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'The Education System Had A Bias Against Skills'

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Rajiv Pratap Rudy says skilling never had an aspirational value in the country, and that he’s determined to change the mindset

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to create a new ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship, he zeroed in on young BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy to head it. Rudy, a doer, has led from the front, and helped craft a new language for skill development where none existed. In an interview with BW Businessworld’s Suman K. Jha, Rudy says skilling never had an aspirational value in the country, and that he’s determined to change the mindset

Your ministry just completed two years. What are your achievements as you recount the last two years’ journey?

Most important was to set up an eco-system.

The foremost challenge for our ministry was to finalise the language for skills. Previously, 24 ministries across the union government were doing skilling. So to say that skilling started in this country when I took over, or when our ministry was created by the Prime Minister, would not be fair.

However, the language for skills was not defined. There was hardly any alignment on the common objective of skilling. Whatever they thought made for skilling was formulated and work began on it.

Our ministry was created by the PM as his own personal initiative. There was no file movement, no suggestion from the cabinet secretariat. From his own experience in Gujarat, he said ‘I want to do it’. This is something that he is passionate about. Occasionally, he has mentioned the one ministry that he would have loved to run himself was this ministry.

Hence, this came as a challenge. Convergence became a major issue because to define skills — both nationally and internationally — there was a problem.

Initially, the government of India had a ministry of education. Subsequently, it felt that education was not good enough and that human resources needed restructuring to include skilling and vocational education. So skills was added, and the ministry became Human Resource Development (HRD). But I personally feel, for whatever reasons, the education system always had a distinct bias against skills.

Education, research, scientific achievements will see inventions, but the application has to be by someone skilled. The second part was not addressed in the history of India. At best, it was on an ad hoc basis.

If you look at this country, important things are often not given due importance. Take the case of painters — there is not a single formal government centre where painting is a trade, and there are 40 lakh painters in the country. So they all trade either through paint manufacturers or their associations in India.

Take another example — plumbing. Expect for ITIs , all training is done through an ‘ustaad model’. There are about a crore plumbers in India, but we do not know where they get trained.

Now, after our initiatives, at a minuscule level, training has started. So in India, even after 67 years since independence, while we have professors of English, Botany, etc., we have never heard of a professor of welding, plumbing or carpenting. The primary reason is because this was never aspirational. That was the biggest challenge.

In today’s age, even those who are skilled, say at B-Schools, need to be re-skilled. Do you agree, and is that a challenge?
I am yet to look at B-schools. I am still struggling with entry-level jobs offered to photographers, cameramen and others. We are trying to put these skills together. I am not talking about high-end skills here which are related to engineering.

In India, entry-level jobs are easily available. We talk of 500 million people in the unorganised sector. These are the people who need to be skilled in a more productive and professional manner. I am not mixing this with higher education and other high school skills that are already adjusted in the ecosystem.

But would you like to talk about the need to re-skill people who are already skilled?
There could be engineering graduates. I would not be able to comment on engineering that way because of the stipulated 1.8 million seats in the country, and for half the seats, no admission has taken place as there are no takers for these courses. The employability is low. If you ask me, if after five years of studying engineering, they are unemployable, and then, I in three months induce them to become skilled, it’s a hopeless situation. It doesn’t work that way. I am not getting into that domain.

Our ecosystem only talks about two things — one is traditionally what we had, a two-year course in ITIs which is the ‘National Council for Vocational Training’, and the other is research factor training. For short-term scaling/skilling, we have 6,000 national occupation standards (NOSs) and about 1,5OO qualification packs (QPs).

Skilling takes place in these 1,500 QPs, where training is given to drivers, painters, carpenters, etc. That is the domain we are handling, and so between the two, as far as our vision is concerned, what I, on behalf of the government, intend is — for a class 8 dropout, two years of ITI training would be equivalent of class 10 education; for a class 10 drop-out, two years of training would be equivalent of class 12; then two more years of training in the same, say plumbing, carpentry, painting, etc., would make them eligible for a diploma. And if they can continue for another three years in the same vertical, even an engineering degree.

The candidate will be a hands-on engineer. Subsequently, we will bring in the university structure in future.

You also have been fostering a culture for entrepreneurship...
Our entrepreneurship mandate is limited to school education entrepreneurship and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna entrepreneurship. So we are not talking about incubation or entrepreneurship models as the Department Of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) or the Ministry of Science and Technology. We are talking about entrepreneurship at entry level.

Are you also talking about convergence of interests between DIPP and ministry of skills?
I do not want to get into that. Our mandate is limited to school education or entrepreneurship education through Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna.

You have set targets like skilling 40 crore youth by 2022, which many feel are very ambitious…
Those are the figures we have to reach to. Processes have been established, and now who can get into the skill ecosystem is well defined. Every individual who thought it was an NGO activity or professional NGO activity would be curtailed. Only serious players will be in the skilling business. Even on profit basis, we have to have serious players.

You talk about skilling at entry level, but people today are talking about Industrial Revolution 4.0. What do you say about that?

I am not addressing that. I am not expected to address that. I am still struggling with school dropouts, who have the ability. For instance, carpenters who can work with a German festool equipment, employability and salary goes up by 500 per cent. For a driver, who trains at our centre, if he can speak some English, handle GPS and knows the rules of the state, his employability goes up by X times. Salaries and wages go up. So we are working on that.

Would you like B-Schools or IIMs to partner with you?
I have not thought about it. They are already doing a good job. They are high-end professionals. They run the system from the backend office, manage plans, decide, execute, prepare reports. I am talking about hands-on people.

How have various states responded to your initiatives?
We are beginning to get into partnerships with states. We just had a state ministers’ conference. The engagement with states is beginning now in a big way. I had to set up the whole ecosystem afresh, so I think we are rolling it out.

Lastly, what are the biggest challenges you have to face in this arduous task?
The whole ecosystem was very fragmented, without a definition, without a direction. Commitments were few and it was non aspirational. So all these challenges are still there which we need to address.

[email protected]; @skjsumankjha