Vocational training

Chasing a mirage

Print edition : October 27, 2017

A young person perusing a Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana brochure at a function in Vijayawada on the occasion of the programme's launch in May 2015. Photo: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar

The Union government’s much-touted schemes to impart vocational training failed in their twin objectives of providing employment and creating a pool of skilled workers for industry, the Sharda Prasad Committee has observed.

On June 6, a Press Information Bureau release, highlighting the achievements of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) and “marking three years of inclusive growth and development under the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government”, informed the country that more than 1.07 crore persons had been trained in skills through various programmes and schemes of the Ministry. Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the Minister of State with Independent Charge said that “Skill India” was a “silent revolution and a joint investment” that the government and its private partners were making for the “future growth of the country”.

The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), launched on July 15, 2015, had got 26.5 lakh people, half of them women, trained in skills of their choice. The approach was to move away from a supply-driven skill development scenario to a demand-driven one so that young people with skills would not lack employment. Rudy added that “more and more corporates were partnering with the Ministry at various levels, whether on engaging with apprentices, extending infrastructure support, contribution through CSR [corporate social responsibility] funds and hiring of resources”.

The optimism did not last even three months. In the third Cabinet reshuffle on September 3, Rudy was divested of his Ministry as reports appeared of the very low percentages of people who had been trained and received placements. The PMKVY was launched just a year after the Ministry was created. The programme was allocated a hefty Rs.1,500 crore in the year of its launch, and a staggering Rs.12,000 crore in 2016. The report of the Committee for Rationalisation and Optimisation of the Functioning of Sector Skill Councils, submitted in December 2016, came up with a sharp censure, saying that the PMKVY had neither been able to provide employment at decent wages nor had met the needs of industry. The Ministry had set up the committee, headed by Sharda Prasad, former Directorate General of Employment & Training, to suggest reforms in the Vocational Education and Training System. It observed at the outset that efforts at training were “half-hearted” and said that the MSDE and the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) should work together. It said that the focus should be on quality training and there was “no need to chase numbers”.

The government enhanced the stipends of graduates, technicians and technician (vocation) apprentices from September 2014 through a gazette notification. Yet a total of only 0.83 lakh apprentices were found engaged under the vocational education scheme of the Ministry of HRD. This, despite the government amending the Apprentices Act, 1961, and the Rules which enhanced the ratio of apprentices who could be engaged within organisations, including in trades that did not insist on any entry-level qualification. The amendments extended the scope of apprenticeship training to non-engineering occupations, and establishments could also outsource training in institutes of their choice. In a dilution of earlier rules, companies could now also pay the penalty for violations of apprenticeship rules in the form of fines. Apprenticeship was seen as the key driver for creating skilled manpower, and this was underscored in the national policy on skill development and entrepreneurship launched in July 2015. The policy also envisaged a close compatibility with the Medium and Small Manufacturing Enterprise sector. The National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) was launched in August 2016 with the objective of covering all categories of apprentices barring those who were under the HRD Ministry’s vocational education scheme. It was another matter that like Rudy, Kalraj Mishra, the Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, was dropped in the Cabinet reshuffle and replaced by Giriraj Singh. The NAPS set a target of training 5 lakh apprentices in 2016-17 against the earlier goal of 2.5 lakhs; 10 lakhs for 2017-18, 15 lakhs for 2018-19, and 20 lakhs for 2019-20.

There was no shortage of pre-existing schemes, including the ones launched under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The Skill Development Initiative Scheme, which did not require a huge investment, was aimed at early school leavers and was meant to fulfil the demands of the services sector. The idea was to provide skilled manpower at a faster rate, though the scheme was not meant as a substitute to the Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), which conducted long-term craftsmen-training schemes. A total of 29.2 lakh youths were trained under this scheme during the Twelfth Five Year Plan period. In addition to all this, the Narendra Modi government started a scheme to train instructors in techniques of transferring hands-on skills and training semi-skilled and skilled manpower for industry. The initiative was not novel. The first craft training institute was set up in 1948, and five more were set up subsequently. The Sharda Prasad Committee report noted that while the requirement of such instructor-trainers was 20,000 a year, only 8,000 were being produced.

In 2013, the UPA government launched a National Skill Certification and Monetary Reward Scheme with a budget of Rs.1,000 crore, which was targeted at covering a limited number of high-market-demand job roles in specified sectors. The report found that under the scheme, 14.5 lakh persons had been trained and 8.7 lakh were certified. But only 1.2 lakh persons received placement, a mere 8.5 per cent of the number of people trained, at an average training cost of Rs.7,067 per person. It was badly implemented with poor employment outcomes, the committee observed, adding that the “real ground reality would emerge after a detailed survey of the trainees trained and placed”.

The PMKVY was aimed at training 24 lakh persons. It was to be implemented through the National Skill Development Corporation, set up in 2008. The Skill and Certification Reward Scheme targeted school dropouts and first-time entrants in the labour market and provided them with an incentive between Rs.5,000 and Rs.12,500. A total of 18.03 lakh persons were trained; 12.9 lakh were certified and only 2.23 lakh were placed. The average training cost was a little higher than the 2013 scheme, at Rs.8,319 per trainee. The placement percentage was low at 12.4 per cent, though marginally better than under the UPA. The employment scenario was as bleak as ever. Was it because there were not any jobs, or was it that the trainees did not have the required skills?

The report noted that no assessment was made of the STAR (Standard Training Assessment and Reward) scheme, its failures, industry requirements and low employment outcomes before allocating the PMKVY, a similar scheme, with an outlay of Rs.1,500 crore. The much-increased allocation in the second year came with an ambitious plan to train one crore persons between 2016 and 2020, again without any evaluation of the previous year’s performance. In fact, at the press briefing of June 2017, Rudy did not share employment and placement figures. All the stakeholders consulted by the committee members expressed the view that the targets had been set very high “without any regard to sectoral requirement”. Everybody, the report observed, “was chasing numbers without providing employment to the youth or meeting sectoral industry needs. Many participants very eloquently said it benefited VTPs [vocational training providers], ABs [assessment bodies] and SSCs [sector skill councils] only.” Those who did get jobs were paid Rs.5,000 to Rs.10,000 a month, which was lower than the minimum wages for skilled or even semi-skilled work in many States. The report said that skills needed to be “aspirational” so that young people could draw anywhere between Rs.40,000 and Rs.50,000. The expenditure on the PMKVY was a “wastage of public resources”, it said.

Lacking correlation with needs

While the MSDE had achieved 58 per cent of the total physical targets, the 17 other Ministries that also provided vocational training together achieved 42 per cent of their targets. The training by some Ministries, the report found, was substandard, supply-driven and lacked a correlation with specific needs of employers. Many of these Ministries had not been allocated the work of skill development under the Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, while some had been allocated the role of “employment generation”.

In the scheme of vocational education in secondary and higher secondary schools run by the HRD Ministry in 2014-15, only 873 students were placed in various trades against, just 0.19 per cent of the 4,47,350 who had enrolled. The committee observed that it was not vocational education or vocational education and training that was being imparted but vocational guidance. The standards had not been developed by the National Skills Qualification Committee, there were no regular trainers, there was no involvement of industry, no market linkage or interaction with employers, and no proper infrastructure in schools. Trainers were given a paltry remuneration with no opportunities for career progression or promotion. Further, the Ministry aimed at providing skilled manpower to services, but only 17 courses had been offered.

The apprenticeship training in 30,165 establishments spread over 265 designated trades under the MSDE had been able to attract only 2.3 lakh apprentices, the committee noted. Similarly, the HRD Ministry’s apprentice training scheme of graduate engineers and technicians (vocational and otherwise) had attracted only 0.83 lakh apprentices. “The reason for the poor response was that neither employers, nor trainees see any benefit from the Apprenticeship Training Scheme.”

The report emphasised that “skills ipso facto did not create jobs”. Jobs were a function of the growth of the economy in terms of an increase in the gross domestic product (GDP), creation of new industrial enterprises, expansion of the services sector, development of infrastructure, and good labour market policies. According to the Skill India report, 2017, a joint effort of the Confederation of Indian Industry, the United Nations Development Programme, the All India Council for Technical Education, and Wheebox, the engagement by employers of apprentices despite the amendments to the Act and rules was low. Of all the students entering the job market across the country, hardly two out of five met the criteria of employment set by employers. The severity of the situation, noted the report, was accentuated at many levels when the economy was doing well and new jobs were getting generated in e-commerce, energy, retail, telecom, hospitality and financial industry but there were not enough skilled people available. The report also noted with some concern that there was a significant drop in the participation of women in the labour force in the 21-50 age group.

An industry insider who was formerly with the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises told Frontline that employment figures regarding placements were often fudged and there was no system to find out where previous trainees were located or whether they were in regular jobs or not. “The largest employer today is the informal sector. And much of the work is hands-on training. How can a fruit juice vendor be taught to extract fruit juice if not by actual practice? Today educated people are not getting jobs. Even skilled persons find it difficult to get employment with small and medium enterprises as all the work is in a ‘hands-on’ form. We have to de-train them first. Big industry has its own training institutes. In general, there are not many good trainers. Earlier there used to be the raj mistri, the master trainer in the traditional set-up, under whose tutelage the skill would be imparted to apprentices under him. The government used to incentivise these mistris. But now it is a challenge to find qualified trainers to do the training,” he said.

Despite the hype generated around skill development and job generation, it has turned out that neither of the two outcomes was achieved in the last three years. Rather, as the Sharda Prasad Committee report pointed out, there was no evaluation of previous skill development schemes before launching the PMKVY and no evaluation of its first phase. To be fair to Rudy, he had the candour to admit at the June 16 press briefing that “a handful of organisations claiming to be PMKVY agencies promising jobs to unemployed youths were taking money and duping the public in the name of the MSDE”. Such advertisements, he said, were found more in the vernacular dailies. “We condemn such practices and have filed FIRs [first information reports] against them,” he said, and cautioned the public to be wary of such frauds and check for the right affiliated centres before enrolling.

The frauds were symptomatic of the larger flaws in the skill development and vocational training scheme which the Sharda Committee report pointed out. Needless to add, frauds committed on the public have to be addressed by the government, not the public. The truth is that merely the replacement of Rudy by Dharmendra Pradhan will not result in any drastic increase either of skilled youth or their absorption in employment.