Making skills aspirational through multiple pathways for higher education

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About the author: Mr. Rajesh Agrawal IAS, Joint Secretary & CVO, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE)

India is a young country with over 25 million entering the working age group of 14 to 15 years, every year. Out of them, less than 50% participate in the workforce. What happens to the other 50%? How do they make a living? If major portion of the population work in the unorganized sector, do they have options to build their careers? Questions such as these demand a re-look at the way we have designed our school and college curriculum and how we are preparing our future workforce for the changing world of work.

We are aware that the industry needs multiple skills and there is a huge demand for skilled manpower. Ideally, this should have resulted in a natural market for skill acquisition, just like how it happened during the IT industry boom. Then, why has it not replicated the trend when Engineering colleges and IT training companies produced thousands of skilled professionals? There are many reasons for this phenomenon. Let’s look at few of them:

Perception of skills as terminal and un-aspirational

Apparently skill-based learning has been positioned as short-term job-oriented program without showing a path towards career growth. If skills are made terminal in nature there will be low aspirations. Skills have to show progressive and aspirational pathways with wage premium so that there is no end to aspirations.

Information asymmetry

The employers don’t know where the skilled manpower is and the job seekers are not aware of the availability of jobs. There are many gaps in the demand-supply value chain that need to be plugged in with right information about the job roles, desired outcomes along with knowledge and skills to accomplish these jobs.

Complexity of skills space in India

Skill acquisition is like primary education where it does not just benefit the individual but the society at large. Hence the involvement of the state is crucial in policy making, advocacy and funding. Besides, it calls for repairing and addressing known issues related to scaling our efforts in skilling along with ensuring quality of certification. If you don’t have a strong and consistent skill certification system with high signalling value like the IITs and IIMs, the quality is bound to suffer and skill premium will remain a distant dream.

Making skills aspirational Rajesh Agrawal IASNeed to integrate skills with education

Skill space is much more dynamic than education system and it changes fast as per the developments in the industry. India is a country where degrees are important. Irrespective of whether degrees get a job, parents go to any extent to get their kids pass 12th standard and eventually get a degree since it is a matter of pride for the family and their social status.

Historically, Indian education system was integrated with skills and vocations, however, education and skills got decoupled with the models implemented in pre-independence era. If you decouple education system with skill development then you don’t create job creators, because job creation happens at the intersection of knowledge and skills. In any vertical, cross over from education to skill and vice versa should happen.

To break this mindset we have two options:

  1. Create a parallel ecosystem of skills with degree and post graduation
  2. Build a unified credit framework which gives both horizontal and vertical pathways

The key challenge is to break the stereotype and mindset. The apprehension is about placing skills at a lower level than education where only dropouts take to skill-based learning and hence they command a lower salary and lower pride in the job market. When skill development and education system are seamlessly aligned, they will lead to similar degrees and dignity of labour.

How do we achieve the seamless integration

Skills and formal education are two different worlds and each world can give you the best outcomes. How do we create a vertical parallel structure which can give same respect and pride to skills? Can we rehash all our curriculums and infrastructure and create a pathway for the school and college education system. How do we integrate internships and apprenticeships as a part of college education to improve employability and outcomes? We should ensure that every student gets the right dose of knowledge and skill during graduation program through B.Sc, B.Com or B.A professional courses. The ministry has plans to support summer internships and end-of-course Apprenticeship program. We are also exploring ways to integrate apprenticeship with all B.Voc courses. This is one area where India has not been able to achieve its potential.

Today, every Indian needs to be competent in multiple skills and prepare for multiple careers through continuous skill acquisition and lifelong learning. The future of work will require multiple upskilling to remain relevant at workplace. This implies preparing the young with strong foundation skills and life skills for adapting themselves in different situations through better communication skills, higher emotional quotient, self management and drive to learn new domain skills. This calls for many nimble-footed moves to catch them early and show them many paths to successful careers.

About the author: Mr. Rajesh Agrawal IAS, Joint Secretary & CVO, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE)

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