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Saturday, November 17, 2018

INDIA: The Top 5 Challenges in Skill Training

Skill Training is the need of the hour in rural India, but at every turn there are hurdles to overcome in tackling youth unemployment and meeting the recruitment needs of industry.  

Ravi Nayse, General Manager at ACF's Skill & Entrepreneurship Development Institutes dissects the most pressing challenges faced in the skills training industry today, outlines the opportunity that they present, and explains how ACF is thinking outside the box to expand the quality and reach of their Skill Training program.

1.      Keeping up with Technological Change.

Technological change, particularly the development of information and communication technology (ICT), is occurring at unprecedented speed, requiring workers to have more and more complex, cognitive skills than ever. Whilst this has also brought opportunities for new jobs, the challenge is to train youth for those job roles, which do not in fact exist today, in order to ‘stay ahead of the curve’.

As we work to develop curriculum for courses at SEDI, we often find that by the time we formalise the curriculum (in such areas as Mobile Phone Repairing or Computer Hardware Repairing), the technology has changed - thus is the speed at which technology is shifting and evolving. 

It's a similar story in 2 wheeler repairing where today, everything is equipped with sensors, and our curriculum had to be quickly upgraded to cater for that.  In the Welding trade, there are a lot of changes coming in and now 'arc welding' is becoming redundant.  Even 'gas welding' is going out as more and more people seek 'MIG Welding.'  We had to evolve with the times here also, altering curriculum to stay relevant to the needs of the market.

The employment landscape is changing swiftly, and new jobs are emerging with rapid disruption in business models around the globe. Today’s job market and in-demand skills are vastly different from the ones of 10 or 5 years ago - and the pace of change is only set to accelerate. These new jobs require new skills which either do not exist or the population is very niche.

Building a skilling system to match the new requirements (a system that responds well to business needs) while creating opportunities for young people is the need of the hour.  To tackle this trend at SEDI, we generally interact with our potential employers and try to understand their current requirements in relation to skillsets, and what they expect from trainees in the workplace.  We personally visit employer's workplaces and talk to supervisors.  A lot of feedback is generated in these visits and we then incorporate changes into the curriculum accordingly. 

We also call outside experts as guest lecturers to talk about new developments and the latest trends in the marketplace. We take our trainees on field visits to workplaces so that students can get a feel for what exactly is happening in the workplace - also sending them for on the job training - a key component of our methodology of training, where students get practical hands on training.
Lastly we foster an increased appetite for learning among our students in order to build ‘life long learners’ - encouraging them to continually hone their skills over a lifetime.


2.       Integrating Skill Training at School.


A key challenge India faces, is that primary and higher secondary education is often outdated.  As such, whilst education is supposed to be the foundation for career development in young people, often it is not relevant to what the current job market requires. The result?  Many graduates coming out of schools and colleges are not employable.  


At ACF, we see this as an opportunity!  As per the data available from the education department, more than 95% children are in schools but as they progress, more than 50% fail to reach graduation level.  These youth drop out of education and do not benefit from being mainstreamed in society. There is a large chunk of such youth in our country who, if channelized in a proper way, can become a key asset for all.


The solution?  Youth who are not interested in formal education can be directed into vocational training whilst they are still engaged in Higher Secondary School. If awareness of vocational education is established at this level, then a second pathway opens up for young people - providing them with an alternative to tertiary education.  Thus, integration of vocational training from a young person's schooling days helps ensure that these children do not 'fall through the gaps.'


Similarly, a large pool of youth become immediately available for vocational training institutes who are at present spending a lot of time mobilising youth and understanding their interests in relation to skills training.

3.  Managing Aspirations & Expectations.

By 2022, there is a projected shortfall of 103 million skilled workers in the infrastructure sector in India, 35 million in the automobile industry and 33 million in construction. In stark contrast, a shortage of only 5 million is expected in the technology sector.

But as higher education has seeped into towns and villages across the nation, college enrollment has tripled, highlighting student aspirations to pursue white-collar professions such as medicine, teaching, business management, and software and electronics engineering. The result is that the professional goals of educated Indian youth are running ahead of the skills that the country needs during the next decade of its economic transition. The result is a large number of people with degrees in hand, but with no relevant skills to find employment.

SEDI tackles this mismatch during its community mobilisation phase where field workers spend time with both families and youth to educate them on the types of jobs and salaries available in the market, and the actual qualifications they require to attain them.  SEDI operates a 'Drop In Centre' where potential graduates can come in and learn more about training and opportunities for their career. Blue Collar role models are also showcased to prospective students to highlight their experience and enjoyment for work and career. Counseling is also provided to educate them on the potential presented by Blue Collar Jobs.  We call their parents into SEDI for counseling also, where we give information about the workplaces and the nature of jobs they will get if they join.

But even after training and placement, youth and family expectations can generate challenges.   Workplaces and employers demand more than a hundred percent from their employees - putting individuals under pressure of work and delivery of tasks.  Further, odd working times or meeting delivery deadlines becomes a regular feature that every individual must deal with in their career. Entry level jobs for youth who just started their career also face this situation, and if youth are not trained to handle the work pressure, s/he will always have a challenge in retaining their job.


The provision of a soft skills training component that focuses on managing work pressure and cultivating work ethics is necessary and is a mandatory component of all training programs at SEDI.   We also provide hand-holding support for every trainee for 2 years and track their placement in a systematic manner via a customised software, to monitor the growth and journey of each trainee. 

Additionally, in order to deal with 'real time' situations in the workplace, counseling and mentoring plays a critical role.  However, an institute like SEDI has limitations in providing day to day support to trainees in their workplace.  Hence a strategy was developed to place students in jobs in groups - to support one another and mitigate challenges and develop solutions as and when they arise. Retention rates have increased as a result. 

4.  Catering to Volume.

A survey of the labour bureau in 2013-2014 highlighted the fact that only 6.8% of people have received or were receiving vocational training in India, as opposed to countries like Korea, Germany, UK and Japan, where the percentage is much higher - 96%, 75%, 68% and 80% respectively.


Additionally, more than 12 million youth between 15 and 29 years of age are expected to enter India’s labour force every year for the next two decades.  The government’s recent skill gap analysis concludes that by 2022, another 109 million or so skilled workers will be needed in the 24 keys sectors of the economy.


India has grand plans to become the future skill capital of the world - capitalising on being the youngest nation with more than 62% of its population in working age group of 15-59 years, and more than 54% of its total population below 25 years of age. Additionally, India is the world’s fastest growing economy, expected to grow at 7.2 percent in 2017-18, and at 7.7 percent by 2019-20.   


But these ambitious plans are highly dependent on the quality of the labour force and availability of jobs. This has resulted in an increased demand for skilled labour over the past few years. As such, there is a need to provide 'easy to access' skill training - particularly for those youth who are deprived from accessing such facilities and are in remote rural areas. SEDI continues to expand its footprint in remote areas of the country and aspires to establish 50 SEDIs in the next 5 years. 


To meet the skilling needs of the nation, ACF is taking a partnership approach to expand the SEDI presence across rural India.  By joining hands with like-minded partners, we can pool our resources and strengths to expand our footprint to provide youth with access to skill training in their local communities and support the country in achieving its ambitious goals.


5. Retention: In Training & Workplace.


Skilling institutes face a dual challenge when it comes to 'retention.'  Whilst it is often difficult to ensure retention in the workplace once training is complete, it is also necessary to keep a sharp eye on retention rates during training itself. 

During training, students often struggle with classroom type of training.  The students typically targeted are high school drop outs, and are not accustomed to learning  - particularly when it comes to the theoretical aspect.  If training commences with a focus on the theoretical aspect, rules and regulations, it is typical for students to lose interest, as they are more focused on practical aspects and are eager to fast track earning.


There is also an expectation in skill training around the investment required.  In India, most primary and secondary education is typically free in rural areas, so students are reticent to pay for skilling. Additionally, they lose daily wages for every day of training - this is the opportunity cost of skill training - and they are not ready to do that, or bare the costs of travel and food.  The moment they start incurring these costs they can very easily lose interest.  Additionally, aspiration levels are also very low.  Many rural youth have a focus on labour related jobs, they want to continue doing that.  They do not aspire for a career path.


To counter all these aspects at SEDI, we start training with a large focus on the practical component from day 1.  Whilst there is a risk involved because safety issues are there, we take all necessary precautions and are willing to bear the cost of mistakes which may harm equipment.  We then introduce the theory along the way. 


At every turn we are promoting career paths for students - so that they can see the bigger picture.  This is all displayed prominently in our centres so that they can see the types of jobs, salaries, and opportunities for growth - to continually motivate them.


Retention is also a challenge after training is complete and students have been placed in jobs.  Sometimes homesickness is there and SEDI has commenced 'group placement' into jobs so that students have batch mates and peers from the same community with whom they can relate with and share living costs.


Culture different and a change in food habits takes its toll, and sometimes workplace politics plays a role in the new work environment. SEDI team members work to ensure family encouragement, conduct visits to the workplace to interact with supervisors and troubleshoot issues, and provide ongoing mentoring to students to improve retention.

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Ravi Nayse is the General Manager, SEDI at ACF

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