My interactions with the Human Resource Department of my organization has for many years been primarily centered on attracting, hiring, training and retaining skilled workers at our manufacturing plants. Everyone in the manufacturing sector would agree that it is not capital, but finding skilled labour that is the biggest challenge confronting the growth of the sector.
According to National Skill Development Corporation’s (NSDC), India will need to add 109.73 million people by 2022 to cater to 24 crucial sectors in the country. Currently the employment in those 24 sectors stands at 460 million and is expected to rise to 580 million by 2022.Around 240 million people are engaged in the agricultural sector while 220 million are in the non-agriculture sector. However, by 2022 the number of people dependent on agriculture is likely to shrink to 215 million, while the need of the non-Agri sector is expected to rise to 365 million. The mandate is clear, if we wish to augment the share of manufacturing in our GDP from the current 12.5% to 20%, skilled labour is one of the biggest issues that would need to be addressed with a sense of urgency.
Much has been written about the problems around getting skilled labour in the country, but I think the following four problems have considerably held us back. I strongly believe that the solution pretty much lies in the womb of the problem itself; therefore it is extremely important to identify the stumbling blocks. In the next few paragraphs I endeavour to identify the issues and suggest the remedial measures too.
Vocational education gets secondary treatment – One of the biggest problems for skilling people in the country is that the vocational education system is not attractive enough. Youth across the country still prefer traditional educational and technical degrees, even if it means they would remain unemployed for the lack of relevant skills. I have nothing against our education system, but it is clear that it does not produce the masons, the welders, the fork lift operators that the manufacturing sector of the country needs. Vocational education for acquiring a skill is often the last resort and is taken up when all other options have been exhausted. For the want of the growth rate that we are aspiring for, it is absolutely important that vocational training is systematically interwoven in the state curriculum at high school, senior secondary and under graduate levels.
Not a career choice – Like education, a vocation that leads someone to become a carpenter, an electrician, plumber is not a natural career choice. Even people engaged in such professions want their children to grow up and do something so called ‘better’. Doctor, engineer, management professionals are still the much sought after career choices. In fact, our society does not appreciate the role of skilled labour and someone working in a factory is largely viewed as much inferior from someone working in a consultancy firm. The perceptive barrier between white collared workers and blue collared workers is widening. It is a pity. As long as this mentality exists, it won’t be easy to get moving. In fact starting early is the best remedy. If right from junior classes at school the emphasis of vocational education and training (VET) is distinctly explained then this mentality can be nipped to a great extent.
Regular initiatives must be undertaken by the Government and Corporate alike to explain the merits of vocational streams and the career opportunities arising out of them. Media can also play an important and responsible role in disseminating accurate and timely information to aspirants to make an informed career choice.
Brain drain – Under NSDC, lakhs of youth in the country have been trained under sector specific skill councils. However certain skill sets, especially in the nursing and construction sectors, see a steady egress of such skilled individuals from the country migrating to a different country for better employment prospects. For example the construction boom in the Middle East and better opportunities in Europe and the United States of America for nurses have caused much of the brain drain. We spend a lot of time and resources to get people skilled and it does not help us in any way when such individuals leave the country and take the leap. While we may aspire to be the global supplier of skilled workforce, but our own urgent needs force us to find a way to plug this problem in a rather sustainable manner. The Government and Corporate must leave no stone unturned to ensure reverse talent flow for arresting brain drain with a sense of urgency. Here I would like to particularly applaud, the Make in India initiative of Central Government that is poised to be the real game changer for Indian economy.
Standards – While skilling has been the priority and we have started the process on a war footing, for some reason we have failed to set the specific standards and competencies required for various job roles. This means that though the people may be skilled, but the industry has no means or measure to assess their mettle. As a result, it has been observed that in several cases even the skilled people fell short of expertise required for a particular job role. However, with the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) this issue will be tackled to a great extent as the competency for each job will be duly determined. This in turn will enable everybody to map out the career progression and assess the skill –set relative to the requirement.
The need to skill people cannot be the prerogative of the government alone and there has to be greater private engagement and constructive participation. We in the industry have realized that we need to actively engage with the Government for the road ahead. A way forward has been the consultations between Government and industry to unanimously decide on the type of trained workforce we need and the minimum standards that would be expected.
The key to most problems lies in making skill training appealing to youth and ensuring general education and vocational education do not function in silos. The Industry will have to play a greater role in supporting ITIs, setting standards for jobs and ensuring we give the qualitative and quantitative impetus to skilled labour in the country. With concerted efforts by Government and Industry towards skill building initiatives, we can ensure that India’s growth story continues unhindered.