How Centurion University and Gram Tarang have become role models for skill development initiatives in India

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When a university repeatedly receives awards and recognitions from the government and the industry for their exceptional programs and achievements, it becomes difficult to capture their social impact in one Skill Story. My conversation with Dr. Mukti Mishra, President, Centurion University of Technology and Management (CUTM) and Chairman, Gram Tarang, is an effort at conveying his passion and commitment in putting thoughts into actions, as the institution has become a national reference point for skill development and vocational education in India. Some excerpts, as Dr. Mishra looks back at the inspirational journey so far, observes the present scenario and raises some questions:

Integrating education with employment

We are the first privately held multi-sector university in India with five campuses in Odisha. I’ve been into skill development since 2006 working in the tribal naxal belt, when skilling was not in the news. I believe that the only thing that would dissuade people from joining naxal cadre is to build their competency, capacity, ability, which they can use and create the fear of losing something. This fear of losing something dissuades people from getting distracted.

Gram Tarang - Centurion University

Unless skilling is made a part of mainstream education, it is not going to work. If you are a graduate in economics, the degree should be commensurate with appropriate, relevant and meaningful competency. You should understand more of practical and less theory, with focus on action. Our country needs 2 % of thought leaders and 98% action leaders to make it a viable society. Today we have 98 %t thinkers and 2% doers.

Transformational power of skill development

I define skill as the ability to create optimum output with minimum resources. There are four key elements in skill development: the receiver (the school dropouts or system dropouts- those who can’t use their degrees to get jobs), the training providers, the government and the user, which is the industry. A skill is supposed to be the interlocutor, linking rights jobs with right people.

When there is a learning decision from receiver, we have to make it, economically and socially viable. Building human competency through skill development is the only thing which has no language, no religion and no politics. What the government intends is great, but how to convert the intention to action is a challenge. When we aim to train 500 million people, it cannot be done just by giving funds, or by recruiting project implementors. The process should start from the school level. There should be a convergence between the skill ministry and the higher education ministry.

In a journey of five years: 70000 school dropout trained, 60000 trained youth placed, 16 industry partners, 50 skill courses from 12 industry sectors, 5 campuses with Odisha, 18 action research programs, 4 social enterprises, 16 government skilling programs, 10 patents, 7 international partnerships, 10 states connected to last mile, 9 bank affiliations, 91 lakh bank accounts opened.

Aspirational value and respect for skilling

In our university, we have school dropouts and system dropouts. We don’t discriminate between B.Tech and M.Tech and vocational training. It’s a completely integrated system built with an aspirational model, we don’t have different hostels for different courses. For example, we have set up a carpentry unit for training in partnership with Godrej. We call it Center of Excellence in Wood Engineering. I tell every teacher to make his or her own chair and table. When I impose a rule like this I also set up the facility to make the furniture. If I cannot make things that I need, then I don’t deserve to be a human being. At least, we have to make an attempt!

Building skill capital

To reach the targets in skilling we need academic infrastructure, ancillary infrastructure and human resources. Next point, if I train them, is the industry willing to pay? Most of the industry doesn’t distinguish between skilled talent and non-skilled talent. Paying minimum wages is myopic. Why do the MNCs behave differently when they come to India? If you have skilled manpower, the productivity goes up, the wastage comes down definitely. So, this is a challenge. So, there has to be incentives for them, to take a skilled person and pay proper wages. The incentives have to come in cash and kind. There has to be a law – the skill policy has to address various concerns.

Vision for creating a talent pool of trainers

Gram Tarang facilitates skill training. It has 350 employees, mostly my students, many of whom have left their corporate jobs to join us. Educational institutions must think out of circle and out of square, every institution must be asked to set up a skill division with training infrastructure, certified by a third party.

Imagine when you have to train 500 million, how many trainers you need? We need to create the talent pool of trainers. A trainee should be trained in such a way that he or she can go to the industry or become a trainer. Are we giving any incentive for that? When you incentivize wrong things, you automatically disincentivize right things. The present Minister for Skill Development Mr. Rajiv Pratap Rudy is very keen on doing the right things; the ministry understands the problem. He visited our campus twice to experience how our model works.

Quality, transparency and legal frameworks

Decision delays create decision delusion. NSDC has created various standalone skill providers. We need a platform where we can make quick decisions for supporting scalability, replicability and quantifiability. Today, the incentive for doing right and doing good is not different from the incentive for doing below standard. There should be a gradation of training partners to avail certain benefits. We need a mechanism where if you are doing something good, you are rated and certified based on some metrics.

The ministry can come up with a portal that conducts national online tests on the lines of competitive exams in various trades. The results from these tests will create a repository of talent for the industries and they can avoid hiring from middlemen and labour contractors. Law should be made simple, where everybody would like to comply and it should not lead to cheating. When there is too much of emphasis on compliance, it affects innovation. The legal framework should not become a bottleneck for innovation in the skill sector!

Here’s a virtual tour of Centurion University!

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