Skill progress is all about willingness to adopt and adapt

Progress is another buzzword in the corridors of power today. There are multiple reports applauding the statistics that administrators placed throughout India are loading the decision-makers in the Centre. According to newspaper columns, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna “is aiming at training one crore youth in next 10 years through various schemes like vocationalization of school education, apprenticeship, etc.” Even the PIB reports points out that “the country had more than 70 odd programs on skill development being run across 29 states through 21 different ministries” in the past year. What does this really say?

Seventy programs on skill development indicate a multiplicity of efforts that will need a lot of rationalization of process with an eye on the outcome. Did this happen? Is this sort of focus planned for the years ahead? A cursory investigation into what is happening at the ground level tells me that most of these initiatives are resting peacefully on paper and that the truth is revolving around only on those courses that are either easy to begin and monitor or popularity id based entirely on how the target group perceives a particular course. Thus we have an over-abundance of skill development dancing around fashion, tailoring, basic computing, and automobile repair. House-keeping, trained nursing for the disabled and elderly, cyber security, patient care, food processing, bee-keeping and so many other relevant ones are existing either in remote pockets or not being preferred at all. I’m sure there must be valid reasons for this.

However, before we go into the details of why only some skill development sees skill progress, let us go into a bit of chronology. Skill India was launched in 2014 and with it came a new Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) with the express aim to convert potential into a sustainable means of livelihood. We all know that India isn’t yet a geriatric society and that 54% of our population is below 25 years of age with 62% of our populace in the actively working stage. The PIB report also points out that “over 109 million incremental human resources will be required in India alone, across 24 key sectors by the year 2022”. The alarming fact in all these figures is that we have only a miniscule of this large population that has had formal skills training. There is then the demon of unorganized sector as well because barely 15% of our workforce is employed by the organized sector.

The primary thought on seeing these figures is if skill development can be called skill progress now. In the recent past when an elderly relative living in Chandigarh fell ill and searched for someone equipped with a primary knowledge of patient care, she discovered that the skill scene was woeful. Only Red Cross and a few NGOs volunteered to send across someone who they felt was equipped with these skills. The truth was that not one of those sent for this job had any technical information about the complexity of doses of medicines and nor were they enthusiastic about patient care. “I can cook food,” said one. But this isn’t enough. This is one area where candidates needed to know simple tasks like helping an elderly take a bath, move around and do some primary exercises without falling and hurting themselves, and be ready to absorb the directions of a physiotherapist and take over in his absence. It is possible that all those who were sent for this job had not begun with the right QPs or qualification packs. Skill progress needs to add the dimension of skill-imbued education.

The above is just one example. I do understand that courses like food processing and bee-keeping might not find many takers in a place like Delhi, but they need to be promoted in the right geographies. A focus on geography is also about ensuring creation of the right sort of work-force where they are needed most… or we will be fighting with mass migration of skilled people from states with a low economic growth. The right thing to do is to create employment opportunities in such states and not to keep closing down courses. This is why skill progress needs to be all about willingness to adopt and adapt.

Theoretically, 1,141 new ITIs with 1.73 lakh seats have been added in past one year, 15,000 instructors have been trained by Central Institutes of Directorate General of Training (DGT), and even distance learning initiatives have been promoted. The number of trainers has gone up. The number of pupils per classroom has increased. Even the courses have undergone a lot of change, for instance, Bachelors in Vocation has been added. I’m sure the government is asking certification bodies to make these courses officially recognized and making the right changes in the recruitment rules for government jobs. But all this doesn’t seem to be getting us any closer to the sort of results that we were expecting.

So where does the real problem rest? I do not have statistics to back my theory but education in our schools doesn’t seem to be encouraging skill development. I often come across youngsters who have cleared their board exams and yet know nothing about fixing a wire in a plug, writing an application correctly, conversing with a focus on details, or doing any task around the home or office with conviction. The problem probably lies in the rote learning promoted in schools and a protective attitude at home that insulates students from learning practical skills. A few months back we happened to visit a potter’s village near Unchagaon and I was shocked to learn that the father was not in favour of teaching pottery skills to his daughters. Even the sons were asked to keep mugging up inane sentences from their text-books. There are a multitude of tasks to be done at home and encouraging kids to learn them all is only going to add to their loco-motor skills and make them see skill development as an essential and not as a last resort.

Skill progress is all about learning and doing all the little tasks that converge to make life livable… and once done, they have the potential to drive a kid towards a task that he starts appreciating. Skill progress is not jumping out of school with grades that were forced upon them and landing in a course just because that is what needs to be done.

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Skill progress is all about willingness to adopt and adapt

Skill progress is all about willingness to adopt and adapt

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Arvind Passey
27 March 2017