The vocational education system in India faces a daunting task in achieving the ambitious goals of National Skill Development and Entrepreneurship policy of 2015. Foremost, the vocational education stream itself has poor visibility due to several reasons, like low awareness among stakeholders and lack of parity in wage structure between formally qualified and vocationally trained graduates. Furthermore, public perception on skilling—that it is the last option for those who have not been able to progress/opted out of the formal academic system—is also a reason for the low demand for vocational education. This is due mainly to the tendency of industry to discriminate skilled and unskilled persons, depriving the skilled workforce of any meaningful economic incentive. This is also compounded by the fact that most of the vocational training programs are not aligned to the requirements of the industry. Vocational education and training is a function of skill development. However, there has not been a well-crafted, exclusive vocational education policy focusing on the contemporary industrial needs of the country.
Potentially, the target group for skill development comprises all those in the labor force, including those entering the labor market for the first time (12.8 million annually), those employed in the organized sector (26.0 million), and those working in the unorganized sector (433 million) in 2004 to 2005. The very fact that a huge proportion of skilled labor is in the unorganized sector poses a veritable challenge. Furthermore, leveraging a huge “demographic dividend” of more than 62 percent of its population in the working-age group (15 to 59 years) and over 54 percent of its total population below 25 years of age is easier said than done. Major reasons in this regard include (a) poor level of skills possessed by the vast majority of those joining the workforce due to high rates of school dropouts; (b) inadequate skills training capacity; (c) a negative perception around skilling; and (d) low employability of even those holding professional qualifications, such as degrees in different engineering disciplines. Overarching these factors, and as an effect, is the low priority given to accomplishing high quality among the skilled workforce.
The newly created Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship mentions clearly in its policy framework that skilling will be integrated with formal education by introducing vocational training classes linked to the local economy from class 9 onwards in at least 25 percent of the schools, over the next 5 years. Seamless integration of vocational training in formal education is expected to ignite student interest.
The industrial and labor market trends clearly indicate the necessity of strengthening vocational education in India on a priority basis. The introduction of vocational education at secondary level through bivalent schools will help broaden the vocational education base at secondary level of education and help create potential skilled workforce. Framing of vocational qualification framework, introduction of vocational degrees, and setting up of a vocational university with polytechnics, community colleges, community polytechnics, and other vocational education programs, such as affiliated colleges, are some of the recommendations that require further deliberation. The poignant goal of the present government, “Make in India” (which includes major new initiatives designed to facilitate investment, foster innovation, protect intellectual property, and build best-in-class manufacturing infrastructure), further necessitates the revamping of education system through institutionalizing professionally planned skill development education programs where quality and competitiveness form critical guiding forces.
There is a mismatch between what is demanded by industry and the types of skills supplied. Addressing this dichotomy would pave the way for addressing quality issues. Sharing experiences will be increasingly important, which would enable India to access experiences of other Asian countries, identifying and adopting best practices as well as building effective and implementable strategies to address challenges. Furthermore, proactive international partnerships in skill development programs would go a long way in enhancing the quality of programs as well as finding effective pathways for promoting professionalism among the skilled workforce.
In an internationally competitive training environment, the implementation of quality management systems in vocational education and training (VET) can provide a competitive advantage in preparing the quality workforce required for micro- and macro-economic reforms. It is imperative that quality of inputs provided to students must be of high caliber—implying the adoption of a quality management system. As mentioned elsewhere, studies indicate that there is a lack of emphasis on quality in training transaction, curriculum, training infrastructure, and a host of other aspects. The challenge is to facilitate these institutions to keep pace with the fast-growing technological demands for industry and the expanding universe of knowledge through a well-designed quality paradigm. Furthermore, such an attempt to enhance the quality of training and training infrastructure through improved design and delivery system would, more importantly, have positive employment outcomes of graduates from the vocational training system, especially in the existing industrial and economic scenarios where considerably high demand for professional technicians exist. Currently, different norms and parameters apply across different skill development schemes, thus making implementation very challenging for training providers and states.
Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that serious efforts are being made to address the “quality” issue. The opportunities in this respect are several. As part of its “mandate” National Skill Development Corporation is working on designing the standards for skill development in India. The National Occupational Standards (NOS) specify the standard of performance that an individual must achieve when carrying out a function in the workplace, together with the knowledge and understanding they need to meet a standard consistently. The NOS are laid down by the Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) with the participation of the industry. A set of NOS, aligned to a job role, called Qualification Pack (QP), would be available for every job role in each industry sector. These drive both the creation of curriculum and the assessment of performance. Thus, NSQF will make it possible to drive competency-based training for every job role in industry that will help to meet all the quality challenges in terms of training. The SSCs are also required to update or upgrade the NOS and QPs as per the advancement of time and technology. Currently, there are 1661 QPs covering 4,420 unique NOS across 32 sectors.
Including women in our productive workforce is critical for the economic development of India. As per a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s gross domestic product (GDP) can expand by a huge 27 percent if the number of women workers increases to the same level as that of men (Economic Times 2015). The skill initiatives have focused on this, and some of the large schemes such as Standard Training Assessment and Reward (STAR) and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) have achieved close to 40 percent women participation, which is considered to be a significant achievement.
A well-crafted training programs for developing entrepreneurial skills is an important element of skill development. This is clearly enunciated in the National Policy of Skill Development. Vibrant entrepreneurship requires support from an enabling ecosystem of culture, finance, expertise, infrastructure, skills, and business-friendly regulations. Many government and nongovernment organizations are playing enabling roles across each of these crucial supporting elements.
Being a vast nation with physical and sociocultural diversities with a significant proportion of population being poor and less literate, India desperately needs to adopt an inclusive philosophy and policy where the poor and the disadvantaged are given prominence. A case in point is that of handloom weavers whose age-old profession is fast-dying due to a variety of factors. Like handloom weavers, there are many other traditional rural artisans who contribute significantly to the nation’s growth but are living in utter poverty and despair. The National Skills Policy indeed has recognized the need to protect these sections through recognition of prior learning and initiate appropriate steps to protect, promote, and wherever possible, upscale their skills. It is true that given the vastness and diversities of India, this is indeed a veritable challenge. However, if there is strong administrative will and political determination, this challenge is not insurmountable and can be overcome.