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Building an ecosystem for India’s skill development

To push the skilling agenda forward, it is important for the government to adopt the role of an ecosystem facilitator. Technology and governance will be the two pillars for bringing this transformative change

analysis Updated: Jun 06, 2019 20:17 IST
KP Krishnan and Roopa Kudva
KP Krishnan and Roopa Kudva
Small enterprises will need hyper-local and flexible training models. Moreover, the system will also need to recognize skills obtained through traditional apprenticeship and other non-formal channels(HT)

More than 50% of India’s population is below the age of 25. By 2030, India will have the world’s youngest and largest workforce, exceeding one billion. The opportunity is tremendous.

India signalled its strong commitment to skilling by establishing the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship (MSDE), to help coordinate and consolidate skilling efforts being undertaken by multiple government and private stakeholders. Since MSDE’s inception, its focus has been on addressing two distinct failures in the skills market: under-provision and lack of quality provision. The number of Indians entering the workforce every year far exceeds the training capacity of the skills system. Recognising this, MSDE has sought to facilitate large scale training through significant increase in capacity and enrolment in long-term courses, coupled with increase in short-term training.

Taking this effort to the next level is not a task that can be performed in isolation. It will need active participation and collaboration from different stakeholders, the system to be more responsive to changing market needs, and technology-led transformation to truly achieve meaningful scale.

We see five principles that can guide a renewed vision for skilling India.

1) Be inclusive and make learners central to decision making by understanding various heterogenous sectors involved and the specific constraints of each.

2) Foster employer connect and create a sense of shared value by creating the right incentives for markets to have shared responsibility in building the nation’s capital.

3) Make states and Centre equal partners by collaborating actively on policy and programme design.

4) Use technology to drive change to help unleash new possibilities, create digital public goods, and operate at scale to catalyse the skilling ecosystem.

5) Listen, learn, and respond continuously so that the skilling ecosystem can be iterative and create strong feedback loops that learn and respond constantly.

As we move forward, the small and informal sector will continue to be the primary source of employment and entrepreneurship. However, despite engaging 82% of the total workforce, the informal sector contributes to only about 50% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). Hence, not surprisingly, adding formal skills can transform the sector by improving productivity. Small enterprises currently are not incentivised to provide any formal skilling to their workers, and are offered little support through government programmes either. For India to create a strong skills ecosystem, it must focus on the small and informal sector to begin with. To catalyse demand for formal skills for both small enterprises and learners, appropriate incentives, awareness building efforts and demonstration effects will be needed. Small enterprises will need hyperlocal and flexible training models. Moreover, the system will also need to recognise skills obtained through traditional apprenticeship and other non-formal channels.

To do this, it is also critical to have interventions that address the following:

•Creating an understanding on why skills matter for every member of the workforce.

•Easy access to information on opportunities, both market demand and supply situation.

•Ensuring that training in skills is responsive to the evolving market needs and people have access to centres providing this guidance.

•Building a nationwide network of bodies that maintain the quality of short and long term programmes on offer.

•A systemic imbalance at various levels of the process, e.g. models rewarding outcomes inherently favour assessment agencies over training providers.

To unlock the potential of the skills ecosystem, these frictions must be smoothened through technology-led change as well as through market enabling governance.

Until now, technology has played an enabling role in making existing systems and processes become smoother and more efficient (e.g. digitization of course curriculums). Moving to a technology-led transformation will help reach scale, promote inter-operability, and create digital public goods for all to use i.e. the internet equivalent for skills. Automated and scalable forms of interactions can help improve trust and credibility in the ecosystem and enable better decision-making by learners, service providers and employers.

Consolidated and market-enabling governance can help create the right incentives for service providers to cater to the needs of learners and employers effectively. A seminal step in this direction has been the creation of an overarching skilling regulator, the National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET). Over the next year, it is expected that NCVET will develop minimalistic and user-friendly guidelines to recognise and regulate two of the most important stakeholders in the skilling ecosystem, the awarding bodies, who accredit training institutions, and the assessment agencies, who assess learner performance. In turn, it will be incumbent upon the awarding bodies to monitor and regulate the functioning of affiliated training providers.

To push the skilling agenda forward, it is important for the government to adopt the role of an ecosystem facilitator. This can foster informed decision making by learners and employers, increase employer trust, and enable upward and horizontal mobility of skilled workers. Technology and governance will be the two pillars for bringing this transformative change.

KP Krishnan is secretary, ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship, government of India. Roopa Kudva is managing director, Omidyar Network India

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jun 06, 2019 20:17 IST