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The Right Chapter

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The whole logic behind the field of ‘management' is scarcity of resources. If resources were not scarce, the issue of optimum utilisation would not arise. At any given context, some resources would always be scarce, be it men, money, machine, materials, markets, or moments. The Raison d'être of planning lies in dealing with such ‘actual' or ‘perceived' shortage. Shortage is not a new term, it has been in existence since the time of Adam, who bit into an apple, and discovered the shortage of a material to cover his nudity.

While measurement of the existence and level of shortages in the labour force for a particular firm is not difficult, measuring it in the nation's economy on a real-time basis is rather complex due to demand-supply dynamics. Many vested interests may also distort the ‘actual' picture and projection of shortage (or its refutation) may stem from the desire of change of government policies so that employers can have cheaper and/or docile employees. For example, it can be alleged that shouting in chorus about ‘unemployable' graduate labour force is partly motivated by the employers' concern of keeping the wage cost low so that they remain nationally competitive!
 What does one do when there are real shortages of work force? In the short term, local and global sourcing attends to the problem of particular firms. Long-term solutions come through investments in institutions that correct current skill shortage and prepare for projected skill demand. Any country would require effective institutions that map demand and supply of diverse skills and skill-sets in a region, assess gaps and overlaps in skill development, and provide directions to various private and public agencies that are engaged in techno-vocational educational and training activities.

India faces stiff challenges. Despite growing investment in education, impressive increase in degree-granting engineering colleges and increase in annual student intakes, the results have been far from satisfactory owing to severe shortage of quality teaching staff. Surprisingly, little has been done to address this issue. And it is high time that the industry comes forward to create institutions that train teachers. Only when you have trained teachers can you expect good skills among students.

According to Unesco, India has the lowest public expenditure on higher education per student in the world. While the government can be faulted on this account, industry has not done well either. For example, only 16 per cent of manufacturers in India offer in-service training to their employees, compared to over 90 per cent in China. Therefore, a time has come for both the parties to accept their mistakes and work together to address the skill-shortage issue.

While the recently passed Right to Education Bill is expected to improve the quality of skill sets in students, here are some intermediary steps that can help assure a quality workforce:

 Creation of world-class, teacher-training institutions with the help of global agencies is required for seeding such facilities.

Reformatting undergraduate colleges for providing college-educated service sector employees, education and training service. Industry involvement is mandatory to keep contents relevant and contemporary.

Thorough restructuring and massive expansion of ITIs to provide industry-specific skills. This should be the responsibility of industry, including those in the public sectors.

Creation of industry consortia for wide-scale adoption of ‘apprenticeship schemes' by the industry rather than by individual firms. German dual system would be a model to tweak appropriately.

The author is Dean, Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 24-08-2009)