It is exactly a year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Skill India Mission on the World Youth Skills Day, marked globally on July 15 under a United Nations initiative. The PM-led governing council of the ambitious mission that seeks an “end-to-end, outcome-focused” scheme that matches employers’ need for a skilled work-force with sustainable employment for citizens has met only once since its inception. Just over 10 million have been skilled last year, just 1/40th of the target set for 2022. The mission aims to train as many as 400 million people – more than the entire population of the United States, and the scale itself is challenging by any standards. Yet, there is a case to say that well begun is half-done.
The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), the lynchpin of the skill strategy, was launched last year and got a fresh boost this week when the cabinet approved its 2.0 version with an outlay of ₹12,000 crore for the next four years to train 6 million youths afresh and certify another 4 million in non-formal “Recognition of Prior Learning” (RPL). The key part is that direct benefit transfer (DBT), a favourite tool of the government, will be used to support trainees who will get travel allowances, boarding and lodging, while trainers will get support as partners through an Aadhar-linked plan. The plan to use placement and mobilisation camps resembling village melas is an imaginative. But the clock is ticking fast, given the audacious target set for the mission.
Let us look at the past year. While the aim was to train 1.4 million people afresh and certify another 1 million under the RPL plan, a total of 2 million were trained across 32 sectors and 416 job roles across the nation’s wide expanse. This falls short of the target, especially in terms of RPL, but there is a welcome attempt to give it an overhaul by balancing the interests of the trainees with the trainers.
However, implementing such a scheme is a daunting task involving details that can be painful. For instance, common norms formulated to harmonise the payment rates and criteria across different participating ministries came to effect from April 1, and had to keep in mind incentives and additional payments for those involved in skill development schemes for difficult regions, women and differently abled persons. This has raised the per-candidate cost in some cases. This in turn can hurt budgets and growth. We have had a significant first step. What we need perhaps is a competitive framework in which those who can implement the mission’s aims at lower costs can be encouraged through a “challenge system” — assuming the outcomes remain the same. Care should be taken not to crowd out private sector self-funding models.
Administrative challenges also involve multi-agency collaboration which in traditional bureaucratic terms would take more time or resources or both. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has managed to sign MoUs with 14 other ministries, and the activity that followed has covered a lot of ground — from initially sharing infrastructure and using corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds to training retired defence personnel as trainers. The challenge is to scale up what was done on a pilot basis in the early stages. Hopefully that should happen this year, especially with increased budgetary resources. Needless to say, skill growth must be matched by job creation on the other side to meet the mission’s objectives.
More than 1,100 new industrial training institutes (ITIs) have been created in a year with a capacity to train 173,000 people and there is a cabinet outlay of ₹10,000 crore to incentivise employers to offer apprentice schemes. Only this can complete the loop of the employer, trainer and trainee — the true measure of the mission’s success. The key here would be execution on a large scale to enable candidates to obtain National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) certification, which is now enabled for 1,500 courses.
The Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) promoted by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), a public-private partnership company, has set the ground by developing more than 1,700 qualification packs for different roles across 32 sectors,. It has also evolved 250 model curriculums and created 58 handbooks, taking inspiration from practices in the UK and Australia.
The SSCs, though in uneven stages of growth, are led by some of the best leaders in industry. There is a need to nurture them more actively and make them truly independent.
The mission runs deeper into the level of schools and now covers 22 states. Courses like a B.Voc (Bachelor of Vocation) are a welcome idea but need to be scaled. Recognition and acceptance of vocational certificates after the 10th standard as equivalent to the 12th is still a work in progress. However, the transition of those from the vocational stream in schools to college or university is not yet as desired and this needs to be integrated going forward.
All such skilling initiatives need to be tied up with entrepreneurship promotion programmes such as the Startup India and Stand up India schemes that are only just taking off. The NSDC now needs to try new “ecosystem” models to help organize the unorganized sector as only that would make the Skill India mission a pervasive one.
There are other programmes on the anvil such as the establishment of model skill centres in 500 districts by March 2017. According to the government, more than 10.4 million people were trained overall under the plan in 2015-16. That is an impressive 36.8% growth. But the path to 400 million by 2022 would require increased speed as well as scale. Government funds alone would not suffice for this. The challenge lies in building private sector partnerships.
Dilip Chenoy is the former CEO and managing director, National Skills Development Corporation
The views are personal