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Rajesh A R

Skill Development and Employability

India faces a huge challenge of appropriate employment generation for millions of young people. Vocational training and skill development are critical in creating employable workforce. And, if these initiatives are supported by technology based learning, we could have the double advantage of reaching the learners in remote locations and providing them quality training in a cost-effective way. In fact, a section of my book is dedicated to some examples of how vocational training can be improved through e-learning. I had a chance to chat with Rajesh A R on some broader aspects of skill development and vocational training in India. Rajesh heads the Employment Services, iRize,  at Manipal Education. His current focus is to set up a self-sustaining employment exchange network of assessed, trained and certified candidates across all profiles in cities/towns linking various stakeholders like Government, educational institutions, training/recruitment companies and NGOs/Non-profit organizations to cater to the human resource needs of organized and unorganized corporate sectors.

Evolving technology and business models have created the need for a host of new skills. How are the unorganized to organized sectors coping with the demand for skilled workforce?
Rajesh A R
Well, you see the demand for a skilled workforce is a concern for both the organized and unorganized sector. The unorganized sector accounts for about 90% of the workforce in India and both sectors struggle to find the right candidates with the right skills.  In the absence of apprentice programs or earn and learn initiatives, the problem will persist as the industries deal with the ill equipped migrant population. The construction Industry, food-processing industry, Oil and Gas and Healthcare are some of the sectors where the shortage is acute. Public–Private Partnerships (PPP) in vocational education are critical to harness the labour in the unorganized sector. For instance, CII and Tata Motors launched a PPP in Uttar Pradesh, which includes a faculty development program for the ITIs in the state.

Skill development covers a wide spectrum of professionals from vocational skills to higher order cognitive skills (let’s say from carpentry or weaving to communication and presentation skills for a highly qualified scientist or a physician). Where do you think is the largest gap and what are the glaring indicators of this gap.

You’ve raised a good point. Let me quote some figures here. Mckinsey global institute shows that only 25% of Engineers are employable and the NASSCOM report expects a shortage of about 500,000 knowledge workers, which includes the PhDs and M.Tech degree holders. So the gaps exist across education levels. However, the most glaring gap exists at the 10+2 level of education where the industry expectations and what the technology institutes churn out do not match up at all. At present, 250 million candidates are required by the manufacturing and services industry and the immigrant population from the rural areas is not equipped to take on the task.Since casual workers from the unorganized sectors make up a significant portion employed by manufacturing, a system of hand holding the immigrant labour through the process of training, acclimatization to city life and cultural orientation is essential to ensure retention of the immigrant workforce.

We see that training (skill development) is mostly neglected in higher education, especially professional curriculum. Of late, we see conscious efforts on part of universities to link education with employability by way of imparting skills training. Do you think this is an effective way to address the issue?

Skill training is indeed an important component of higher education and it has a direct relationship with employability. Internships, Apprenticeships, summer projects are all ways in which academia seeks to integrate with industry. However industry also needs to equally invest in training programs like earn and learn at the lower socio-economic levels of labour where there is a huge gap in industry needs and labour availability in terms of skill levels. Universities should also get full autonomy for upgrading their curriculum. With technology moving at a rapid pace this is an important step to keep our education current and meaningful. Industry-academia teams have to be set up so that industry needs can be fully understood and integrated into the curriculum. Industry and academia should provide sabbaticals to their staff to work in joint-research opportunities.

 How can we address the disconnect between education and employment (knowledge and application of knowledge in workplace scenario). I know this may be a huge challenge but can you share some concrete actionable items?

This needs to be done systematically. First, a survey needs to be made to concretize industry’s requirements from the work force, as it is important to understand what it is that makes a resource productive at the workplace. Second,curriculum needs to be revised to incorporate relevant technologies and skills that are in demand today. This curriculum revamp needs to be a continuous process, which would only be possible if universities have autonomy to do the same. Third, internships in industry should be made compulsory as part of all programs to ensure that students are exposed to the real world before they graduate from their programs. Fourth, accreditation procedures should be beefed up and made more stringent to ensure that sub-standard educational institutions are not handing out certifications of no value.

How can technology (e-learning, video-based learning and mobile learning) contribute to skill development? In what contexts/verticals would it be most effective?

Technology as a learning tool is a great boon in education today. Remote areas that do not have access to qualified teachers can use technology in the form of video-based learning, e-learning to train candidates. For example, an apprentice program that is conducted in an industry situated in a remote locality could use these tools to combine formal concept education with applied skill training. E-learning can be effective across verticals as long as there are no language barriers, no prerequisites in understanding the subject and supervised implementation. It also promotes self-learning and therefore a larger number of people can be educated through this system. Also, e-learning can be used to highly customize the training to be industry specific or even organization specific. Therefore training in niche areas and specialty training can be highly economical and possible with E-learning. Today, courses are available in Retail management, English speaking, Lubricant technology etc. making it a great way to obtain focused education in a specific area.

Can you suggest any available courses (both class room training and e-learning) for skill development?

Today, certifications are available in a plethora of disciplines. Certifications in Banking and Financial service institutions, Hair and Beauty, Hospitality, Retail, Security, Workplace Skills, English communication etc are available. Programs are also available that integrate classroom education and skill training which would make a candidate job ready. Many popular business schools offer Executive education or Management development programs that offer certification in specific areas of specialization including General Management, small and medium enterprises program, Communication strategies, Revenue Management etc. They offer e-learning options as well as part time options. If one is looking for internationally recognized certifications, City & Guilds- UK, offers certifications in many areas including Engineering and Transport, Hospitality and Catering, Information Technology, Business support skills etc. They also have an e-learning support portal called Smartscreen and software like Learning Assistant, which improve delivery of vocational courses. 

What is the scope for enhancing inclusivity of rural/semi-urban workforce’s contribution to Indian economy? Can you share any examples of initiatives that have benefited the large non-urban youth in providing meaningful employment?

The scope is tremendous and boundless. The rural, semi-urban population, without formal education, need not be completely unskilled. Fine-tuning of their skills is sometimes all it takes to bring them within the folds of industry. For example, Tata Power has a rural empowerment BPO initiative in Khopoli, Maharashtra through which the call agents for the BPO are selected and hired. Youth with minimum education, i.e., 12th Standard (passed), with the ability to operate a computer and understand English are considered eligible for employment.

Please share some information on current skill development initiatives in India. Tell us how young professionals can benefit from it?

There are many skill development initiatives being launched today. With the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) setting itself an objective of upskilling 500 million people by 2022, many joint ventures have been launched towards that end. JobSkills and Genpact have collaborated to offer training modules to professionals. A joint venture between Everonn Education Ltd and NSDC has launched the Master resource centre for Skill development in Chennai last year. The centre will focus on training Master Trainers to impart industry-specific skill training.  The Reliance Foundation for rural entrepreneurship has a young professionals program that has been created to build a talent pool of young professionals who could create entrepreneurial opportunities for rural India.

 What would be your advice to professionals who wish to update and improve their knowledge and skills and seek relevant employment opportunities?

Professionals need to constantly update their knowledge levels through valid certifications. They should have knowledge of what is the latest trend in their industry and seek to educate themselves about it. A technical professional could arm himself/herself with a management degree to enable upwards mobility in the organization into the managerial cadres. Finance professionals could seek niche specialties through specific certifications offered by institutes like IIFC etc., to become experts in particular areas. Adaptability is also increasingly becoming a relevant quality in a candidate. With technology changing rapidly, there is a need for employees to be nimble and savvy in adopting new technologies. Constantly staying on the cutting edge of your industry is basically the key to stay current, relevant and upwardly mobile.