India’s flawed skill development mission

India’s flawed skill development mission

Fourth anniversary celebrations of Skill India Mission (Image courtesy: www.msde.gov.in)

Presenting her first budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman appears to have read the sentiments of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for the welfare of 130 crore citizens. 

The Budget emphasised prudent economics in areas such as improving access to water, sanitation, housing, roads, solid waste management, empowering women and skilling entrepreneurs in the agro industry at the village level. All these ideas are laudable. The outcomes of these initiatives will improve ease of living and environmental protection.  

The focus on the village economy is an apt tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary this year, which the government wants to mark in a significant way. Building core physical infrastructure facilities in the village economy will help in realising the PM's vision of a New India. 

That said, village level institutions need fixing to ensure services reach the needy. Some of these issues are being addressed with the aid of technology in the form of direct beneficiary transfers and providing access to banks and post offices.

At the same time when the youth, aspiring for a higher standard of living,  move to cities without employable skills, it threatens to turn our demographic dividend into a disaster. Sadly, even after a decade of debate, India does not have a realistic vision for making the best of her demographic dividend. 

Returning to the Budget, we see that these very two areas -- urban development and skill development -- have no new thinking.

The Budget speech did not mention anything about the achievements of projects under the Smart City Mission although it was given a major push in the last five years. States are not performing well in terms of bringing concrete changes in their governance structure to complete the approved projects. Other big issues have to do with weakness in governance systems at the municipal level and failure to engage public participation in a transparent manner like it was done in the Swachh Bharat Mission. But there are great learnings in terms of putting in place a realistic structure and implementation goals for this key government initiative. 

Similarly, the Budget has envisioned providing skills training to 10 million youth in the current year without mentioning what it was able to achieve in the last five years. Track record is important to this government, but somehow it missed the targets in this case. The Skill India Mission launched in July 2015 aims to skill 400 million youth by 2022. But just 25 million youth have been skilled through various training programmes until now. 

Further, during its first five years, the Modi government did not fix the problems pertaining to private sector skills training institutions. Many are inefficient and some even reimbursed despite bogus records. These are part of the overall governance challenges at the regional and state levels faced during the implementation of skills development programmes. Therefore, without streamlining the capacity utilisation of private skills training institutions and meeting governance challenges of state governments, the PM’s Skill India Mission is not likely to be achieved by 2022.  

It is good that the Modi government has identified multiple challenges and issues faced at the national level in the implementation of the skills development programmes. It decided to merge the two national organisations which oversee the programmes of skilling i.e. the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), which is a Public Private Partnership set up in 2008 to bring private sector participation in skilling the youth, and the National Skill Development Fund, which was set up in 2009 to manage the allocated funds of the Centre and the private sector. 

Although the Modi government decided to merge the two in March 2018, restructuring is not yet complete. In this scenario, the finance minister’s aim of skilling 10 million youth in industry-relevant skills in the current year seems like a remote goal. 

Further, there is a lack of leadership to execute the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) at in towns and in Tier II and Tier III cities, where there is a growing demand for skilled manpower in industries. PMKVY has not addressed the structural concerns with the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) which are not operating with transparency in terms of engaging with state and regional level skills training organisations.

There are 39 SSCs in the country which were set up as autonomous bodies and not-for-profit organisations by the NSDC and are led by industry leaders in their respective sectors. SSCs are meant to create occupational standards, develop competency frameworks, conduct ‘train the trainer’ programmes, affiliate vocational training institutes, conduct skill gap studies in their sector, create a Labour Market Information System and, most importantly, assess and certify trainees on the curriculum aligned to the National Occupational Standards developed by them. However, the SSCs are yet to touch most of the Tier II and Tier III cities across the country in addition to being alienated from their needs. 

PMKVY is implemented by NSDC and a glance at PMKVY’s dashboard for monitoring skilling reveals that in Tamil Nadu, for instance, there is not a single skill training institute imparting training under PMKVY in big districts like Kancheepuram, Thiruvalluvar, Villupuram, Thiruvarur, Thiruchirappalli, Thirunalveli and Kannyakumari. In most states, at least a few districts are not covered under the PMKVY scheme.

The government’s focus on infrastructure development of Tier II and III cities will surely make these cities push for the next phase of urbanisation. But addressing the concerns of cities in water, sanitation and solid waste management along with skills development of the youth is more important now than ever before. Without a substantial improvement in the above sectors, it would be difficult to take forward the vision of New India with its demographic dividend.

(B Chandrasekaran works in public policy)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.