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Vocational Education

Skill India grounded: Problems plague technical training ecosystem

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Skill India grounded: Problems plague technical training ecosystem

In June 2018, Skill Development Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and his junior colleague Anant Kumar Hegde release the Ministry’s report card in New Delhi. 

In June 2018, Skill Development Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and his junior colleague Anant Kumar Hegde release the Ministry’s report card in New Delhi.  | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

The system is managed and financed by the government instead of by industry.

“I have not heard about the PMKVY. I have lived in this area for many years, but none of my friends know about it,” said Praveen Kumar, a gas meter reading agent who lives and works in the National Capital Region (NCR). The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana is one of the three schemes offered by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) through its not-for-profit National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). The aim of the PMKVY is to skill youth across the country in order to make them employable.

A native of Badayun in Uttar Pradesh, Kumar has spent close to a decade in the NCR looking for regular work. Now in his late 20s, all he wants is a permanent job with a regular salary. His current job is commission based and his earnings depend on the number of households he is able to cover. He said that he had worked for the same company earlier as well, and it had paid him directly. But after COVID-19, he could get his job back only if he went through a contractor. The company now does outsourced work from a major gas company that supplies piped gas to households.

The National Skill Development Policy launched by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2009 metamorphosed into Skill India in 2015 under the Narendra Modi government when the MSDE was also set up. The NSDC itself was formed in 2008 as a public limited company to stimulate private sector involvement in skill development, and in 2011 it was changed to a private limited company. The NSDC’s mission is to upgrade skills to international standards through significant industry involvement.

The Central government’s claims about skill generation and placements stand in stark contrast to the observations in the 32nd Report on the Demands for Grants (2022-23) of the MSDE that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, Textiles and Skill Development presented in March this year. The report included several questions on budgetary cuts and low placements. The MSDE runs eight skill development schemes, including the PMKVY, the Jan Shikshan Sansthan, and the National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme, and has schemes to upgrade existing Industrial Training Institutes into model ITIs. The MSDE had proposed a Budgetary Estimate of Rs.3,229.94 crore for skill development but was allocated Rs.1,643 crore, according to the report.

“The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship had proposed a Budgetary Estimate of Rs.3,229.94 crore for skill development but was allocated Rs.1,643 crore.”

As the Ministry’s overall budget had been scaled down from Rs.5,539.79 crore to Rs.2,999 crore, the allocation for the PMKVY was reduced proportionally. Similarly, the budget for the entrepreneurship development scheme was slashed from the proposed Rs.300 crore to Rs.50 crore. Likewise, the allocation for the apprenticeship promotion scheme was reduced from the proposed Rs.250 crore to Rs.150 crore, even though the report mentions in the comments section that enrolment for the MSDE’s on-the-job training of apprentices showed an increasing trend.

There were budgetary cuts to other schemes as well, and to the budget of the Ministry’s regulatory body, the National Council of Vocational Education and Training. The Ministry informed the Parliamentary Committee that the allocated funds “might fall short to meet the target under various schemes” and assured the committee that it would seek additional funds through supplementary grants if needed.

Students of the Government Tools and Training Centre in a practical session at Baikampady Industrial Area in Mangaluru, Karnataka, on June 28.
Students of the Government Tools and Training Centre in a practical session at Baikampady Industrial Area in Mangaluru, Karnataka, on June 28. | Photo Credit: MANJUNATH H.S.

The Ministry also indicated that the pandemic had affected the implementation of its entrepreneurship development schemes, and low spending had resulted in low allocation. The third phase of the PMKVY, which was launched on January 15, 2021, saw abysmally low placements compared with the number of people who had been trained and certified. As of January 3, 2022, as per the Ministry, of the 4,47,034 people who were trained, 1,73,040 had been certified, and 15,450 had been placed. In the second phase (2016-20), when tracking of the scheme began, of the 50.84 lakh people who were trained, 40.56 lakh candidates were certified and some 21.7 lakh of them received placement.

Despite the high number of registrations on the portal, the Parliamentary Committee was told that there were many reasons for decreasing numbers at different stages of training. Registered candidates did not join or, if they did, they dropped out during the training period. Further, candidates under training either did not appear for assessment or failed in assessment tests. Some students dropped out in order to study further and others did not join placements outside their home State.  

Sector skill councils

According to the economist Santosh Mehrotra, nothing much has changed since 2017, the year he and a senior IAS officer submitted an expert committee report to the MSDE on Sector Skill Councils (SSCs). The committee recommended that the number of SSCs be reduced. The trouble with the NSDC, he said, was that it did not have people who were familiar with the labour market. Mehrotra said a successful technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system is industry driven, that is, demand driven, whereas India’s TVET system is government driven and financed, which means it is supply driven. The active engagement of employers in industry is important since they know the kind of skills that are required.

Students at an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Tamil Nadu.
Students at an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Tamil Nadu. | Photo Credit: KARUNAKARAN M

The pillars on which the skills ecosystem in India rests are multifold. The oldest pillar of the ecosystem, said Mehrotra, was the government funded and managed ITIs, which grew from 1,800 to 2,500 in 2017. Private ITIs, on the other hand, increased from under 2,000 in 2007 to about 12,000 in 2017. This rapid increase, he said, resulted in a deterioration in quality. The ITIs were supposed to be the best in what was otherwise a rather poorly equipped skill ecosystem, but for that, steps should have been taken early on. Today, the ITIs are in bad shape and suffering from a huge number of vacancies. As of February 2022, 1,29,805 of the 1,99,387 sanctioned posts are lying vacant, says the portal of the National Council for Vocational Training.

Vocational education

Finding that children were dropping out of school after completing eight years of compulsory schooling, Mehrotra’s 2017 report recommended that a National Skills Qualification Framework should start from class IX onwards. That report in a sense paved the way for the introduction of vocational education in secondary schools. It recommended vocational training with industry involvement as an incentive for students to stay on in school. The government agreed to the proposal, but there was no corresponding high-quality industry engagement. There is practically no industry engagement even now, Mehrotra said.

A worker at an MSME unit in Coimbatore. It is the MSMEs that are reliant on the government, but even they, including registered MSMEs, are not involved in the skilling process.
A worker at an MSME unit in Coimbatore. It is the MSMEs that are reliant on the government, but even they, including registered MSMEs, are not involved in the skilling process. | Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M

The initiative to incentivise or compel industry to get involved did not take off. Big industry is not reliant on government for its skilled workforce. It is the micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that are reliant on the government, but even they, including registered MSMEs, are not involved in the skilling process. Mehrotra said that the informal sector did provide on-the-job training but did not pay the workers on time, leave alone issue certificates for such training.

The lack of success of the apprenticeship scheme was also an impediment. No government took it up in a serious way. Mehrotra, who has worked extensively in the informal labour sector as well as in skill development, said that a recent study funded by the International Labour Organization showed that the number of apprentices had not increased since he published the last survey 10 years ago as part of a book.

NSDC’s peculiar funding model

The NSDC funds private providers of training, who are not employers but more like go-betweens. These private vocational training providers have little engagement with actual employers. The NSDC then is essentially incubating the SSCs of private employers and funding private skill providers. The NSDC’s funding model is a private-public partnership (PPP), where 49 per cent is by the government and 51 per cent by the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India.

The principle was that this funding would be on a continuous basis. Training centre providers would get 75 per cent as part loan and part grant for the costs and would contribute 25 per cent. The grant and loan were meant to be repaid. A Rs.10-crore fund was created initially. However, the industry associations gave no money after the initial funds. The entire funding now is by the government, Mehrotra said. He also said that there are around 40 SSCs whose jurisdictions overlap in terms of industry coverage. They are short-staffed and their funding pattern is flawed. The expert committee report had recommended that the SSCs should be reduced to 21 to correspond with the categories under the National Industrial Classification and restructured.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Minister of MSME Narayan Rane and Union MoS for MSME Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Minister of MSME Narayan Rane and Union MoS for MSME Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

The entire NSDC system was running like a private entity. A Comptroller and Auditor General report in 2015 found that there were several discrepancies in the way NSDC awarded contracts to certain training partners and that it was running entirely on taxpayers’ money. The CEO and COO of the NSDC resigned.

There are 6,000 vocational training programmes (VTPs) across the country that run the PMKVY. Mehrotra said that unless registered employers were engaged in the process of vocational training, a functional and quality vocational system would not come up. The NSDC’s training centres provide training only for three to four months. Mehrotra believes that training for children with poor schooling backgrounds should not be less than one year and the certification should be given after they have completed an apprenticeship. Studies have shown that there is little skill premium from three-month-long courses.

“The design itself is flawed,” said Mehrotra. He believes that these centres should be shut down in the absence of reform, quality training, and employer engagement. The Mehrotra committee report had recommended that the VTPs be used to provide Recognition of Prior Learning to those who were already employed in the informal workforce. Those who completed their training must be assessed not on a “pass or fail” yardstick but on whether they had acquired the competency to perform the job they had been trained for.

Model training centres

Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras (PMKKs) were set up under the PMKVY as state-of-the-art model training centres in every parliamentary constituency. The MSDE disbursed funds to the NSDC, which in turn gave loans to training providers. Frontline spoke to an operations manager at a PMKK centre in Patna and sought information about enrolment. The operative’s number was listed in the PMKK list on the NSDC website. He explained that students who came to the centre were from BPL families and did not want to work outside their home State. The course was free and that is why the parents of these young men send their wards to the centres. The only thing they pay for is the travel fare.

The computer section at a Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra in Udupi, Karnataka. PMKKs were set up as state-of-the-art model training centres in every parliamentary constituency. 
The computer section at a Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra in Udupi, Karnataka. PMKKs were set up as state-of-the-art model training centres in every parliamentary constituency.  | Photo Credit: Handout

According to the manager, the people who joined the training centres sometimes had high expectations because of peer group pressures. He said that the maximum training period was for three months and only those under 30 could join. His particular centre offered the following job training: automobile service technician, customer care executive at a telecom centre, general duty assistant, GST (accounts) assistant, retail sales executive, and sewing machine operator. He said no placements were available in Bihar, but something could be organised in Burdwan in West Bengal. He did not give details. He also said that he would get the placement done at a “personal level”, and it could take three to five months. If the person wanted to work in Patna itself, a job in a mall could be offered.

He said every attempt was made to give the young recruits placements, but in many cases, it was not possible. The assessors for certification and placement were third parties and not from any industry. Once a placement was made, the salary certificate of three months had to be sent to the government, which would then reimburse the centre. If after placements, people dropped out, it was not the responsibility of Skill India or the scheme, he said, but the reputation of the centre was affected. Retail sales, he felt, had the best job profile for these young trainees as only communication skills were required, not technical skills.

Frontline also contacted a private PMKK in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. This particular firm, which had been given the contract for training centres in several districts of the State, had free and paid courses. The centre offered training for jobs such as beauty therapists, courier delivery executives, domestic IT helpdesk assistants, field technicians, and repair engineers for computer peripherals and handsets.. The maximum duration of all courses was two and a half to three months. By paying a higher amount, people could get the course they wanted, said an executive in the company’s head office. The PMKKs themselves were not doing all that well. The Ministry told the Parliamentary Committee that 35 of them had shut down because of non-sustainability and operational challenges.

For these young men and women, mainly school dropouts, a three-month training course with no guarantee of sustained employment does not offer any hope for the future.