Fighting the Unemployment Virus | digitalLEARNING Magazine
March 2009

Fighting the Unemployment Virus

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India is one of the youngest nations in the world, with about 54 % (more than 500 million people) of the population below the age of 25. Nearly 44 % of India’s labour force is illiterate, only 17 % of it has secondary schooling, and the enrolment in higher education is just 11 % (World Bank, 2009). Ten million youths are expected to enter the workforce every year for whom provision for education and training have to be made to fulfill their aspirations and improve the quality of lives through decent work and livelihood opportunities. 89% of the workforce is employed in the unorganised/informal sector and just 11% of it is in the organised/formal sector.

Vocationalisation of Education implies an organised way of development of task-related skills at various stages of education for laying a strong foundation of competencies (knowledge, skills, attitude, and values) among youth, so that they are prepared for the ‘world of work’. It is being promoted in schools through (i) Life-oriented education in Classes I to VIII, (ii) Pre-vocational education in Classes IX and X, and (iii) Vocational Education in Classes XI and XII. Adding academic component to vocational training or vice versa has been the foundation of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) in most of the countries. For example, in France, the vocational content is added to the secondary education, whereas in Germany the ‘Dual System’ of VET is based on alternating between work and school. Of course, there are many other intermediate or mixed VET systems in other countries, with increasing or decreasing propensity towards academic education.

Vocational Education and Training in India caters to the requirements of a wide variety of target groups, which include school students, youth, artisans, craftsmen, adults, neo-literates, unskilled and semi-skilled workers, socially disadvantaged groups-women, differently-abled persons, ex-servicemen, etc. VET pathways for these target groups are available through the informal, non-formal and formal education system. Programmes imparting VET to nearly 3.1 million persons every year are funded by more than 17 Ministries, including the Human Resource Development, Labour and Employment, Agriculture, Small Scale, Non-conventional Energy Sources, Rural Development, Health, Information and Broadcasting and Women and Child Development, Social Justice and Empowerment, etc. The status of major Institutions offering formal VET programmes is given in table.

In today’s economic structure, the workers are required to exercise critical thinking and imagination so as to bring about innovativeness and creativity in products and services, which are now critical factors for sustained growth in the market-driven economy. Economic growth now depends heavily on the ability of the workforce to constantly improve its skills (upskilling) and retrain in new skills (retraining), especially for the emerging technologies and enterprises. It is now more common for people to undertake education and work simultaneously.

Deficiencies and Disorders in VET System

There are various deficiencies and disorders in the existing VET systems. Some of these have been discussed with a view to generate sensitivity to VET concerns and to provide a food-for-thought on how we can adopt the right mix of ‘approaches’ for overcoming the shortages and removing the defects in the various systems.

(i) Informal Training System

I would like to share an episode, which compelled me to think over the disorderliness of the existing informal training system.

Once, I went to a hairdressing saloon for hair cut. On my turn, I was asked by the “Young Hair Dresser” to be seated in the chair, an instruction which I obediently followed. The young hair dresser jerked the white cloth, which bore the brunt of hair dye and pieces of hairs and quickly wrapped it around me. He then picked up the ‘dirty’ comb and scissors for initiating the ‘task’. I requested him to change the cloth with a clean one and wash the comb and scissors before using them. He declined to my request and gave his eventual answer “What is wrong with this”, and I had to succumb to his emphatic reply and ultimately gave way to prevent his further arguments. But to my surprise, the owner of the saloon, who happened to be sitting on the stair, reacted over the conversation and scolded the young hairdresser for not heeding to my request of using a clean cloth. The young hairdresser yielded to his ‘command’ and replaced the cloth with a clean one.

During the hair cutting session, I pondered over the episode and tried to analyse the system of informal training, wherein the trainer or Ustad (a majority of them have passed primary or upper primary stage of education, but some of them have not even seen the four walls of the classroom) and the student or Chotu (the one who has left the school at primary or upper primary stage mainly for economic reasons and is compelled to earn to support the family) shares the ‘common interest’ of earning some money for their bread and butter.

A majority of the people are getting trained through the informal training system for working mechanically on-the-job, without understanding the difference between the ‘wrong’ and the ‘right’ or the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ practices. The training provided by an ‘Ustad’ in small Automobile Workshops, Electrical/Electronic Gadget Repair and Maintenance Service Centers, Tailoring Shops, or Hairdressing Saloons is a case in point. The vocational pedagogy adopted by the Ustad is ‘task-based’ and ‘learner-centred’, as most of the tasks are ‘performed’ by the Chela under the direct supervision of Ustad who in turn ensures the ‘learning outcome’ through constant ‘monitoring’ and ‘feedback’ and providing ‘remedial instruction’ at every step of the ‘procedure’.

The ‘technical’ skills imparted to the youth through the gigantic and ever expanding system of informal vocational training does not provide them the “life-long learning” opportunity which is necessary to bring about necessary behavioural or attitudinal changes and to make them aware of their social rights. People, especially those who are traditionally burdened with social and economic responsibilities within the household, often prefer the informal training, which offers “flexibility in terms of entry and period of training” and also enable them to “earn while they learn”.

Introduction of Mobile Education and Training Vans (METV) equipped with necessary tools and equipment and trained teachers and trainers for educating and training workers at different workplaces could be a possible solution to providing generic skills and preparing workers for life-long learning (Mehrotra and Sacheti, 2008).

Only 16% of Indian firms offer in-service training, compared with 92 % in China and 42% in Republic of Korea. The Indian firms that provide in-service training are 23-28% more productive than those that do not (World Bank, 2007)

(ii) Non-Formal VET System
The non-formal VET offered through Jan Shikshan Sansthans, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, Non-Government Organisations and specialised VET Institutions of Khadi and Village Industries Commission, etc. which offers short duration vocational courses is sporadic and largely uncoordinated. There are very few successful examples of non-formal VET programmes run by NGOs or Civil Society Organisations, which include (i) Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, (ii) Don Bosco’s Tech India, (iii) Rajasthan Mission on Livelihoods (RMoL), (iv) Institute for Livelihood Education (iLEAD) by Aide et Action, (v) Rural Development and Self Employment Training Institute (RUDSETI), (vi) Society for All Round Development (SARD), (vii) MAYA Organics, (viii) Consortium of Women Entrepreneurs of India (CWEI), (ix) Action for Social Advancement, etc.

Employers and employer associations (like Confederation of Indian Industry) are organising short duration training programmes in newly emerging skills as they have the technology and their supervisors have the expertise to train fresh recruits. Only 16% of Indian firms offer in-service training, compared with 92 % in China and 42% in Republic of Korea. The Indian firms that provide in-service training are 23-28% more productive than those that do not (World Bank, 2007). The non-formal training programmes do not bring much in terms of educational content if they are not combined with other support services such as open learning opportunities and teaching/training programmes on micro-finance, market information and other business development services.

(iii) Formal VET System
Transition of youth and young adults from school to the world of work is an important policy issue for majority of the countries. It is considered as an important strategy for tackling the issues of mad rush for higher education and the high level of youth unemployment. The higher secondary education (referred to as 10+2 stage) is dual track i.e., there is an academic and a vocational stream.

The Vocational Education Programme (VEP) running in nearly 6000 schools at the higher secondary stage offers vocational courses of 2 year duration. No doubt, the VEP has produced vocational graduates, who have proved their worth in securing both wage and self-employment, but in some States/UTs slow poisoning of VEP has taken place due to lack of adequate infrastructure and equipment, inflexible curriculum, ill-trained teachers or trainers, administrative problems, and above all lack of sufficient funds. Paradoxically there are many Institutions which do not have proper tools and equipment. The burning question is “How the students are being trained in the absence of tools and equipment?”

The Vocational Education Programme (VEP) running in nearly 6000 schools at the higher secondary stage offers vocational courses of 2 year duration.

In the organised sector, Industries still continue to face skills shortages and recruitment difficulties. Skills shortages, however, occur for a variety of reasons, which include: (i) growth of new industries with few ready-skilled people available; (ii) relocation of new industries into different regions with a different skills base; (iii) location of industry, or project-based work in rural or regional areas, with a small skills base; (iv) technology changes and new methods being adopted within an industry; and (v) changes in skills need to successfully undertake trade and business (Richardson, 2007). On the other hand, skill gaps may occur where the prospective employees do not possess the required qualifications, experience and specialised skills to meet the needs of an occupation.

A majority of students passing out from Colleges and Universities lack the required employability skills to do the jobs in the Industry. According to India Labour Report, (2007), almost 53 per cent of the employed youth are suffering from some kind of skill related problem while 8 % of the youth are underemployed. The report has also pointed out that as much as 90 % of employment opportunities require vocational skills, something that is not being imparted in schools and colleges.

It is quite astonishing that while the largest proportion of job-opportunities relate to middle level employment, 90% of such jobs prescribe a university degree as an essential qualification, though in most of these positions, what are needed are “skills” to perform tasks effectively and efficiently and not a university degree. The possibilities for a vocational graduate to continue studies in higher academic education do exist in some of the States/UTs for certain courses in Commerce, Agriculture, Science and Humanities but in practice this is not a significant path because most of the vocational students could not pass the entrance exams for higher education and are forced to take up employment in an unrelated occupational area or remain unemployed.

There is a need to develop a “vocational route” with Universities and Colleges so that the vocational passouts can pursue courses in the same chosen area for a vocational diploma or degree.

VET should be integrated with economic and employment policies so that opportunities could be created for self-employment and microenterprise development. One way of promoting entrepreneurship development is to set up Production-cum-Training Centres (PTC) or Service-cum-Training Centres (STC) in all VET Institutions. These centres will not only be useful in providing off-the-job or simulated training and assessment conditions, but would also serve as a source of income for the various stakeholders of VET including the students, as is the case with the informal training in the unorganised sector, where both the Ustad and Chela share the income generated from the job done by them.

Dealing with Deficiencies and Disorders

A unified VET framework with modern planning and strategic approaches, which can direct the myriad changes in VET should be adopted by the States/UTs for correcting the deficiencies and disorders.

According to India Labour Report, (2007), almost 53 % of the employed youth are suffering from some kind of skill related problem while 8 % of the youth are underemployed. The report has also pointed out that as much as 90 % of employment opportunities require vocational skills, something that is not being imparted in schools and colleges.

Planning

Some countries are moving towards National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) system as a means to raise occupational standards, introduce flexibility and facilitate labour mobility. The NVQ system exists in countries like New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom, Finland, etc. It provides multi-entry and multi-exit options to the learners through a set of nationally recognised occupation based modular courses. This kind of an alternative education and training system is needed in our country to link the formal and non-formal VET programmes and to prepare manpower required at various levels. It will also be useful in (i) providing recognition of prior learning  (RPL) through competency testing, (ii) providing skill training to a wide variety of target group through formal and non-formal system, and (iii) evaluating and certifying competencies according to the nationally recognised standards.

The recent VET initiatives in India involving the Government and Private partnership will lead to the establishment of a credible, trustworthy and reliable training, testing and certification system linked to national occupational standards set by the Industry or Employers. In Australia, for example, partnerships between Industry and registered training providers are encouraged, especially as assessment in the workplace or simulated conditions is required for most training packages offered under a National Vocational Qualification framework. Government policy will play a vital role in implementation of NVQ system in our country, but the Industry will have to take a lead role in guiding and establishing a framework of NVQ system.

The Government of India has recently constituted the National Council on Skill Development (NCSD) to guide activities for skill development in the country. The council is at the apex of a three-tier structure and would be concerned with vision setting and laying down core strategies for skill development (Planning Commission, 2007). Private sector participation in skill development programmes has been minimal as most of the VET programmes are run by Government Institutions.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has initiated “Skill Gap” studies across the nation to identify the skill needs and gaps of various sectors in different States/UTs by 2015. Construction, plumbing, electrical work, telemarketing, retail management, food processing industry, floriculture, plantation crops, driving, hospitality, tourism and insurance have been identified as the grey areas where skilled manpower requirements would increase tremendously in the years to come. Involvement of private sector in benchmarking for skill standards, performance standards, and evaluation is critically important as they are the ultimate users of the skill activities. Vocational surveys are being conducted in collaboration with the Industry Associations to know the employment avenues and aspirations of the youth in a particular area and to match the demand with supply of skills. Initiatives for delivery of VET through Public-Private Partnership mode are being taken by the Government, Employers, Professional Associations, Industry, Employee’s Trade Unions, Local Community and NGOs.

Delivery

Curricular flexibility involves flexibility with reference to three main dimensions: (i) flexibility over time, e.g., updating the curriculum due to changes in competencies demanded by occupational practice; (ii) across space, e.g., adjustments to regional conditions and (iii) across individuals, e.g., meeting the particular needs of individual students. It may involve face-to-face study, practical sessions, distance education, online education, action learning, problem solving, etc.  The curriculum should be so designed as to develop skills of the levels and quality acceptable to the employing agencies; the acid test of effectiveness of the curriculum will lie in the employability of the learner.

Higher order thinking skills (HOTS) are essential to develop the ability of people to think creatively, make decisions, solve problems, visualise, reason, analyse, interpret, and know how to learn. Providing easy access to Information Technology facilities and designing training curriculum and content that are IT-oriented will provide new opportunities to the learners. Networking of learners through Internet-enabled on-line learning system would help in upgrading knowledge and skills through regularly scheduled lectures, web pages, videos, discussion through E-mail and chat sessions and on-line tests.

Management

Putting Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to work in VET management will be useful in monitoring the VET system through the management information system. Institutional Management Committees for smooth functioning and quality assurance of the vocational Institutions and courses should be established by all the Institutions.

Funding

VET costs more than general education, and it is thus important to manage resources and costs efficiently. Government will need to continue to finance and provide skills training in the immediate future. This is a long-term process, and it thus requires policies that compensate for the limits of the private sector training. The involvement of the private sector in funding and implementing VET programmes should be secured through various Associations and Committees of Employers/Industrialists, both at the local and State level. A provision of donation of a percentage of earnings made by an enterprise/industry through the sale of products or services should be made to a centralized “VET Fund”.

Conclusion

Radical changes in the educational structure are needed to deviate from the annual pattern to the semester pattern of curriculum organisation and evaluation in VET. If we want to pursue the goal of reforming VET in India, we must first review the educational policy and current educational practices and then develop new educational models and practices to meet the challenges and demands of a strong and cohesive learner-centred VET system. There are wheels within wheels in VET, which needs to be replaced from time to time to remove the complications and disorders. There is a need to raise the quality, efficiency, relevance and productivity of VET programmes. This would require better physical facilities and equipment, tailored teaching-learning materials, better training facilities, stronger linkages with the industry and incentives for the faculty and staff.

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