No economy can sustain a high level of growth if it’s not backed by a steady supply of trained manpower. As things stand today, the Indian economy is suffering from an acute shortage of trained manpower. Acknowledging the problem, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in his Budget speech said we could lose our demographic dividend if the workforce does not acquire the “skills to support a knowledge and technology-driven economy”. In a post-Budget interview, he added that our current programmes are “diffused” and the “quality very poor”. Proposing the establishment of a non-profit corporation, he promised Rs 1,000 crore as the government’s equity in it. Another Rs 15,000 crore will be raised from other sources. The 2007-08 Economic Survey also says that the increasing employable population is the biggest challenge facing us today. Failing this, the Survey warned, may lead to social unrest. Another privately-funded study says that only half of the six million students that pass from our vocational institutes are employable.
World over vocational training has paid dividends by fuelling economic growth. South Korea and Germany are two countries that have tapped and unlocked potential of its population. According to one estimate, in Germany, South Korea and Canada, nearly 85-90 per cent undergo vocational training. In India, the figure is a dismal 2 per cent. China is also going the whole hog in this direction. According to the Finance Minister himself, more than 300 trades are being taught in China, while in India we teach only 30. Add to this, some of the courses are obsolete and are not market-oriented.
The energy that is India must be harnessed well. The industry needs to participate in this process and see this as an investment and not expenditure. The Confederation of Indian Industry has already launched a project in which industries are encouraged to sponsor ITIs. The government needs add to these measures by clearing logistical bottlenecks (the working hours of ITIs need to be increased so that even working people can join them) and relaxing the eligibility criteria for the institutes. The challenges are many, but if we can tackle them, the dividends can usher in an era of inclusive growth.