Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships for Vocational Training a Must for Building Future-Ready, Inclusive Workforce

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Phiroze D. Lam

India is one of the world’s youngest countries, with over half its population under 30 years of age. With an expected addition of 183 million people to the workforce by 2050(1), it is a formidable source of global labour demands. However, the primary challenges the country faces are youth unemployment and unemployability. This is evident through studies such as the Periodic Labour Force Survey which found that the youth unemployment rate between April and June 2021 was 25.5 per cent in the 15-29 age group. Some recent reports and anecdotal evidence have highlighted how graduates and youth with higher education cannot find jobs that match their academic levels. This is due to the rapidly changing technologies across industries that create a demand for a skilled workforce and further open up avenues for job creation. In such a scenario, vocational training and education have a significant role to play in bridging the gap between education and employment.

Emerging technologies, especially digital, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and automation, are not just creating jobs but also transforming human interactions and experiences. This has implications for both – courses for technology-based skills and integrating tech applications in traditional courses. Vocational programmes must keep abreast of emerging and future job roles and be prepared to offer appropriate courses. An entire ecosystem needs to be created for this purpose

How skill training and development programmes need to evolve keeping in mind the emerging technologies

Emerging technologies, especially digital, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and automation, are not just creating jobs but also transforming human interactions and experiences. This has implications for both – courses for technology-based skills and integrating tech applications in traditional courses. Vocational programmes must keep abreast of emerging and future job roles and be prepared to offer appropriate courses. An entire ecosystem needs to be created for this purpose. As consumers and creators of technology, industries have a vital role to play in informing skill providers about emerging technologies, their applications, and demand in terms of skills required. The curriculum for vocational skills, therefore, must be guided by the industry.

Vocational training programmes must integrate skilling that imparts a deeper understanding of a trainee’s role as a provider and consumer of technology. Such integration is necessary, as once trainees graduate from the course, they must be able to identify opportunities they can leverage for their career growth and find platforms they can utilise. Trainees who take the self-employment route must understand the evolving expectations of their consumer base and utilise channels for better service delivery. Over the last few years, we have witnessed how mobile-based applications have revolutionised the way services are accessed by people.

The pandemic has disrupted the means through which education is imparted. Several educational institutions leveraged digital and online platforms to connect with their students during the lockdown. Even post lockdown and re-opening of educational institutions, the online instruction method has remained. Vocational training institutes must also prepare for incorporating digital and online instruction enabling distance education, especially during contingencies. Further, emerging technologies like mobile-based augmented reality can be explored to enhance the learning experience by integrating interactive and digital elements in delivering instruction.

With a renewed focus on skill development through the Government’s Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme, numerous Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Vocational Training Centres were set up across several States. This has helped create a massive, decentralised infrastructure for skill development which can be leveraged through multi-stakeholder collaborations to reach a large number of youth from diverse backgrounds.

Leveraging multi-stakeholder collaborations and existing infrastructure to reach a larger number of youths

Scaling up vocational training in India is a tall task. Delivering quality training to the youth must consider the socio-economic and geographic diversity of the country. The youth cannot be seen as a homogenous demographic. There are various considerations such as geographic location, gender, disability, and digital access that must be accounted for when scaling up programmes. Overcoming these challenges would be nearly impossible without the involvement of multiple stakeholders.

With a renewed focus on skill development through the Government’s Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme, numerous Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Vocational Training Centres were set up across several States. This has helped create a massive, decentralised infrastructure for skill development which can be leveraged through multi-stakeholder collaborations to reach a large number of youth from diverse backgrounds.

 

A major benefit of collaborative efforts is that they bring in expertise from various sectors. They help form networks, strengthen the courses and help address underlying issues which are barriers to inclusion in skill development programmes. Non-government organisations can create pathways to include marginalised persons in vocational skills programmes. The key is to recognise the myriad of existing capabilities various stakeholders have to offer and how to leverage them to encourage skill development.

Philanthropic bodies like Pirojsha Godrej Foundation (PGF) help NGOs to create programmes and initiatives based on their knowledge of the communities they serve. By providing funds not tied to specific programmes, philanthropies can help build organisational capacities and enable solutions for a gamut of intersecting issues which underserved communities face. PGF beneficiaries have been making strides in this direction. Pratham Education Initiative, for instance, has a vocational training programme for youths from economically disadvantaged backgrounds that provides them with employable skills, while Teach For India runs on a model where their fellows get a hands-on experience in teaching and learning the nuances of pedagogy and improving the quality of education. An interesting aspect of building capacities rather than specific programmes is also seen in the research and advocacy work these organisations perform. Council on Energy, Environment and Water researched how the transition to green energy would create jobs for which future skills would be required. Therefore, philanthropic support to organisations can ensure a variety of vocational skills programmes and enable organisations to leverage their expertise to provide insights on skill development as an intersection of other pressing issues.

For a long time, employment was divided between white-collar and blue-collar jobs and the class divide comes with this distinction. Jobs depending on academic education versus jobs requiring hands-on skills are now merging. Purely academic education is now not the sole guarantee for obtaining a job or good earnings. The advent of technology and the impetus they have given to alternate career paths have firmly cemented skill building as necessary for growth and development.

A natural extension of skill development programmes would be to ensure the inclusion of marginalised groups in the workplace. Several corporations are taking proactive steps to ensure such inclusion in their workplaces and communicating the same to the youth. Programmes for women and persons with disabilities are some of the inclusions which are imperative for holistic nation-building.

 

Conclusion

For a long time, employment was divided between white-collar and blue-collar jobs and the class divide comes with this distinction. Jobs depending on academic education versus jobs requiring hands-on skills are now merging. Purely academic education is now not the sole guarantee for obtaining a job or good earnings. The advent of technology and the impetus they have given to alternate career paths have firmly cemented skill building as necessary for growth and development. With 13 million people entering the workforce each year, India has a huge demographic dividend. Vocational skills supported by the country’s institutions are the means to leverage this advantage.

Phiroze D. Lam is the Head of the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation.