Mr. Sumali Moitra
Principal
PR & Advocacy

That India's favorable demographic holds the key to its future prosperity is something all of us have Theard long enough. That the lack of employability of a sizeable section of our youth could dash all hopes we may have of leveraging this advantage for economic advancement is also something which is not new to our ears.

For quite some time now, key stakeholders, particularly industry organizations, employers and policy-framers, have been pretty vocal about the need to develop a cuttingedge workforce by fixing the vexed problem that exists in this country of large-scale unemployment co-existing with skill deficit-induced chronic labor shortages.

Over the past three years, several initiatives have been taken in this direction, starting with the announcement of a National Policy on Skill Development specifying the roles of all stakeholders - government, industry, trade unions and civil society.

Over the past three years, several initiatives have been taken in this direction, starting with the announcement of a National Policy on Skill Development specifying the roles of all stakeholders - government, industry, trade unions and civil society – as well as the fixing of a target of skilling 500 million Indians by 2022 through the government and private delivery systems in order to enable the country to be in a position to emerge as the future Skills Capital of the world.

A 3-tier institutional structure, moreover, has been put in place to propel the skill development mission, with a National Council on Skill Development headed by the Prime Minister at the apex acting as the main policymaking body, a National Skill Development Coordination Board headed by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission coordinating the public and private initiatives in the skills space, and a National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) formed as a Public Private Partnership catalyzing private sector involvement in skills development by funding sustainable training initiatives in 20 high growth sectors and the unorganized segment.

Earlier this year, Mr S Ramadorai, Vice-Chairman of India's biggest IT software company, Tata Consultancy Services, was appointed as a Skills Adviser to the Prime Minister with the rank of a Cabinet Minister to give a further impetus to the skills drive.

Needless to say, these efforts have resulted in a heightened consciousness among stakeholders about the need to play a more proactive role in the skill development process. Training programs, be they run by government institutions or private players, have started to become more outcome-focused with course content tailored to enable students to find jobs or become self-employed post-training. There has also been a greater receptivity to hiring skilled workers at all levels in many key sectors, including construction, which have traditionally banked heavily on a large pool of unskilled labor.

NSDC Partners, for instance, which range from corporate top guns such as Centum Learning (Bharti Group), Future Group, NIIT, Everonn Skill Development and IL&FS, to NGOs such as Pratham, or educational institutions such as the Orissa-based Centurion Group (which has moved into the skills space through Gram Tarang) have already chalked out plans to skill over 58 million people for different vocations by 2022.

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While all this is definitely heartening news, skill development in India still has to contend with its own set of challenges, not least of which is industry's own reluctance or inability to define what constitutes employability for a particular job role.

While the common understanding would be that being employable would tantamount to being the right person for the right job, the actual situation on the ground does not always work out that simply.

Each company within a particular industry often has its own yardstick for defining employability. Thus, for example, what organization A may describe as the basis for considering someone employable for a particular job role, organization B could have an entirely different perspective on it even if both enterprises are roughly of the same size and cater to a similar kind of customers.

With there being no standard definitions of occupational standards for different job roles across industry segments, new entrants to the workforce, particularly, are often confused about where they stand on the employability scale, and are left completely at the mercy of HR representatives of organizations to decide this for them.

In a tough economic environment, such as the one we are facing today, this results in the balance of power in the interview process being too heavily tilted in favor of the potential employer. In a worst case scenario, the lack of employability could even serve as a convenient excuse to keep someone out or pay him/her much less than the price that their skills would have ordinarily commanded.

As per the National Policy on Skill Development, definition of occupational standards is a mandate for the Sector Skill Councils (SSCs).

Sector Skill Councils are to be employer-driven national partnership organizations that would bring together all stakeholders – industry, labor and the academia – to achieve the common goal of creating a skilled workforce for the segments they represent. The SSC initiative has already been successfully adopted by several countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom for addressing their human resource development needs.

n India, the SSCs are supposed to develop skill competency standards and qualifications, as well as standardize the affiliation and accreditation process. They would set up labor market information systems (LMIS) to assist in the planning and delivery of training, besides identifying skill development needs and preparing a catalogue of skill types. Promotion of academies of excellence and helping in executing train-the-trainers programs would also fall within the ambit of the SSCs.

Although the NSDC Board has approved funding of eight SSCs (Auto, BFSI, Energy, Healthcare, IT, Media and Entertainment, Private security and Retail) till date, getting a buy-in for the concept of a National Occupational Standard (NOS) has proved quite a task until now. Even where the buy-in has taken place in a particular industry arena, getting it to fix a timeline for coming out with the occupational Standards for as many job functions as possible has been pretty tough.

Somehow or the other, the enthusiasm shown by industry when it comes to talking about the need to skill people has not been as manifest, at least till now, when it comes down to rolling up one's sleeves to define Occupational Standards so that one can arrive at more measurable parameters for determining the employability of a person

For whatever reason, putting the NOS in place has not sparked the same level of urgency even in some of the more progressive sectors which rely heavily on people to drive the businesses. There has been a strange reluctance in some instances to accept that NOS is the basic building block for devising skills training programs and assessment criteria.

It is high time that captains of industry started taking ownership of driving the NOS exercise in their respective domains through greater involvement with the SSCs as without the occupational standards in place, skill development would be reduced to just another futile exercise.

For far too long, something as serious as skill development has been allowed to remain the exclusive preserve of either the HR or CSR cells of companies. Skills development/NOS is a CXO-level issue and deserves to be discussed at boardrooms. The pace at which this transition happens would determine where India would stand 20 years hence, as just another fast-growing developing country or an influential member of the First World.

The author works as Principal – PR & Advocacy at the National Skill Development Corporation. The views expressed are personal