Skilled Youth for Services Sector: Addressing Skills Deficit through English Labs

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Dr Haresh TankStrengthening the Indian services sector is the one way of sustaining the Indian economy

Dr Haresh Tank
Director, Station-e Language Lab

For a country that ranks number one on the Global Services Location Index year-after-year, it is natural to assume that the world with all its MNCs will make a path to this place. This ranking translated into a number of corporate giants coming to India and establishing outlets that threw open possibilities that even a Shakespeare would not have the imagination for. The other thing that has been in India’s favour is that in spite of the global economic slump, India has seen considerable economic stability. However, for sustained growth, India needs skilled labour in sectors that make the Indian economy go around sectors such as the services sector. It is this sector that makes more than 60 percent of the GDP and which absorbs the youth for its various sub-segments.

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“With sectors that require a highly skilled workforce – financial services, IT/ITeS, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals – set to expand briskly over the next decade, India’s transition to a knowledge-based economy would require a new generation of educated and skilled workforce.” (Skilling India: One Billion Challenge, 2010, page 16)

Favourable demographics position India to fill the void created by countries with an ageing population, and become a major player in global business. The manner in which India uses this opportunity will determine whether it will reap its demographic dividend. Apart from tackling spatial challenges arising from a remarkable disparity in the demographics of its states, India will have to address the critical issues of creating jobs and preparing its youth to participate in its economic growth.

India will need to alter its policy framework and give incentives for creating sufficient jobs and alleviating workforce skill-mismatch. If status quo persists in India’s policy frameworks for education and training, and workforce management, economic growth will soon hit a speed breaker. If labour and industrial policies are not reformed, people with different education and skill levels, or from different states, would have unequal economic prospects. India’s industrial sector may not be able to scale up to absorb the excess workforce in agriculture. This could, in turn, block efforts to reduce income inequality in India. (20-21)

While the services sector requires so many of the skilled youth, the mind numbing stat that paints the whole thing in black is that only 10 percent of nontechnical graduates are readily employable. It is this sort of unpreparedness that will pull India back from the gates of glory and the aggression with which countries like China are skilling their youth will take them to the top. It must be borne in mind that if we do not do enough, China is right on our heels on the Global Services Location Index. The Indian economy rests heavily on the services sector and hence, the efforts not only to sustain it but to strengthen it further are required on war footing. These efforts would involve up-skilling of the youth.

The services sector depends on the soft skills of the youth who would carry out the various processes of the transactions that make the business today. In the olden times, the business processes were simple enough to be carried out by anyone willing to put in the hard work with or without education, but today, the bar for the skills has been raised very high in the services sector and it has led to a sort of emergency of skills and employment. Sample this, the services sector requires highly skilled youth even for the simplest of its business processes and the situation is so dire that we do not have enough skilled youth – not more than the celebrated figure of 10 percent. This has the makings of a breakout of economic slump because the services sector will never be able to find the skilled youth it wants, and on the other hand, there would be an unprecedented rise in unemployment as today the market requires highly skilled youth as the workforce. It is sheer indifference of the policy makers due to which we are sitting on this volcano and playing the fiddle while the Rome is about to go to ashes, in spite of all the prospects of economic superpowerdom.

If we realise that our economy rests heavily on services sector, which relies heavily on skilled youth, particularly communication proficiency, we have to ensure that firefighting and symptomatic treatment of wherever there is dire situation will not work. If we want to save the services sector, the backbone of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we will have to inject the skills in the system through drastic measures of up-skilling, and if we want to inject the remedy that can heal the communication incompetency of the youth, the 21st century English lab addressing this skills deficit is the only way out. This would also mean that the labs have to be high-tech and innovative, and not a stockpile of computers fed with old-fashioned audio files. It has to be a model that uses the most advanced technology coupled with innovative training modules prepared with Activity Based Learning (ABL) as the central tenet of training.

Station-e model of English Lab

Higher education

In all, higher education faces the issue of accountability today. To address the issue of skills deficit, particularly communication proficiency in general graduates, Station-e envisaged the concept of Digital English Lab. It is a unique construct, aiming at up-skilling the youth of the country. We have established several Digital English Labs at various educational institutions across the country. The lab serves as the training wing of the university/college, operated in a digital learning lab and powered by highly sophisticated technology. It comes with in-built training programmes on soft and life skills. Customised to the core, these modules have astonishing transformation value as they produce remarkable results in virtually no time. The youth across the country have benefitted by the innovative Digital English Labs and carved a niche for themselves in their chosen area of endeavour. What it means for a university/college is that it proves its worth, and demonstrates its relevance through the skills training that the youth passing out of the system will be equipped with to operate in today’s world.

Engineering colleges

Digital English Lab at engineering colleges can ensure that students receive the skills training where they are studying. The lab has a rich array of courses pertaining to skills enhancement with special focus on engineering education. All the modules are run through highly advanced technological tools. The lab would work in close coordination with the engineering education and cater to the diverse skills development needs that the engineering education faces today.

Management institutes

Digital English Labs at management institutes aim at impart skills training to the students. The lab has the provision for a variety of courses related to skills development with an emphasis on management education. All the training programmes are conducted in a technology- defined fashion and environs.

All things considered, the equations of the situation are quite clear. The Indian economy has stood its ground in spite of  all the economic gloom and doom across the world. The backbone of this economy is not exports as it is in the case of China, but the service sector which constitutes the lion’s share of our GDP. Sustaining it in the era of global competitiveness calls for a highly skilled workforce that we are not likely to get from our universities and colleges. We need to inject it as add-on from the level of policy and granting it a special status and special funds as a mass skilling drive. Producing skilled youth for the services sector is not only the goal butalso a challenge and the way to achieving economic prosperity, and eradicating unemployment and inequality.

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