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Skill development: Key to inclusive growth -The Asian Age


Aishwarya Mahajan

Being the second-most populous country in the world after China, India faces the massive challenge of providing food, housing and employment to its citizens. According to the World Bank's South Asia Economic Focus Spring 2018 report, India's working-age population (those above the age of 15) is expanding by approximately 1.3 million a month during 2015-2025.

Hence, it needs to create millions of jobs every year to reap the advantage of this demographic dividend. Skill Development will also prepare the workforce for Industry 4.0 fuelled by increasing urbanization, ubiquitous Internet connectivity and the proliferation of emerging technologies. 

Fortunately, the Indian government has undertaken numerous initiatives for skill development. Under the flagship Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Yojana, the government has imparted skills training to 6.9 million people since 2016.?

The Union Budget 2020-21 also takes cognizance of this aspect and stresses that the National Skill Development Agency, the nodal agency in India, will give special thrust to infrastructure-focused skill development opportunities. The two proposed initiatives namely?

Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood (SANKALP) and The Skills Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement (STRIVE) will go a long way in bolstering the prospects of skills development in the country.?

SANKALP is an outcome-oriented program of the skills development ministry with a special focus on decentralized planning and quality improvement. On the other hand, the STRIVE project aims to improve the relevance and efficiency of skills training provided through industrial training institutes (ITIs) and apprenticeships.

However, the road ahead may not be as smooth as envisioned. Information asymmetry is among the foremost challenges of Skill development - a skilled person may be aware of his skills unlike his potential employer, this automatically scales down his wages and results in underemployment. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is necessary to tackle this issue. 

The journey to skill development should start from the elementary education level onwards. There is an urgent need to revamp the school curriculum and include skill education unlike keeping it focussed towards rote learning.

Introduction of vocational subjects, academic-industry collaboration and emphasis on practical training are the way forward. Furthermore, lifelong learning will be of immense significance in building resilience and remaining relevant in the fast-paced era.

One cannot underestimate the role of humanistic skills, including creative and critical problem solving, interpersonal skills and leadership abilities to navigate through this complex transition. 

Creating avenues for private sector engagement is a crucial strategic pillar if India is to nurture the dream of becoming the skill capital of the world.

Exploring academia-industry partnerships is necessary for achieving tangible outcomes such as capacity building and the relevance and quality of skills training. In India, Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) have been incubated by the NSDC for fostering a connection with the industry and devising a curriculum aligned with demands of the industry. 

Another aspect that cannot be overlooked is international benchmarking. Technical collaboration with developed countries such as the UK, Australia and the UAE can be useful for benchmarking and mutual recognition of standards besides increasing the mobility of blue and white-collar Indian workers. ?

The third focus area should be addressing the issue of low female participation in the labor force. Women currently own a mere 20 per cent of enterprises in India.

A Bain & Co research had predicted that encouraging women entrepreneurship can increase direct employment by 50 million to 60 million people, and increase indirect and induced employment of another 100 million to 110 million people by 2030. Besides contributing to the economy, women entrepreneurship will also have tangible social outcomes in terms of improved education and health. There is a need to mainstream women employment and entrepreneurship in key government initiatives. 

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is critical if we are to build greater synergy on initiatives, deepen the knowledge pool on skills and facilitate the creation of institutional knowledge and capability. One can draw inspiration from European countries such as Germany wherein the workforce has been able to reap outsized operational benefits of digitized manufacturing offering unparalleled example globally.?