HOW CAN SKILLING INITIATIVIES ENSURE LIVELIHOODS?

The recognition of skilling and skills as a salient feature of employment, is a fairly recent phenomenon. Over the past few years, the Indian government has established the NSDC, and promulgated Mission Skill India, which includes several components such as PMKVY, SANKALP, UDAAN to name a few. Despite this, we are nowhere near accomplishing our promise of skilling 300 million people of the population by 2020. This underscores certain deficiencies or flaws of our skilling approach. Some of the widespread problems that impair skilling initiatives are lack of, awareness amongst target segments, operational centers, guaranteed employment and, relevance of skills being imparted. While most of these have been discussed and deliberated upon in the past, in this blog, I try to address a major structural question which impedes the efficacy of skilling programs. How can a skilling initiative ensure livelihood creation? A three-pronged approach comes to mind:
• Identifying target segments and designing programs corresponding to market demands
• Increasing participation of small-scale enterprises and NGOs to increase reach and impact of trainings
• Adopting a lifecycle approach for skilling

The ultimate goal of any skilling programme is to create employment or ensure better employment opportunities for its trainees. However, in order to achieve this, it is important to map profiles of trainees to existing requirements in the market and accordingly design skilling curricula that can bridge the gap. In the recent past, there has been significant discussion around the importance of digital, financial and technical skilling, however, the minimum educational requirements for most jobs in telecom, IT, aviation etc. are 10th or 12th standard. In fact, in some cases, the minimum level is a graduate degree. This requisite itself filters out a huge sect of the unskilled and uneducated population, which is India’s majority. Education is not the only parameter that segregates candidates, several socio-economic factors such as gender, geography, occupation etc. can determine suitability of a candidate for a particular skill and prospective employment. This is especially true for vocational skills. It is obvious that not one skill cannot be imparted homogeneously across all sects, but then how can we devise different programs that cater to different communities? Most Skill Sector Councils have developed certain occupational standards that can give organizations an idea of the segments that they should target for the particular skill under consideration. Now, it is important to understand that some of these sectors such as IT, Electronics, Telecom etc. have more avenues for formal employment as opposed to other vocational skills such as handicrafts, agriculture, clothing, and so on. It therefore becomes essential to translate these trainings into building small scale enterprises which can sustain themselves and also offer employment to other candidates in the future.

This brings me to the next problem with guaranteed employment after acquiring a certain skill. Ever since the inception of government skilling initiatives, only few amongst the numerous beneficiaries have been employed after their trainings. Between 2016 and 2018, number of beneficiaries has increased from .3 to 1.6 million, yet, the number of candidates who were placed after training completion, dropped from 50% to 30%. As mentioned above, to be able to provide secure livelihoods, our skilling approach needs to move from the macro to the micro level. While the government has to work towards rigorous certification of institutes that offer skilling, introducing better incentives for participants, recognizing skilled but uncertified persons who can move from the informal to the formal sector and, further decentralizing the mission of Skill India, this is not possible without adequate cooperation and assistance from social enterprises and non-governmental organizations. These organizations have short lines of communications and can therefore cater to clients’ needs and changing processes much faster as compared to larger firms and public sector units. Moreover, their presence in or access to remote locations enables them to directly create an environment conducive to generating impacts. These organizations can also act as intermediaries for skilling as well as skill management. Entities such as Neev-MP and LSR-Basta are doing some meaningful work in this space.

Finally, mere identification of target segments and ownership of training programs by non-government organizations is futile if we don’t change our methodology and approach of imparting training. It is important to understand that skilling is a means and not the end. This means one needs to understand that isolated trainings devoid of follow-ups or connections to market demands do not offer much value. Wherever possible, organizations must look at livelihoods from the lens of a lifecycle approach to skilling. One must look at improving the life of a beneficiary beyond the sole aspect of skilling. This includes aspirations of people before they enroll into the program, following up, and any other form of counselling. This will ensure training received has an impact on livelihoods of communities. For example, Maharashtra based Swadesh Foundation follows a 4E strategy; Engage, Empower, Execute and, Exit. They engage with several organizations to tailor farm and non-farm trainings as per requirements of each community, but most importantly only exit the program once the communities are themselves capable of managing the enterprise.

Therefore, problems of creating livelihoods through skilling and upskilling are not facile matters. We have come a long way, but when the aim is to create viable livelihoods for a workforce as massive and diverse as ours, the path to tread in the future, is much longer.