Most innovations are products of human labour, genius and sacrifice. Nothing characterises this than the Covid-19 vaccines produced successfully by the medical community, which surmounted immense challenges in terms of time constraints, and lack of knowledge about the new virus. The success is an interplay of capital, collaboration, regulatory mechanisms, and mostly importantly the scientific and technological know-how, put simply, skills.

To the credit of the governments in the last decade, many initiatives have been undertaken in the skills sector. Despite, much efforts, desirable outcome is still elusive. The primary reason for this is lack of cohesion within policy actions, absence of holistic approach and working in silos. There is an acute need for a stronger institutional framework for imparting skills and a supporting ecosystem.

Piecemeal efforts

For years, the governments have made piecemeal efforts to empower youth with skills. For instance, ₹3,000 crore has been allocated in the Union Budget 2021-22 to “realign the existing scheme of National Apprenticeship Training Scheme (NATS) for providing post-education apprenticeship, training of graduates and diploma holders in Engineering.” This piecemeal approach restricts apprenticeship to only engineering stream and not to others.

Further, the Union Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship has launched the third version of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana recently to impart skills development to over 8 lakh persons in 2020-21 and allocated ₹948.9 crore. One lacuna of the scheme is its excessive reliance on District Skills Development Committee, chaired by District Collector, whowould not be able to prioritise this role, given other assignments.

The National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), created in 2013, essentially for resolving the inter-ministerial and inter-departmental issues and avoiding duplications of skills development efforts of the Union Government, has been now subsumed as part of the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT). This reflects not only discontinuity in policy process, but also obfuscation among policy makers.

The UN’s Human Development Report-2020 found that in India only 21.1 per cent of the labour force was skilled in 2010-2019. According to a 2019 study by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), 7 crore additional people in 15-59 age-group are expected to enter the labour force by 2023, of which 5.9 crore or 84.3 per cent will be in the age group 15-30 years, and half of this are expected to come from the age cohort of 15-20 years.

The number of expected entrants is projected to peak to 1.29 crore in 2023 alone. Six States alone (Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka) account for 50 per cent (about 3 crores) of the new youth entrants (15-30 years). Given the sheer magnitude of youth to be skilled, it is paramount that the policy efforts are adequate in all respects.

The New Education Policy emphasises on integration of vocational and formal education both at school and higher education levels. A pilot ‘hub-n-spoke’ model is being implemented in two States where an ITI will become a ‘hub’ for providing training to 5-7 adjoining schools. This is a good beginning which should mark the end of the artificial separation between the formal and vocational.

Hence, we really need to start working at school level, be it private or government, and create an institutional framework with holistic approach towards of development skills and competences. For achieving an Atmanirbhar Bharat, all the skilling efforts need to be brought under one platform to eliminate silos and duplications. A sturdy institutional framework with practical and real pathways to change course between mainstream and vocational programmes needs to be made.

The writer is former Consultant to Planning Commission and works in public policy