Last week, I read an article titled ‘Recovering from the train wreck’, written by one of the editors of a leading business daily. I was very disappointed because the narrative is the same across mainstream media – Skill Ministry, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and their training partners have let the nation down.
The Skill Ministry was created with a lot of expectations. Rajiv Pratap Rudy was appointed as the Minister of State with Independent Charge in 2015. But what did Rudy accomplish? To explain this, I would like to use the story of Edward De Bono in his book ‘New Thinking for the New Millennium.’
There is a ship on high seas. A lot of things are going wrong. The pipes are leaking. The food is lousy. The generator is not working. The sailors are very grumpy and demotivated. There is a mutiny on the ship. Suddenly a new captain is airlifted into the plane. Everything changes. No leaking pipes. Food quality improves dramatically. The generator is fixed. The sailors are happy. But there is still one problem. The ship is still sailing in the wrong direction.
Rudy was a man in a hurry and fixed quite a few issues. But the direction was still wrong. Excessive focus was on the supply side instead of the demand side.
One media view is that the skill targets are supply-driven and hence irrelevant. The actual skill is absorbed only in the first job and unless the student is employed within six months, the skill training goes waste. The economy is not creating enough jobs. Hence, why train when there are no jobs?
The opposite view is that job creation is not possible unless there are skilled people available. So skill first. Skilling empowers the youth and hence the Skill Ministry and the NSDC should have aggressive targets and achieve them. Otherwise, they will be deemed as failures.
Both these narratives are used by the media depending on the mood and propensity of the journalist who is writing the story.
So while half the stories kick the skill mission for the poor placement record, the other half is unhappy with the poor training record. Both of them gang up when it comes to quality of training and fraud by a few training partners and accuse NSDC and Skill Ministry honchos of this malaise.
Let me explain why this is unfair reporting. First, it is not the fault of the Skill Ministry that India is not creating enough jobs. Rather, it is the fault of the entrepreneurship model we are adopting wherein big investment is beautiful while small but with a big number of jobs is passe. Ever heard of partnership summits for SMEs?
Second, it is not the fault of the NSDC that 12 million people are joining the workforce every year. It is the result of the failure of our population control programme.
Third, it is not the fault of the NSDC that we have a few unscrupulous training partners who find ingenious ways to cheat. It is the fault of the Indian mindset that when it comes to making money, the means are not important but only the ends matter.
Our rich bureaucrats and politicians are shining lights of this philosophy. So why blame the NSDC when the unscrupulous training partners are also from our own society.
Every journalist is looking for a ‘bakra’ to blame for all our failures and currently that bakra is the Skill Ministry, NSDC and training partners.
At the root of all this narrative is the core belief that skill training is a grant given by the government of India to training partners and if anything goes wrong, we have to blame the administrators and lynch the training partners.
Let’s examine this core belief.
Grant to whom?
There are two beneficiaries of the skill system – the student and the employer. The student gets free skill training while the employer gets free trained resources to hire.
The training partner gets the training, mobilisation and placement expenses reimbursed and does not get free grant. This mindset, also prevalent among the bureaucracy, must change. So instead of controlling the training partner, it is time to manage the student and the employer.
How does one do that? Simple. Give every student a skill coupon (only one coupon per person in the entire lifetime) which s/he can exchange for training at any nominated centre in a skill course of her/his choice. The extra cost of training, if any, has to be borne by the trainee. This will make the trainee value the coupon like a cheque and choose the training course and the training partner with care. Most importantly, make the trainee own the training.
The second option is to add another programme to the existing Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY). Introduce PMKVY PLUS Programme for MSMEs. Why MSMEs? Because it’s only the MSMEs that create bulk of the new jobs. Under this programme, any employer can train as per his requirement and hire freshers and claim part of the training cost and part of the salary for the first six months from the government. This will ensure that the training is customised, employment guaranteed and retention-driven. Three birds with one stone.
Will the new Skill Minister do these two simple things? Will the journalists dig deeper into the ground realities and then write their piece? I really hope so. Otherwise, we will all miss our demographic dividend bus.
(The author is Chairman, TMI Group, and Independent Journalist)