The government of India recently released the Sharda Prasad Committee report on skill development reforms for public consultations. A discussion on the findings of the committee and steps for immediate course correction to salvage the demographic dividend (only 20 years left) is a welcome step.
The report is objective, data driven and made with over six months exhaustive consultations with stakeholders in skill development. Some of its recommendations have been at the centre of public discussion like conflict of interests, NSDC functioning, Sector skill councils etc, it is however, important to highlight some key points which form the foundation for many recommendations.
The first is the unification of the entire vocational education system. What we have today are- fragmented pillars, in which the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. The ITIs, NSDC’s training partners, vocational education in schools, in-house industry training and the skill development done by 17 different central ministries form the entire system. Each today does what it wants to, with no synergy. Too much focus on the NSDC alone has left the skill development efforts of 17 ministries out of the same scrutiny and expectation. We need to set this right, we can only make Skill India impactful when all of them work together and learn from each other’s successes and failures
The second key point is that of ownership, responsibility and the skin in the game. Newspaper reports day in and day out point to corporates complaining about unemployable youth. The private sector puts the onus on the government treating it as a welfare responsibility and the government looks to the private sector since they are the end consumers of the skills. We need a clear fix for this conundrum, as quickly as possible. In this regards the committee’s recommendation for a Reimburable Industry Contribution(RIC) solves the perennial problem of poaching and provides a common leveling field for the industry. It ensures reimbursements for those doing trainings and rewards industry for sharing and undertaking skilling until everyone in the company is skilled with utilizing both government and private resources. This lays the foundation to making our workforce 100% skilled and the country as the skill capital of the world.
The third key point is to address the skills problems from the inception, towards this strengthening the reading, writing, arithmetic skills is crucial. No skill development effort can succeed when the majority of the workforce we have does not have the requisite foundation to pick up skills in a fast changing world.
The fourth key point is effective convergence of the efforts and remove of overlaps between SSCs, institutions, ministries, etc. Skill funding in the country is well below required and spending that on duplicate efforts is a cardinal waste of public money. The duplication of training numbers, non standardized courses, not having a centralized credible national assessment and certification system has made skill development a goldmine business for crooks who receive public accolade for the public representation of their skill development efforts but in reality squander public money and are laughing their way to the bank. The committee found instances after instances of the abuse of power and dereliction of duty and faith entrusted on the sector skill councils to make India the Skill capital of the world
Finally a key point that needs more reflection from the stakeholders is the actual value addition done by the skilling initiative. Are institutions working because the government is supporting them or do they add real value and solve the pain point of the industry? The truth here is scary with NSDC envisioned as a PPP has today more than 99% of government funding, its flagship scheme has less than 12% of placement, the NSQF framework has seen little adoption, and more than two thirds of the courses made have not trained even one student so far.
We can surely be the skill capital of the world but not with what we are doing right now. Reforms suggested by the committee can be a good starting point. However, we must do it fast, we are now on a ticking clock and we cannot let another generation lose its dreams.