The nuts and bolts of ‘Make in India’

By: Konda Vishweshwar Reddy

India suffers from innumerable socio-economic challenges. But perhaps the most urgent of them is the scourge of youth unemployment. In 2013, 13.3 per cent of the youth between 15 and 29 years were unemployed. Experts confirm that this is largely the result of a supply driven education system as opposed to demand driven one that is responsive to industry needs.

While the government is planning to address this challenge through aggressive vocational training programmes and has set up an ambitious target for itself, we have to take the debate one step further and look at the employability of skilled youth.

Creating a robust apprenticeship model can improve the relevance and quality of skill development.

The apprenticeship system is a dynamic one, and serves both as a training platform and a feeder employment exchange. It is an effective way of both matching skills and ‘catching’ the youth before they fall into the trap of unproductive casual employment.

India’s apprenticeship system is limited in scope, scale and quality. Its current size is small, with about 0.2 million apprentices — miniscule for a labour force growing by 12 million a year.

Further, the number is even lower than that of smaller countries such as Japan and Germany, which have 3 million and 1 million apprentices, respectively.

Grooming them
India seems to have missed the critical phase of the development of an extensive network of professional guilds and associations that train, skill, and provide certification for particular trades.

This is true of the US, Germany and other industrial economies. These guilds and professional bodies not only provide certification for plumbers and pipe-fitters who conduct domestic repairs and maintenance work, they also fine-tune, update and certify skills that are then deployed by the same plumbers/electricians in other complex jobs such as constructing large oil and gas pipelines.

In countries with a strong formal apprenticeship system such as Australia, France, Germany or England, some occupations require the completion of an apprenticeship in order for people to be ‘licensed’ to practice their occupation.

There have been signs of hope in India; and in some cases the formal private manufacturing industry is offering apprenticeship models.

For instance, engineering firm Larsen & Toubro has set up a chain of Construction Skills Training Institutes (CSTI) across six States. The company’s sub-contractors subsequently employ people passing out from these institutes.

More recently, the Volkswagen group has introduced a mechatronics apprenticeship programme at Pune. This programme provides apprentices the key competencies that are necessary to adapt to the fast changing industrial requirements.

Similarly, while IT companies have participated by forging collaborations with IT institutes, there is no skilling strategy in place for the informal sector.

Who will fill this gap? The Planning Commission has projected that the construction sector will require another 47 million workers over the next decade. Still, there is no specific policy for skill building in the construction sector.

A critical role
The apprenticeship system has a chance to play a critical role here, but it remains mired in bureaucracy and Centre-State ping-pong of labour laws. Skilling is a human resource issue, not a labour one. How can we scale this and how do we improve private sector participation in skill-training the informal sector?

The requirement today is to create 1 million jobs a month — 70-75 per cent of which is going to come from the SME sector. Is India’s apprenticeship programme geared to feed SMEs? Chinese traditional medicine, now a big and ‘formal’ industry, was built on an apprenticeship-mentor model. Is the same required for ayurveda?

We also have to address the gender aspect of employment. According to data from the Annual Survey of Industries, women had just 1.23 million of the 6.54 million jobs in manufacturing.

Given that women tend to get less formal education and less formal jobs, can an apprenticeship model focused on women in the informal craft/trade area or simple manufacturing become a game-changer?

Does long-term on-the-job skill development create excellence and, in turn, beat back the competition? Does it build a formidable brand? Does it raise the value of those in that trade? Can it avoid the ‘quality fade’ issue now confronting the low cost labour giant China?

It does. A rigorous apprenticeship institutionalises knowledge outside of schooling, which serves as a formidable supplement to theory-based learning.

Indeed, this paves the way for us to argue that gains of a robust apprenticeship system help create excellence. This system applies not only for high-tech products but also for brands such as Lladro Porcelain, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, the Swiss Army Knife, Italian Ham Setc and so on.

However, we cannot simply import an industrialised apprenticeship system. It is important to understand the profile of youth unemployment in India and match it with a responsive apprenticeship programme — not entirely one that has an urban/trade bias.

For Make in India
In a largely agrarian society undergoing social and economic transformation, understanding this is critical. We have to ask, for example, what the unemployed youth in rural settings will do when the education system fails them and when farm work cannot absorb them?

So, we need to create skilling strategy that looks at the stock of unemployed who will emerge on the fringes of rural India. This can only be done by expanding the apprenticeship programme. For example, in India, there are currently only 404 occupational areas in which apprenticeships of different kinds are available.

These are all mostly urban and manufacturing-oriented and do not reflect the rural profile of small and micro businesses. At the other end of the spectrum is Germany where the occupational coverage has been classified into three categories: industry, crafts, and trade, and the system covers all of the 12 designated Unesco-UNEVOC categories.

The government has stated that it wants to revamp domestic manufacturing; and that it is easing the business environment to invite overseas company to ‘Make in India’. None of these agendas is workable unless a strong and responsive apprenticeship programme is mandated to support the current skilling system. It is only when this occurs that India will truly begin to create jobs on a large scale, amidst sustained development in services and manufacturing.

Courtesy : The Hindu

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