Strengthening Indian skill development initiatives with insights from the international models of VET

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Vocational Education and Training (VET) has become a matter of global concern as we are facing a dearth of skilled workforce. Many countries have adopted the best practices of the Swiss Model, particularly in making apprenticeships aspirational. On the occasion of IISDSE 2016, we present to you a Skill Talk by Ursula Renold, Head of research division education systems at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich. Let’s read on to get expert advice and recipes for success that can be used while implementing skill development initiatives in India.

 The Anglo-Saxon legacy

inverted-commaMany countries, especially those from the Anglo-Saxon world, have divided the education system in two pillars: the academic stream and the vocational stream. Since about 20 years these countries are facing skills mismatch, that means too many graduates with university degree do not find a job related to their education. Therefore we are working on strategies to help these countries in resolving their problems. India is one of the fast growing countries with a huge informal sector and several emerging markets. This unique position makes it difficult to find one single recipe for VET success in India.

ursula-renoldStrategies for resolving the issues with VET in India

Let’s look at some of the strategies that may work in favour of India.

Most importantly, Government should formalize the acquired learning competences by Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in the informal sector. And for the formal sector that is facing the challenge of emerging markets, the recipe could be better alignment with labour market needs, which implies coordination between education actors and business partners. This coordination is not easy because companies need to be convinced about the need for training, mandatory cooperation with education providers and how it improves labour market outcomes. Their fears regarding attrition and poaching need to be quelled.

That’s why every country needs to work on a system level to try and define the best strategy for the states and provinces. On a national level, India is too big to deal with in a uniform manner.

Through our research, we are exploring how India can gain by tackling the VET issues at the state and district levels. In my talk at IISDS 2016, I will be presenting my views on measuring the intensity of linkage between actors from education and employment system along the different phases of a curriculum value chain. States or districts should know where they are compared to benchmarked countries, which has a well-developed VET system.

I invite Indian states to do an analysis and compare them with countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, and European countries like Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland.

Implementing vocational strategies

It’s not only important that you have good plan to know what you want to teach or train; it’s equal important to have a proper workplace-learning environment. At least 50% of the time of a VET program should be dedicated to practical learning at the workplace. This is essential because in emerging markets the technological shift is the driver behind changes of qualifications.

Since schools normally cannot invest constantly in technological infrastructure, using existing high tech infrastructure in industry is more efficient. For example, in the manufacturing field, you need to learn on CNC machines or on 3D printers. Such technologies are very expensive but drivers of innovation.

Furthermore, if you can learn and be exposed to newest technology in the workplace, you will be better prepared for solving real problems of clients. Another important aspect is the transferability of 21st century skills to the next job or occupation. If you are exposed to unexpected and unfamiliar situations several times, you learn soft skills, methodological skill much more efficiently than at schools.

VET is a world-wide brand especially now in the 21st century it has gained tremendous focus. In India, we need to create a buzz around the ‘education’ part of VET to attract the right audience. Communication should be done through peer-to-peer advertisements. The bestseller of VET routes are those young professionals who have completed their journey successfully. So, if you have graduates from vocational education routes and if they are proud about their achievements, they can stimulate the mindsets of the others.

Tips for promoting VET in India

The challenge of VET emerges from the traditions in a country, the social institutions and cultural practices.

  • In the informal sector, I would place lot of emphasis on RPL as means of systematically recognizing the informal learning and enabling people to get into the education system and get access to higher learning and qualifications.
  • In the formal sector, we need to create multiple pathways by coordinating with the training companies and to build an eco-system that allows SME to participate.

As the first step in the formal sector, we need to figure out what the potential of the business sector is about. Are firms interested in training and to what extent would they join such a VET initiative? What are the incentives that stimulate them to train?

The second step involves working with the Sector Skill Councils which currently operate at the national level. How do we get the information to companies which operates mostly on a regional level? This is a big challenge, though there’s a good mapping of skills and qualifications in different sectors and occupations. I highly recommend a bottom-up movement in each state so that companies understand why training can be beneficial and not only a cost factor. For example, in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, we know there is a cost-benefit rationale behind VET training. In Switzerland, we have a net benefit for the training companies on average, but in order to get this business case done, Indian firms need to understand the variables behind such a model.

Furthermore, major industry associations – CII, FICCI and SSCs should figure out the willingness to train among Indian companies in different states. Without knowing this potential, it is very difficult to bring in a change on a large scale.

Since changing attitudes towards apprenticeships is a long-term goal and it’s usually the result of many previous activities, we need look at other options.

  • Invest in advanced and cool occupations which are in the service sector such as banking industry, insurance companies and healthcare. Jobs in these sectors appear cool to the young people and it may become their dream career.
  • Explore services sector and not necessarily blue collared jobs. We need to break the traditional notions of apprenticeship and if it gets reinforced, it would be very hard to change the mindset.
  • Adopt inclusive strategies to provide access to higher learning through the vocational education streams for those who missed fulfilling their dream for higher, intellectual studies.

You need to work on the permeability aspects in order to make the programs attractive to young people and their parents. This can be done by offering a additional vocational education program combined with more general education, which leads to polytechnics or even to a Bachelor’s program in a university. It doesn’t matter where someone starts as long as they are able to get a ticket into labour market along with a ticket into higher education. And, today we are moving into lifelong learning that helps us continue our education at any point in our career.