With India progressively moving towards becoming a knowledge economy, skill development needs to be a major focus for the government today. In this context educating and skilling millions of youth of our country becomes the matter of highest priority and failing to do so would have serious economic and social implications. However, vocational education and training (VET) has been the blind spot of the central and state governments for the past six decades and is riddled with numerous problems which stops it from developing into a successful framework.

First is the low enrollment rate for vocational courses. According to the National Sample Survey Data 66th Round, only 44 students per 1000 for age group 15-19 received vocational training of which only 14 received formal vocational training and the rest fell in the category of non-formal vocational training.

According to the eleventh planning commission report, the proportion youth receiving formal vocational training in India is only about 2 percent as compared to that of 60 to 96 percent in other industrialized countries. Second, about 60% of graduates from Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) remain unemployed after completing their course and even those who find employment mostly do not get to work in the trade for which they were trained. One of the reasons for this mismatch is that vocational education programs in India are not demand-driven and are unable to target a specific sector, or a contemporary skill. The problem is further complicated by the lack of industry-faculty interaction on course curricula and other factors.

Another, critical reason for this skill mismatch is the marked difference between the formal and the informal sector. Formal VET offered by higher secondary schools and ITIs do not equip students with skills needed in the informal sectors where the production process is less fragmented and the same person is often engaged in the entire production process and commercialization. Third, majority of vocational institutes are public run and even the private institutions are controlled by the central and state governments. The central government takes care of the policy making and the state government takes care of smooth running of these institutes.

The system of regulation is shared by Directorate General of Employment & Training (DGET), National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT), State Council for Vocational Training (SCVT) and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). At the national level, the distinction between the roles of DGET and NCVT are blurred and there is a lack of effective coordination between them. At the state level, the SCVTs are also unclear about their roles and responsibilities, and their relationship to the national level agencies. This results in diverse accountability and makes the delivery of training complex. Finally, vocational courses are seen as an option for those students whose potential for academic courses are poor. These programs are perceived to have been formulated mainly for people of lower socio-economic strata of the society. Also, the general feeling is that secondary education can attract higher salary than if a person undertakes vocational education.

To deal successfully with afore mentioned problems, the government needs to take quick and effective steps. Few possible measures are mentioned below:

Publicizing Vocational Education and Training: An expansion in the functions of NCVT and SCVTs to include institutional capacity, enrolment, completion information, and graduate follow-up data from all registered vocational institutions, and annual tracer study/survey of graduates from vocational institutions would help the government develop a relevant and effective VET system.

Collaborative effort by MHRD and Ministry of Labour and Employment: A strong linkage between senior secondary schools with vocational stream and ITIs will allow both the institutions to mutually benefit from their curriculum and pedagogy, which in turn will improve employability and vertical mobility of the students. In addition, a joint effort between NCVT and National Council of Education Research & Training (NCERT) in developing the National Curriculum Framework for Vocational Education would be more impactful.

Shifting towards competency based training: Competency Based Trainings (CBT) are more skill-oriented and focus on competencies identified as essential to learn a particular trade. A crucial advantage of this framework is that it addresses the key problem of lack of relevance of training to industry demand since the competencies are based on standards defined by the industry. The CBT framework has just been introduced in the Indian VET system through National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF) and needs to be strengthened.

Increasing private participation in the current vocational training framework: The government should involve private sector organizations, both in directly providing training and in the management and governance of public training institutions. To lower the skill gap caused by outdated or impractical courses, that are not in-synchronization with the labor market, it is essential to involve the private players and the potential employers themselves in the training efforts.

Industry and job linkages: The vocational training institutes often do not have close linkages to the employers and understanding of their needs. Also, the curriculum has remained static over years, not reflecting current requirements. Courses and curricula should be developed in conjunction with industry to be more relevant and useful.

Attitudinal Shift towards VET: This can be done by building awareness through advocacy campaigns talking about viable career pathways in the vocational field and also by connecting student aspiration to the economic realities of their communities in a manner that nurtures their aspirations.

Various positive steps are already being taken by the government. The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has introduced multiple schemes that integrate skills training into the school curriculum in an innovative manner. Also The DGET, under MoLE, has taken up scheme for upgrading 500 Existing ITIs. The first 100 ITIs are being upgraded through domestic resources and have been named Centre of Excellence and the remaining 400 ITIs have been partially funded by World Bank. The objective of this scheme is to produce multi-skilled workforce matching world standards. This is a promising start, however with major issues to be ironed out Indian VET has far to go before it establishes itself as a successful framework.

Vishal Gupta is an Assistant Professor and Charanya Raman a Research Associate at IIM-Ahmedabad