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Apprenticeships can make India’s youth matter

Kishore Jayaraman | Updated on January 24, 2018


With a target of skilling 500 million people by 2022, apprenticeship will be the key to increasing the employability of youth

How many young Indians are familiar with the concept of an apprenticeship? Not many.

Apprenticeships programmes are prevalent in countries with developed industry such as the US and UK. They are an effective way for young adults to transit from school to work life while improving links between industry and training institutions. Apprenticeships are successful because they facilitate ‘learning by earning’ and ‘learning by doing’, combining formal education with hands-on experience.

The Indian Railways introduced a systematic apprenticeship system followed by the Defence department. The Indian apprenticeship system is well established and used mainly for imparting technical and manufacturing skills. It is supported by legislative and administrative arrangements. However, the apprenticeship model has had limited success due to a rigid 52-year-old law.

Companies are wary of using apprentices because of cumbersome compliance procedures, inspections by labour officials and penalties that include imprisonment. The current revision of the Apprenticeship Act 1961 proposes to remove existing obstacles (administrative, regulatory, limited trades/sectors and others). Burdened with the lowest proportion of trained youth in the world, India can do well with the proposed amendments to the Apprenticeship Act. It can rightly skill the youth and provide them opportunities for self-growth as well as contribute to the country’s economy.

Remarkably, the Apprentices (Amendment) Bill 2014 approved by both Houses of Parliament is a major boost to the government's labour reforms and skill development initiatives, paving way for more employers to join the apprenticeship training scheme.

India’s skill challenge

Although India’s higher education system contributes about 3.5 lakh engineers and 2.5 million university graduates annually to the workforce, an estimated five million graduates remain unemployed at any given time. India has set a target of skilling 500 million people with employable skills by 2022. Thus apprenticeship will play a crucial role in the task of up-skilling India’s workforce and increasing employability.

Currently, 2.8 lakh apprentices are trained each year against 4.9 lakh seats in central and state-sector establishments. These numbers are abysmal for a workforce that is now growing by 12 million a year with hardly any employable skills. The number is even lower than countries like Germany which has threemillion apprentices, Japan 10 million and China 20 million who pick up critical employment skills through a hands-on approach. Arbitrary rules on how many apprentices and in what ratio to the workforce hamper skill acquisition by young people – rather than protect them.

Some of the obvious challenges that confront the government include the small size of the apprenticeship system, lack of alignment between employers and apprentices, outdated curriculum, uneven participation of socio-economic groups in the apprenticeship system, lack of confidence in the skills of graduates and the rigid law governing apprenticeships.

Recruiting apprentices enables employers to fill gaps within the workforce as apprentices begin to learn sector-specific skills from day one – developing specialist knowledge that will positively affect the bottom line.

Benefits of apprenticeships

A report by ILO envisages first-hand case studies of SMEs in India who compared their costs and benefits of providing apprenticeships. Interestingly, they found a positive return for the firms as early as the first year following a completed apprenticeship, and in most cases already accruing within the apprenticeship period itself. Similarly, findings from Canada, Germany, Switzerland and the UK show that an apprentice contributes productively and creates an additional (often monetary and qualitative) benefit for the company.

Therefore, undoubtedly – irrespective of the industry – investing in an apprenticeship scheme can provide real benefits and contribute to the bottom line of an organisation.

The aerospace sector and wider engineering and manufacturing sectors have a long history of first class apprenticeships with many of the industry’s leading figures being former apprentices themselves.

The Indian aerospace industry is among the fastest growing in the world. So far, the aerospace demand has been overwhelmingly met by imports but it is only a question of time before the Indian industry grabs emerging opportunities. As indigenous efforts gather momentum with a focus on developing technology, supply chain, manufacturing capability and skills, apprenticeship will play a key role. Many countries have made the effort to change their archaic apprenticeship systems.

In the UK, apprenticeships increased ten times in less than a decade and over 130,000 businesses now offer such opportunities. Canada largely continues to confine its apprenticeship system to manufacturing and construction jobs. India can also learn from Germany’s successful dual education model which has been historically cited as a successful model of education and training.

Improving employability

While India has huge opportunities in terms of a demographic dividend, the challenges are aplenty because of persisting skill gaps. It comes as no surprise that a well-designed apprenticeship system can promote skills acquisition and improve employability. The Apprenticeship Protsahan Yojana launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi lays emphasis on skill development and highlights the huge potential the country has to provide required manpower to the worldby 2020. Once the amendments to the Apprenticeships Act come into play, it will complement his vision on skill development, and help support 1 lakh apprentices during the period up to March 2017.

The writer is President, India and South Asia, Rolls-Royce

Published on February 03, 2015

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