This article is based on my experience of over 10 years spent in training youth; both in school and out of school; to make them employable & attractive to potential employers.
There is universal agreement that youth in India lack employability skills. How is this problem to be solved?
In my experience, the concept of standalone vocational training has failed in India. The proof of this is the low interest shown by youth in these institutions. The idea mooted in some quarters of building new vocational only institutions is also bound to fail.
On the other hand courses imparting practical skills integrated into the standard curriculum are proving popular. Students are clearly judging these to be useful. A government initiative in operation for 5 years, covering 15 states, 1000 schools and over 1 lakh students is showing a lot of promise and is a good start.
However, a lot more needs to be done. The practical skill development oriented courses currently at the high school level need to be expanded in both directions into the middle school years as hobby classes and into the college programs so that students acquire depth in the skills whilst pursuing academics.
The idea that a school skills program should be judged by placement metrics alone is misplaced. Some stakeholders view these two viz skill development courses and placements as tightly coupled. In my opinion youth want the freedom to decide where and how long they will study and what vocation they may eventually take up. This cannot be mandated by the government, parents, schools, corporates or skill development trainers. We have to impart a broad range of practical skills to enable youth to be ready to take on new jobs that we are not even aware of in 2018!
There is universal agreement that youth in India lack skills that will help them get employment and perform better in the jobs they take up. How is this problem to be solved?
One school of thought favors a specialized vocational training curriculum.
Countries such as Switzerland and South Korea offer a vocational training stream at the school level itself. High school children in these countries with aptitude for theory and academics pursue one curriculum and those with a practical orientation a different one.
However, what we have now in the form of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in India is precisely this model and this is currently in shambles. Seats go a begging. Candidates with less than 30% marks can secure admission. On completion jobs are difﬁcult to come by; students take up delivery jobs for Pizzas after spending 3 years studying welding or refrigeration!
Our polytechnics set up to create skilled supervisors are also not serving the purpose. 85-90% of students from the polytechnics go on to join engineering; so at best it is a springboard to get into an engineering college. (Bhagubai Mafatlal Polytechnic Mumbai & Acharya Polytechnic Bangalore *)
Employers are yet to embrace the short term skill courses and give due increments or recognition to candidates with certiﬁcates leaving them feeling shortchanged and devaluing the whole skilling & certiﬁcation process. Young people and their parents shun vocational education, which they regard as a ‘second-choice’ or dead end education option. Its low status is often rooted in our colonial past, associated with the training received for blue- collar jobs.
In my view, the approach of standalone vocational training is a failure in present day India.
A different approach that is being tried is to integrate courses imparting practical skills into the standard curriculum in schools. The government has an existing program called Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Vocationalisation of Higher Education ( CSS for VHSE) that is part of the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA).( Chauhan 2014)
The RMSA Vocational Skills program has been in operation for 4 years, covering 15 states, 6186 schools and over 1.23 million students and is a good start. Courses on Electronics, IT/ITeS, Beauty & Wellness, Financial Markets, Agriculture, healthcare and security are offered in government schools. Currently only two skill development courses are offered per school. I will detail our experience with this program below.
My company, LAQSH, trains 45,000 students of 469 government schools in 11 states. The school locations include remote Poonch in Jammu & Kashmir, the forests of Bastar, metro Delhi and the lush mountains of Meghalaya. The scheme is in operation for State Board curriculum as well as CBSE.
The program runs from class IX to class XII for 4 years alongside the regular courses and helps the child build a solid foundation in skills like computers, communication, English proﬁciency, ﬁnancial literacy and the speciﬁc domain skills all of which are woven into the course. Activity based learning, guest lectures, industry visits and an emphasis on practical work have made a deep impact on the students and there is transformation happening before our eyes on a large scale. Industry linkages are an integral part of the scheme be it through curriculum, or the engagement with guest faculty from the industry.
Finding qualiﬁed talented teachers to take these courses has not been a problem. (LAQSH Data **) Teaching is a much respected profession in our country and we get hundreds of applicants even for a remote school. Yes of course we have to train them on pedagogy and the domain to make sure they are effective. We have leveraged technology, especially the smart phone and applications like Workplace and WhatsApp to build a community of teachers where they share their experiences, showcase their student projects and share their successes. This builds a supportive community. To supplement the face to face classes we have digital content with videos and activities to improve the learning outcomes.
In some government schools enrollment in higher classes has improved thanks to the job oriented courses being offered by the school and the community outreach initiatives taken up. Dropouts in class X have also been stemmed. Many children have taken up part time jobs whilst they pursue their academics; working in photo studios, working for telecom companies in data entry of forms etc to supplement their income thanks to their skills training. This further builds their self-conﬁdence.
There are of course areas in which the program can be improved.
Getting the labs ready in time to conduct the practical work has been a challenge. Not all the Principals are supportive. Their sensitization needs to improve. The number of skills development courses offered in the schools should go up from 2 to 4 to 6 catering to differing interests and aptitude.
The program plans for placement at the end of class XII. Majority of the children do not want to take up a full time job. They want to study. Further whilst the schools are in the villages, most jobs are in the towns and big cities and parents are loath to send their 18 year olds far away. Thus encouraging the youth to take up part time jobs in the local area and pursue graduation side by side can serve multiple goals. It can meet the youths aspiration to study as well as provide some ﬁnancial support and a chance to improve his/her skills.
Skill development could start early in the middle school years as hobby classes for Std 6, 7 and 8 followed by credit based courses from Class IX onwards. This way, students will have a bigger horizon to explore, get career guidance, exposure to multiple skills, and make a sound decision on the career track they wish to pursue.
Skill education also needs to be continued at the college level. A credit framework for skills in college education was approved by Ministry of Human Resources & Development (MHRD). Currently very few colleges (around 450) offer skill courses as part of the BA, BCOM, BBA courses. This must become main stream like the school program. For that we need one or two universities to pilot it successfully and then scale it without diluting the intent. The colleges must make investments in lab infrastructure and faculty for these courses. Standalone Bachelor of Vocation (BVOC) courses could again become one of those second choice or dead end options. The name itself tends to discriminate and reinforce the old mindset of academic arrogance towards skills. Why not BA-Retail or BCOM-Insurance? (Sharda Prasad Report, 2016)
Corporate India too can play a major role in improving the program.
Through their network of dealers, ancillary units and suppliers they can engage with these students in remote schools through talks, visits and apprenticeship programs. They can share their vision of the new jobs & opportunities that will be created. While recruiting candidates they should take care to suitably reward & incentivize candidates with certiﬁcation.
Initiatives like this are long term, bold and transformative. Corporate India must fund and support these institution building initiatives. The government has so far implemented the scheme in 6186 schools across the country. Corporate India can scale this many times over with their CSR budgets.
Before concluding, let me share with you a story.
My story has two heroes – Sukha Singh our 17 year old XIth class student and his Vocational skills IT teacher Gurjeet Singh. Bhindi Saidan is a government school in a village in Amritsar district, Punjab, 10km from the Pakistan border; close to Lahore and difﬁcult to reach. Students in this village are sons and daughters of farm labor. There are no buses and the roads are far from motorable. Gurjeet Singh travels to the school on a two wheeler 40km one way from Amritsar where he lives. He is a passionate teacher & believes in practicals. His lab setup is perfect. His classroom is full of posters to inspire the students. He is a good teacher & gets his students interested and engaged in his class. He is not only their computer teacher; he mentors them in every aspect of life. Students simply adore Gurjeet Singh.
Sukha Singh our student hero lost his mother as a toddler & was raised by his father. Guided by his teacher and supported by his father he started his enterprise. He helps students from nearby schools ﬁle for their scholarships. He also helps with PAN cards, Aadhar cards and other government forms. All this whilst at school! He earns up to Rs 6000/ month and supports his family.
After my 12th Class I plan to work in a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) in Amritsar and join evening College for my graduation. I will manage my business also. While working at the BPO I will improve my English speaking skills, says Sukha Singh.
Living in rural India, in an area where drug addiction has wrecked families; with very minimal support, Gurjeet Singh and Sukha Singh have achieved a lot and have emerged as shining role models for the youth of India. This is the power of Vocational education. It can transform lives.
There are many more Sukha Singhs across the country whose story is waiting to be told. This is what we want to replicate across the country by integrating Vocational skills into formal education.
While standalone vocational training is unable to attract students, the conventional high school and college curriculum leaves youth inadequately prepared for jobs. A beginning has been made by introducing skill development into the high school curricula and in our experience this is a move in the right direction.
Skill development could start at the middle school level and continue through college programs. Education and skill development should go hand in hand providing mobility and multiple career pathways.
Finally, I cannot say this strongly enough. Skills education should not be seen as a repair strategy for dropouts! It should be seen as a prepare strategy to equip our youth for job roles that we don’t yet understand in 2018.
(Revised CSS for VHSE Scheme Chauhan 2014)
http://www.msde.gov.in/assets/images/ssc-reports/SSC%20Vol%20I.pdf (Sharda Prasad Report Dec 2016)
*Shri Badve, placement in charge Bhagubai Mafatlal Polytechnic Mumbai, Dr. Ismail Sheriff placement in charge Acharya Polytechnic Bangalore, who shared placement data for their respective institutions.
** Ms. Himani HR Manager LAQSH for sharing LAQSH recruitment data (Last 6 months data for hiring teachers)
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