Is ‘Skills India’ losing steam?

New avenues KSWA’s Livelihood Development Centre in Maharashtra’s Godchiroli district imparts vocational training in varied areas PAUL NORONHA

Training partners don’t get government funds as it’s hard to establish that jobs have been created. They would rather tap donations or go the CSR way, writes Tanya Thomas

For Kishor Kher, founder and president of the Mumbai-based NGO Kherwadi Social Welfare Association (KSWA), it does not pay to work with the government. Quite literally. KSWA runs skill development workshops – called Yuva Parivartan – for school and college dropouts in 18 States. The NGO used to sometimes bid for government tenders to conduct these programmes as part of the Skill India mission.

“Two to three years ago, we trained 6,000-7,000 students a year in collaboration with the National Skill Development Council [NSDC],” he said. “Now, we take on fewer than 1,000 students a year.”

“It’s not that the programme or the curriculum is bad, just that there it becomes very difficult for us to collect payments from the government,” said Kher. If a centre ties up with NSDC, the skills ministry reimburses the centre the costs involved in getting together a batch of students and training them in a list of pre-approved skills. But the costs are reimbursed only if the partner can prove that a course graduate has earned a job.

“The government has a lot of money to fund skill-development activities. But one of the reasons we no longer partner as frequently with the government or bid for tenders is because it’s difficult to prove that a graduate has a formal job after the training is complete. More than 92 per cent of the workforce is in the unorganised sector with no proof of employment.”

BusinessLine visited one of KSWA’s more remote training centres, in Gadchiroli, a primarily tribal district in the far reaches of eastern Maharashtra, inaccessible, and in some parts, still controlled by Naxals. The NGO’s Livelihood Development Centre here is a modest six-room institute for vocational training for the local youngsters. The centre conducts courses in sewing, basic computer skills and data entry and for nursing assistants.

Release from backwardness

Jhanvi Suresh Khobragadeis well turned out in a neat plait and a prim cotton sari. Once she has she warmed up to our conversation, the 32-year-old leans forward, her intelligent gray eyes earnest as she makes her point. “For 10years of marriage, I was just sitting at home. That’s a waste of my mind. We need to keep our minds occupied and we’re responsible for our own growth. These sewing classes give me something worth doing.”

Jhanvi’s husband is a driver at the local BSNL office. They have a four-year-old son, and Jhanvi works her class schedule around his school timings. After a few weeks of class, Jhanvi convinced her husband to buy a sewing machine. “Now, after they go to sleep, I sew for a couple of hours. If I find something difficult, I bring it to class the next day to ask Madhuri ma’am and she helps me get it right.”

She has her plans laid out. “I plan to work from home, take orders from neighbours to stitch their sari blouses, or a salwar suit. And I can also go back to my village and teach some girls, make more money that way.”

The centre, which trains 700-800 students a year, is a refuge for youngsters tired of naxal activity in their villages. Some of its students in the past had joined the naxal movement and then returned to the mainstream. On the other hand, 19-year-old Darshana Andrageda, sees her training in the town here as the only means for escape from her family’s life in Jarawandi, a village overrun by left-wing extremists. “My father is in the police in Jarawandi. My parents wanted me to leave and come here; I’ve learnt typing and data entry and now I’m taking the sewing classes. Once I finish this (the course runs for 3 months), I’ll look for a job here in Gadchiroli. I don’t ever want to go back to the jungle.”

Clearly, there’s a desperate need for building skills in these regions and giving people, mostly young and overwhelmingly women, the opportunity to find work. The 2017 annual report by the Skill Development Ministry estimates that in 2017-2022, the economy will need 12.68-crore people added to the skilled labour force, mostly in construction, retail, beauty, automotive, tourism and the capital goods sectors.

But it’s slowly unravelling. But while the intention is right, the government’s efforts with Skill India, partnering with trainers such as KSWA, are not working out.

“We have to conduct exams at the end of every course. For the NSDC courses, sometimes the exams are conducted months after the course is complete,” said Vilas Kamble, Regional Manager for Gadchiroli at KSWA. “It’s difficult to make the students come back to take the exam. And the last few times we had the exam, the question paper was in English and Hindi but our students are only comfortable in Marathi.” Kher said that it just becomes so much easier to rely on donations and sponsorships to keep the NGO’s work going instead of bidding for a government tender, and then chasing down the funding, which may or may not come through even a year later.

Breaking out

The NGO isn’t the only example of implementation going awry. Several training partners that BusinessLine contacted were not running NSDC-approved courses. Rajshri Kapure, who oversees the Skill Development and Training Institute in Nashik, another NSDC training partner, said their only government programme currently being conducted was a two-day-long re-skilling course for certified opticians. Nagpur-based Western Coalfields Ltd (WCL), a subsidiary of the public sector miner Coal India Ltd, runs 10 training centres in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, to essentially build skills of its employees and mine workers.

From November 2016, WCL trained 2,765 employees under NSDC programmes for jobs such as mechanics, dumper operators, drillers and support services. Sanjay Kumar, Director - Personnel, WCL Nagpur, told BusinessLine: “NSDC has been associated with us for only three months last fiscal for limited programmes. On our own [through CSR], we do much more.”

Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO of budget hotel aggregator OYO, said the company entered into an MoU with the Tourism and Hospitality Skill Council in November 2015. The company set up the OYO Skill Institute (OSI), in Gurugram, to participate in government projects that would train out-of-work youth in hospitality functions such as housekeeping, front office, kitchen operations and guest service. In the last 18 months, though, the number of such government programmes that it has partnered with the government has trickled down.

OYO now runs OSI as a business arm. “In just over a year, OSI has trained 1,500 people across different roles. More than 70 per cent of graduates have been absorbed at OYO. We have expanded to 12 cities, with 28 trainers, eight managers and over 300 trainees per month. Besides OYO, OSI-trained workforce has been hired by hotels, dine-in restaurants, quick service restaurants, hospitals and corporate offices, with starting salaries in the range of ₹8,000-12,000 per month depending on the role and function.”

Inappropriate targets

It could be the government’s misguided emphasis on wage employment – getting formal sector jobs – that led to the extremely low placement percentages that various sector skill councils reported to the Sharda Prasad committee in December 2016, which reviewed the Skill India programme. While the NSDC and its partners provided vocational training to around 6 lakh till September, only about 12 per cent of those have been reported to have jobs. The Comptroller and Auditor General pulled up the NSDC in 2015 because the training partners failed to meet placement targets. The Ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship spent over ₹955 crore in FY17 on the skilling mission; it has a similar budget allocation for FY18.

Arunkumar Pillai, Partner – Skill Development, EY, said that as of now, counting the number of trainees with jobs at the end of a programme is the only metric available to measure the programme's success. On this measure there is lot to be done. “The Skill India programme has gone through three iterations now. In the last year and half, the government has brought more quality focus into this initiative with many of the non-serious players being weeded out. There are still several process-related issues that governments across the country are trying to solve, like with timely payments. NSDC has roped in IBM to improve the skill development management and monitoring IT system.”

The government has been consulting with EY on various skill development programmes. “What needs to be achieved is closer collaboration between the industry and training companies on which skills are required in say, a certain region, and how we can go about training locals in those skills if they are willing.” He means that if a district is an auto industry cluster, then the industry needs a platform to communicate the need for skilled workers to local training partners. Today, industry talks to manpower agents, who bring in unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Such platforms, whether digital or not can be facilitated by the government. “But this chain is not seamless yet,” said Pillai.

“In rural areas, technology could be an enabler. We could get micro-entrepreneurs in services – such as plumbers or electricians – connected to an online/mobile platform and use their services for rural projects for electrification or sanitation. This could also be a measure for employment, not merely wage employment. Some State governments have initiated this, but not effectively executed it. The skills ministry has begun linking the skilling mission with the Mudra loan scheme to give trainees banking and marketing linkage.”

“But this needs providing them extensive handholding even after the training programme has been wrapped up,” Pillai added.

All of them – NGOs, for-profit institutes and corporates – recognise the need to build a skilled workforce within their respective sectors. With the majority not enthused by the government’s attempts to bring it all together under the Skill India umbrella, to provide adequate funding, valid certification and the jobs, they’re finding other roads to the same result – through donations, CSR activity or by running training programmes for profit.

If Skills India continues without addressing issues faced by implementation partners, it may well end up as another high-profile government scheme turning into a damp squib.

Published on December 18, 2017
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