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BW Businessworld

Turning Burden Into Boon

Photo Credit :

set up their own vocational training institutes
across the country (Pic By Bivash Banerjee)

A lot has changed for India in the 62 years since Independence. The biggest change has been the transformation of our ‘demographic burden’ into a ‘demographic dividend’. The teeming millions were once our curse, now they are our boon. But have we been able to really benefit from that boon? Well, not so far, at least not to the extent possible.
At a recent symposium in Delhi, historian Ramachandra Guha spoke of 10 reasons why India cannot become a superpower. Sectarianism, poor infrastructure, religious extremism and decline of public institutions were among the reasons he cited. An 11th reason can be safely added: of poor availability of skilled manpower. According to Unicef, India’s literacy rate at the time of Independence was 18 per cent; today it is around 65 per cent (China has 91 per cent adult literacy rate). Of course, higher literacy rate alone cannot ensure sufficient skilled workforce for Indian industry.
According to estimates by Mumbai-based firm IL&FS, the textile industry will require 14 million workers in five years’ time, leather industry 3 million, and the automobile sector another 25 million in five-eight years. Heavy government investment in roads, bridges, etc., has created a huge shortage of skilled masons, plumbers and carpenters. The industry requires its own set of electricians, welders and mechanics to run its plants and factories.
To address this looming crisis, the government, in partnership with the World Bank, embarked on a Rs 1,600-crore project in 2007 to revamp select Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). The project, required to be complete by December 2012, has states contributing Rs 400 crore to the total project cost. State governments are also doing their bit to get more students to join ITIs. The Delhi government has made vocational training — in addition to primary and secondary education — free for girl students as well as for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backward-class candidates. “There are computer courses, a course in fashion designing and desktop publishing,” says Shashi Vasudeva, principal of a gleaming new ITI for Women in Shahdara, Delhi, adding that the old dilapidated building of the institute will soon give way to a new one. “Once that is done, new machines and tools will also be bought.”

Public-Private Partnerships
In 1,396 ITIs across the country, private players are being roped in to give a new perspective to training. The emphasis is on improvement of infrastructure, streamlining of courses and augmentation of teaching environment. For instance, one of the seven ITIs in Delhi has been given to Educomp-Pearson — a joint venture between UK’s Pearson group and Delhi-based Educomp Solutions — to run. The company plans to turn the institute into a centre of excellence, initially for three trades: information technology (IT), welding and automotive engineering. Sharad Talwar, president for vocational education at Educomp says, “The intensive two-year course the company will undertake through new books and new sets of instruction will enable a Class 10-pass student to get a BTech degree that will be valid for a job throughout the world.” (The degree will be certified by Edexcel, an international certification provider and an arm of Pearson.)
Auto major Tata Motors is managing at least 10 ITIs around the country. “Managing the ITIs provides us an opportunity to source our requirement for skilled workers from these institutes,” says Sangram Tambe, vice-president for human resources. “This also prepares a bigger pool for the industry at large.”


Total number of ITIs: 1,987*
ITIs given to the private sector: 1,396**
Total demand for vocational seat: 6 million every year
Shortfall in supply of seats: 4.5 million every year
Shortfall in skilled manpower: 475 million

*Planning Commission estimates as on 31 Dec 2008;
**under public-private partnership Source: BW research

In Tamil Nadu, Ma Foi Randstad has got the mandate to manage five ITIs. “The work on these institutes will start by mid-next month,” says Nikhil Indrasenan, head of the Ma Foi Academy. To attract students, the Tamil Nadu government has fixed nominal enrolment fee in these institutes ranging between Rs 500 and Rs 2,000. The student is charged an assessment fee of Rs 1,000 at the end of the course (and nothing else in between). If he passes, he gets his money back and the trainer or the private player managing the institute gets reimbursed from the government at the rate of Rs 15-50 per hour per course. Says Indrasenan, “If we succeed, we will think of taking up more ITIs across the country.”
Private Initiatives
There is also a huge shortage of vocational institutes. Sharda Prasad, joint secretary in Directorate General of Employment and Training, Ministry of Labour, says there is no central data on the number of students applying for admissions in ITIs, but out of every four applicants only one gets admission. Given there are 1.5 million seats now, the shortfall translates to roughly 4.5 million. That is an opportunity private players are targeting. For instance, Pearson tied up with Educomp to set up over 600 institutes to impart vocational training in areas such as masonry, carpentry and automobile repair. “Training courses will be instructor-led and supported by technology,” says Khozem Merchant, deputy chairman of Pearson India. “The content, based on Pearson’s existing educational content, will be adapted for India and delivered through Educomp’s network of sites.”
What industry leaders such as Infosys and Wipro did in the field of IT by setting up dedicated institutes, other sectors are doing now. The Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) has been training people to run industrial machines through its 52 trade development centres. Now, AEPC is going a step further. Darlie Koshy, director general, education and training, AEPC, says, “To cater to students who aspire to go to institutes such as National Institute of Design and National Institute of Fashion Technology but cannot due to the non-availability of seats, the council has recently set up the Institute of Apparel Management in Gurgaon under a multi-varsity format.”
Soft Skills
With the exponential growth of the services sector, soft skills have come to occupy centrestage. M. Pandia Rajan, managing director of Ma Foi Randstad, says his firm has tie-ups with many institutes including Bits Pilani, IILM-Delhi, IIT Chennai and IIT Kharagpur, where it conducts short-term courses in skill development.
Health and beauty care firm VLCC has set up 45 institutes in the country to impart training in areas such as Thai massage, hair designing and spa therapies. “The slimming centre trains over 5,000 students every year through regular and advanced diploma courses at its institutes,” says Sandeep Ahuja, CEO of VLCC.
However, there is one drawback of intensive private participation. Profit-seeking companies are liable to treat people from low-income groups with callousness. Here, the government has to ensure that everybody gets a fair chance.
This segment is not bound by any regulations. Except for industrial training centres that have to be affiliated with either central level National Council for Vocational Training or state-level councils, those providing soft skills and short-term diploma courses do not need to take any approvals to set up institutes. However, it is in the institutes’ own interest that they maintain high standards of teaching and excellence and do not cut corners for the sake of profits.

shalini dot sharma at abp dot in
(Businessworld Issue Dated 18-24 Aug 2009)