India has 487 million workers and over a million join the labour force every month. However, about two thirds of Indian employers report that they struggle to find workers with the right skills. India ranks 78 on a list of 122 countries as per Human Capital Development report of the World Economic Forum.
With at least 20 government departments running skill development programmes in recent years, India should be doing better than that. The outcome of skill development, unlike education, varies with employers and society. Return on investment in skill development depends on the trainees’ easy access to training, apprenticeship opportunities and a smooth transition to the world of work.
Therefore, the skill training ecosystem must take an integrated view of existing and potential demand, trainees, training providers and employers. Considering the demographic, economic, cultural and resource diversity of India, putting such an ecosystem in place would continue to be an in-progress project for a long while.
Formulation of decentralised skill programme:
Decentralised skill programme formulation and implementation would systematically capture demand which in turn would result in supply rearranging itself to meet this demand. Organisation and management of training infrastructure; with the attendant issues of labour welfare and security, thanks to the Covid-19 crisis figures prominently on state governments’ agenda, now will ensure better alignment of demand and supply locally.
The World Bank supported programme of the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship; SANKALP (Skill Acquisition and Knowledge awareness for Livelihood Promotion) has been rolled out to promote, inter alia, decentralisation of skill planning and implementation.
Effective decentralisation pre-supposes utilising the existing institutions to greater effect. At present, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship of the Government of India (MSDE) is responsible for national skills training policy and management and is aided by many institutions.
At the level of states, State Skill Development Missions (SSDM) were launched in nearly all the states to manage their skill development. Most States have also created designated district committees (generally called DSCs but known by different appellations across states) to manage skill development.
Thus, decentralised planning in skills is a concept already implicit in the Skill Development ecosystem in India. It is however noteworthy that the MSDE does not always have its exactly matching counterpart at State or district level and so one would not normally find a District Skills Officer in the way from amongst 15-20 members of a DSC.
Should DSC then be the starting point of this decentralisation?
Yes, simply because they offer a ready-made platform from which all skill development planning and implementation could be given direction and focus. Governments need to strengthen DSC by providing adequate financing. Professionals and subject matter experts must be engaged for economic potential mapping and aligning skills to opportunities.
A robust working linkage is needed between state skill missions (SSDM) and DSC so that opportunities and capacity at national and state level can be factored into DSDPs. SANKALP programme is attempting to create this linkage by encouraging the SSDMs to provide guidance to DSCs with respect to preparation of district plans and build the capacities of the DSCs through technical assistance and training.
In conclusion but perhaps in what is really the beginning, decentralisation has to be logically extended beyond DSCs to Gram Panchayats.
A robust DSC underpinned by Gram Panchayats who are active participants in skill planning and implementation would not only help to handle the present challenges of rural distress and need for sustained livelihood arising out of Covid-19 but also improve qualitative growth of the labour market with enhanced skills for improved productivity and a sound economic position for a more equitable share in the economy.