Unskilled Ministry

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Creation of an independent skill development ministry by Narendra Modi was both novel and exciting, but despite massive funds being available, the showing has been abysmal. Sharad gupta analyses

India is the country with one of the youngest workforces in the world. Two third of its 126 crore population is below the age of 35 years. Demographic experts estimate that by 2020, India will become the youngest country in the world with a median age of 29. This figure is both heartening as well as frightening. It’s heartening because it gives the country massive ever employable workforce. At the same time, it is frightening because we have to find a matching number of jobs for them.

It was in this background that Prime Minister Narendra Modi created a separate Skill Development Ministry in 2014, with a corpus of Rs 1,500 crore and an aim to train 24 lakh youth. The Ministry also launched a number of programmes and training centres under Skill India programme and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY).

Utter Failure

However, three years down the line, a cursory review of the performance of the ministry reveals an utter lack of numbers of training institutes, trained employable personnel and links with the industry. As a result, the much-hyped scheme has failed to deliver the desired results.

In a survey of people aged between 15-34 years conducted by Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), more than 70 per cent respondents said they were anxious about their job situations. The sample size of the survey was 6,000. The CSDS report also found that unemployment rate was higher among graduates than among those without degrees. It’s a matter of concern that India’s growth rate of around 7 per cent is without jobs.

Another survey conducted by the Ministry of Labour last year found that almost 80 per cent of India’s total labour force was either self-employed or working as casual labour. It also showed that over 17 per cent youngsters were out of work.Indian universities may be producing the largest number of engineers in the world, but only 25 per cent of them are employable, according to National Association of Software and Services. There is a large skill gap between the engineers trained at IT institutes in India and the basic knowledge required to land jobs as software developers.

Another study found that 95 per cent of engineers in India are unfit to take up software development jobs. The study conducted on over 36,000 engineering students from IT branches of more than 500 different colleges, found that only 4.77 per cent of the candidates who took the “Automata” test were able to write the correct logic for a programme basic requirement for any programming job.

This brings to fore the role of skilled trainers. The Skill Development Ministry under Rajiv Pratap Rudy has spent the past three years more in getting the hang of the job and acquiring institutions from other ministries than bolstering its own performance.

Worst affected was the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) having only three subsidiaries. One of them, the National Institute of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD) was hived off and put under the Ministry of Skill Development.

Industrial Technical Institutes (ITIs) were shifted from Education Ministry to Skill Development. The Ministry focused on starting more and more ITIs, not necessarily in the public sector. A large number of private players have been given permission to set up ITIs. That means that the government’s focus was always on blue collar jobs.

Privatising Skills

Private Skill Development Institutes took grants from the Ministry enrolling personnel from different fields like carpenter, welders, blacksmith, and electrician. Most of them knew their job and were already working in factories. They found no harm in getting enrolled in an institute and receiving some stipend (besides regular salary from their employers). This all resulted in an ITI certificate coming as a bonus. There were very few actual enrolments and training centers were mostly empty.

The first phase of PMKVY saw just 5 per cent placement. This pitiable result has come despite the fact that the Skill Development Ministry had exhorted all central government departments to impart training related to their subjects. Ministry of Minority Affairs, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Ministry of Social Welfare, Textiles, Railways, Civil Aviation – all were asked to include skill development as one of their subsidiary programmes.

Despite such a tardy pace of target achievement, the government increased the funds from Rs 1,500 crore to Rs 6,000 crore and introduced two new schemes. The government claims to have trained about two million youth, but independent investigations have found inconsistencies in the quality of training centres and fraudulent trainee enrolments.

Peeved PMO

The Prime Minister Office (PMO), which monitors the working of all ministries on a monthly basis, is reportedly not happy with the way Skill Development Ministry has been carrying out its work. It has asked the Ministry to get its programmes evaluated by roping in reputed academic institutes like Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM-B), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Harvard Business School, University of Pennsylvania, Deakin University of Australia and Delhi School of Economics. These institutes will carry out a review of various schemes of the ministry and suggest ways and means to improve the efficacy of the programme.

The review will involve verification of the number of youths trained so far and their employment status. It will also verify whether they landed up a job before enrolling for the training or after it, and how much their training helped them in their job. The PMO also wants to know whether government schemes have brought in a sea change in the lives of the trainees and whether it helped them upgrade their living standard.

Officials in the Skill Development Ministry attribute the slow progress to an economic slowdown in the country which hampered the industrial activities. Further demonetisation of high-value currency ordered in November last year has dealt another blow.

Besides, the focus of new industries is now more on automation rather than hiring manpower and face labour-related issues. After large-scale violence in the Maruti’s plant in Haryana couple of years ago, big industries are being very cautious in hiring workers. Either they are hiring only casual and contractual labour or turning to automation that requires minimal human intervention. The situation is such that while 10 years ago, it required 10 people to manufacture goods worth Rs 10 lakh, now the number has gone down to only five persons.

Another factor that has been hampering Skill India programme is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) that guarantees at least 100 days work to unskilled labour. Let us hope things will get better and actual results would start coming in future. With next general elections barely two years away, Modi can’t take a chance.

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