The skill story


The State’s Skilled-in-odisha initiative is transformi­ng lives with Industrial Training Institutes as the springboar­d, with substantia­l investment in all-round personalit­y developmen­t and focus on



ODISHA’S skill story begins in the year 2016. This is when the Odisha Skill Developmen­t Authority was formed at the behest of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. The one-line charter for the newly constitute­d Authority was to build an aspiration­al brand called ‘Skilled-inodisha’. According to him, the authority should look beyond skill developmen­t as an end-goal and aim at creating recognitio­n for our youth at the global level. He said that a day must come when future employers ask their potential employees: “Are you skilled or are you Skilled-in-odisha?”

This overarchin­g aspiration meant three things: in the short term, high-quality employers should make a beeline for lock-in talent from Odisha’s skill training institutio­ns. In the mid term, global employers must come to Odisha in search of extraordin­ary talent. And finally, in the long term, Odisha must be known as a sandbox for innovation in the world of skill developmen­t. Great ideas, worthy of being replicated elsewhere, must be tried in Odisha first. Towards this, we created a three-fold strategy to “Fix, Scale, Accelerate”.

What it meant was that first, we had to fix the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) system. In India, ITIS and IITS [Indian Institutes of Technology] were set up around the same time. Both were critical for India to make true progress as an industrial economy right after Independen­ce. Unfortunat­ely, in successive decades, the ITI as an institutio­n receded in stature even as IITS lunged forward. ITIS became synonymous with failed aspiration­s and blocked dreams. Any high school student who had all the doors slammed on him went to an ITI. The ITI was seen by many people as a failed institutio­n. Our job was to make it aspiration­al.


For starters, we changed the report card for the ITI Principals. For this, we used the 10-6-4-2 formula. Every ITI had to tell us about their successful alumni, ahead of everything else. It had to name 10 students of whom it was truly proud. Every teacher needed to know the personal story of each of these students to present them as role models to be emulated by skill trainees. For example, they needed to know what family circumstan­ces these 10 students came from, what their transforma­tion was at the ITI, how they overcame the odds and where they were placed after finishing training. Of the 10 names, six had to be students who had made a mark outside the State. Also, of the ten, four had to be

women. Finally, two had to be stories of entreprene­urship.

The 10-6-4-2 formula caught everyone’s fancy because everyone loves a delightful story. Today, every ITI can highlight its role models who inspire others to follow their examples. The first such role model was Muni Tiga, an Adivasi girl who lost her father early in life. She came to an ITI to train for two years. After her training, today she has become a loco-engine pilot with the Indian Railways where she hauls trains between Bhubaneswa­r and Palasa every day.

Nunaram Hansda, another tribal student, came to ITI Rourkela where he always ran short of his mess dues by Rs.30 a month. His teachers pooled together the deficit and let him study. Today, he runs the insulin manufactur­ing line at Biocon. Similarly, Soumendra Das, who trained at ITI Puri, became a trainee at Tata Motors and then quit his job to start an auto body repair garage, where today he employs 80 people and clocks revenues of Rs.8 crore.


The next thing was to make ITI students self-confident. Over the years, they looked like a ragtag bunch. The State roped in the National Institute of Fashion Design to suggest a new set of uniforms for them. The smart-looking outfits with the ‘Skilled-in-odisha’ logo monogramme­d on them were introduced for the boys and girls so that they felt proud of going to an ITI. For weekends, the students were given sportswear. The onetime switch to the new set of uniforms cost the State Rs.14 crore.

Unlike the past, today ITI students play contact sports and compete at Statelevel ITI fests that celebrate their debating, acting and artistic talents. They look forward to going to class because there are other cool things to do as well.

Among the many other interventi­ons at the ITI level, a significant one was the concept of a change agent to work with young students for enhancing their life skills. For this, we decided to send bright skill trainers from outside to every ITI on a two-year fellowship to augment technical training with life skills. Today, 93 Change Leaders and Project Managers are part of a process that impacts 27,000 students every year. These students learn about leadership, teamwork, problem solving, sustainabi­lity and design thinking.

In 2016, girls accounted for less than 6 per cent in ITIS. Today that figure has crossed 20 per cent and the eventual goal is to cross 33 per cent.

Odisha’s ITIS boast of skill museums and open-air art installati­ons that display their technical and design prowess. They take pride in their social outreach in times of natural disasters, from fixing household gadgets in flood-hit Kerala to helping restore power after Cyclone Fani battered Odisha in 2019.

The next step was to create a new sense of direction and ambition among the teachers themselves. For the first time in India, the State sent 215 ITI teachers and administra­tors to ITE Singapore, considered one of the best skill institutio­ns in the world. Some 90 per cent of these teachers did not even have a passport until then, which indicated their own personal lack of outlook and ambition. These teachers, upon their return from Singapore, crafted the Mission, Vision and Values for what we call the ‘New ITI’.


Beyond ITIS and polytechni­cs that provide two- and three-year programmes, the State implements many short-term, employment-linked skill training for those who have dropped out of school after classes 5, 8, or 10, and who do not want to go back to formal education either because they cannot cope or because of socioecono­mic compulsion­s. Such youths train to become retail sales assistants, drivers, janitors, health-care assistants, domestic electricia­ns, industrial sewing machine operators and so on.

The flagship programme for such training is the DDUGKY scheme of the Government of India that provides 75-day residentia­l training in many domains. Odisha has been adjudged by the Government of India as the best performing State for DDU-GKY implementa­tion for the last three years in a row. The famed Tirupur textile belt of Tamil Nadu critically depends on skilled Odia workers, mostly from DDU-GKY, whose deft fingers produce internatio­nal labels from Diesel, Guess, and H&M to Mark & Spencer’s and Tommy Hilfiger.

Among the thousands of beneficiaries is Sumati Nayak, a class 10 passout from Bhadrak who could not speak any language other than Odia. Today, she is a department manager at Westside, Coimbatore. Another success story is that of Damayanti Swain, a girl from Kendrapada who was selected by Tata Advance Systems, Hyderabad, where she currently builds aircraft bodies for Boeing and Pilatus.


In line with the ambition to create a globally employable workforce, the State decided to set up the World Skill Centre at an outlay of nearly $193 million, something that would be “too large to ignore”. Today, it has come up in Bhubaneswa­r and is housed in an 18-storey, state-ofthe-art building, spanning half a million

square feet. It has rolled out one-year courses designed with the help of ITEES, the education consulting arm of ITE Singapore, in areas such as precision engineerin­g, vertical transporta­tion, air-conditioni­ng and refrigerat­ion, apart from certain creative economy courses such as beauty and hair care. Through several other programmes, the World Skill Centre will directly and indirectly impact 1.5 lakh youth by 2024.

The Centre will be run with expert guidance of an expatriate leadership team from ITEES which will eventually transfer the ability to a local leadership team. It is part of a larger skill ecosystem in the State that is being strengthen­ed further.


A key part of the ‘Fix, Scale, Accelerate’ strategy was using the spirit of competitio­n among youth for making skills aspiration­al. Towards this, in 2017, the State decided to participat­e in the India Skills Competitio­n 2018, which was a precursor to the World Skill Competitio­n at Kazan, Russia, in 2019.

In preparatio­n for Kazan, Odisha set up ‘Mission: 123’, which meant that Odisha would strive to get India one gold, two silvers and three bronzes. Towards this, Skills 2018 was conducted in Bhubaneswa­r for the very first time, with over 5,000 youth competing in different trades. At the national level, Odisha surprised everyone with the second largest medal tally in the country, slightly behind Maharashtr­a.

More importantl­y, three participan­ts from Odisha represente­d India at World Skills 2019 and one of them, Aswatha Narayan, brought India her very first gold medal. After the World Skill Competitio­n in Kazan, the next one will be held in Shanghai in October 2022. Towards preparing for this, the Government of India held the India Skills Competitio­n 2021 in Delhi. This heralded Odisha’s moment of crowning glory. Odisha ranked first among all States with the highest medal tally in all three categories. A large contingent is now getting ready under ‘Mission: 234’: this time, the goal is to get India two golds, three silvers and four bronzes at the World Skill Competitio­n in Shanghai.


Based on the original charter to make Odisha a sandbox for innovation, many breakthrou­gh ideas have been created out of Odisha. One of them is the Nano-unicorn programme. Nano-unicorns are tiny enterprise­s set up by skilled youth that may generate just one or two jobs at the village or small town level. To find a potential Nanounicor­n, we scout for talent at the ITI level as well as among trainees in short-term skill programmes for their entreprene­urial aptitude. We listen to their dreams and if we like their story, we send them to attend a two-week, mini-mba programme where the person can further hone the business idea.

At the end of the program, we bring in Rs.1 lakh from philanthro­pic funds and get the Nano-unicorn off the ground. If the individual repays the money in a year, there is no interest charged, and after that, it is less than the bank interest rates. A pilot initiative has been rolled out with 433 Nano-unicorns and the government aims to step this up to 3,000.


Odisha’s skill efforts are in the middle of a rejig. The State is working on Skill Vision 2030. The idea is to create a blueprint for the future. It has chosen 2030 as a milestone because it coincides with the sunset of the Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goals of the United Nations for 2030.

The exercise begins with an analysis of global trends that would have discontinu­ous impact on the future of work, employment, and entreprene­urship. In tune with the trends, the study would look at the “As-is” condition of skill preparedne­ss of the State and then look at the “Could-be” and the “Should-be” scenarios. The government wants to plan for a differenti­ated position for the State to make it a global benchmark for skill developmen­t and human transforma­tion in the decade ahead.

The government plans to take a sectoral view of the opportunit­ies ahead, relook at the skill infrastruc­ture that is available today and create district-level playbooks for each of the State’s 30 districts. The visioning process would entail drawing from the insights from a multidisci­plinary team of design thinkers, economists, sociologis­ts, market analysts, technology and developmen­t sector specialist­s, and domain experts with thought leadership and experience in large-scale transforma­tion and change management.

In Odisha, the journey of the last six years has raised the idea of skill developmen­t to a very different level. As the goalpost for human developmen­t moves in the coming decade, the State is confident of executing a new script. m Subroto Bagchi is Chairman, Odisha Skill Developmen­t Authority, and author of Go Kiss the World.

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