Developing Skilled Youth
As we celebrate the World Youth Skill Day, it is time to reflect on some of the challenges and ways forward to resolve the challenges. Skill development in schools, colleges, and universities is something like learning swimming in the classroom and learning programming language without a computer. Services like Indian Civil Services, State Judicial Services, the three wings of the armed forces, Para-military forces (to name a few) have created elaborate processes for developing skills in service-specific academies. In the 1980s a large number of central public sector undertakings used to support skill development in similar processes. However, there is a growing and disturbing trend that, Indian business houses want readymade skilled workforce coming out of educational institutes and are shying away from investing time and money to develop skills in youth who have the requisite knowledge. With the craze of networking with the industry and campus placement as the USP for professional educational institutes, in particular, the goal of learning focused on acquiring knowledge at the educational institutes may be seriously compromised.
While it is important to reduce school-to-work transition time and reduce the number of youth who are not in employment, education or training (NEET), youth skill development through technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions, may not be a solution. The Indian Union Cabinet approved the National Skill Development Mission on 01.07.2015 and the Hon’ble Prime Minister officially launched it on 15.07.2015, the World Youth Skills Day. A large number of TVET institutions have been part of this mission. I did not find a comprehensive metrics to access progress made towards the mission. The skill development mission gives us evidence of a well-crafted mission. Under Section-3 of the mission document, there are 13 objectives. Unfortunately, there are no measures associated with the objectives and thus the mission, objectives, and initiatives may be running parallel without any chance to meet and deliver results. That reminds me of a popular quote by Late Peter Drucker- “What gets measured gets managed”.
What is the way forward to reduce school-to-work transition time and reduce the number of youth who are not in employment, education, or training? The diagnosis- there is a supply problem (the number of young people looking for jobs is much more than what our economic system can accommodate) and a demand problem (the demanding entities and people do not know precisely, what they need and what they want and how their needs and wants can be met). The civil society in general and persons with positions of physical and moral authority in particular need to address the supply issue, which needs no elaboration. Now I come to the demand issue. Employers, education providers, and youth live in parallel universes/ run like three parallel lines. To put it another way, they have fundamentally different understandings of the same situation. These parallel lines need to intersect in the early life of youth (the three need to interact…) and continue to intersect periodically so that there is a clear understanding of the nature of the demand for skills and the underlying knowledge base. The employment readiness of youth be measured based on the knowledge acquired and the bulk of the skill development should happen on-the-job starting with rigorous paid-internship. The education providers need to be accountable for developing youth with knowledge and the employers need to take the responsibility of developing skills. This would call for a transformational change in the mind-sets of the education providers and captains of our industry simultaneously and not sequentially. For self-employment in various skill
categories, there would also be a need for support from the organized industrial sector, which can provide the much-needed platform for skill development for youth with the desired level of knowledge.
Owing to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are in a different and difficult time concerning economic activities, jobs, and the plight of the youth waiting for jobs. There cannot be a better time to reflect on the challenges and resolve to do our best to address the challenges.