all need to try to make this thing work!

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