Pre­par­ing young In­di­ans for an un­sta­ble labour mar­ket

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Lucknow - UJJWAL KR­ISHNA The writer is a re­searcher at the In­dian Coun­cil for Re­search on In­ter­na­tional Eco­nomic Re­la­tions (ICRIER) in New Delhi. Views are per­sonal.

Skilled oc­cu­pa­tions have long been viewed in In­dia as so­cially un­de­sir­able, and this can be linked to the mil­len­nia-old caste sys­tem that deeply per­vades In­dian so­ci­ety and shapes its think­ing in both per­cep­ti­ble and im­per­cep­ti­ble ways. The caste sys­tem helps shape an or­der where ‘whitecol­lar’ oc­cu­pa­tions are more de­sir­able and re­spectable when com­pared to ‘blue-col­lar’ jobs, or more ac­cu­rately, where there is an el­e­ment of us­ing one’s hands to ac­com­plish tasks cen­tral to the pro­fes­sion in ques­tion. Such an un­rea­son­able view of skilled jobs has in no un­cer­tain terms re­sulted in the un­usu­ally low num­ber of ap­pren­tices in In­dia.

Be­yond the realm of so­cial di­a­logue, prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions such as an ap­pren­tice­ship regime that is nei­ther rel­e­vant and re­spon­sive to in­dus­try’s re­quire­ments, nor de­cently re­mu­ner­a­tive dur­ing the train­ing pe­riod, fur­ther dis­in­cen­tivise In­di­ans to take up the op­tion of ap­pren­tice­ship. The In­dian ap­pren­tice­ship regime’s unattrac­tive­ness to in­dus­try has also meant lesser like­li­hood of ap­pren­tice­ships se­cur­ing de­sir­able ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties af­ter train­ing.

Re­cent amend­ments to In­dia’s Ap­pren­tices Act have tried to ad­dress these con­cerns by most no­tably bring­ing In­dia’s thriv­ing ser­vices sec­tor into its purview, link­ing ap­pren­tice re­mu­ner­a­tion to state-wise min­i­mum wages, and at­tempt­ing to make the prospect of ap­pren­tice­ship more vi­able and at­trac­tive for In­dian in­dus­try while also not compromisi­ng on labour rights and de­cent work stan­dards. Fur­ther, the Na­tional Ap­pren­tice­ship Pro­mo­tion Scheme (NAPS) was launched to fur­ther sub­sidise ap­pren­tice­ship stipends by way of re­im­burse­ments to cor­po­rates to en­cour­age them to of­fer such on-the­job train­ing.

It is de­sir­able to in­tro­duce ap­pren­tice­ships at the univer­sity level since this would pro­vide youth with the op­tion of tak­ing up in­dus­try-rel­e­vant ap­pren­tice­ships even if they have opted for a main­stream higher ed­u­ca­tion path­way. It should be the in­ten­tion and prac­tice of na­tional regimes to cre­ate a pol­icy and in­sti­tu­tional frame­work wherein the two choices of univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion and ap­pren­tice­ships do not be­come mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

Ap­pren­tice­ships in higher ed­u­ca­tion are also de­sir­able since at a univer­sity level, youth can si­mul­ta­ne­ously learn more ad­vanced tech­ni­cal the­ory and ap­ply these in an ap­pren­tice­ship con­text to even higher-or­der skill sets on the shop floor. This com­bi­na­tion ac­quires even greater sig­nif­i­cance in the con­text of au­toma­tion, where the pos­ses­sion and display of higher-or­der skills will de­ter­mine if an em­ployee will re­main rel­e­vant or be deemed re­dun­dant.

The de­vel­op­ment of a com­pre­hen­sive frame­work to en­able the youth to build their ca­pa­bil­i­ties in both main­stream and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion, with the abil­ity to switch streams ef­fort­lessly, was at­tempted in In­dia through the cre­ation of the Na­tional Skill Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Frame­work (NSQF). It needs to be im­ple­mented at both the school and col­lege level since most skill train­ing ac­tiv­i­ties are tar­geted at this age group to en­sure that the ap­pro­pri­ate de­mo­graphic sec­tions are be­ing ad­dressed.

The NSQF would fur­ther help in bridg­ing the gap be­tween vo­ca­tional schools and col­leges, and purely aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, and en­sure the mo­bil­ity of a can­di­date be­tween vo­ca­tional and gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion, as univer­sity de­grees be­come more aligned to this qual­i­fi­ca­tion frame­work. How­ever, this align­ment to en­sure that vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and main­stream ed­u­ca­tion is not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive can only be achieved if uni­ver­si­ties are in­cen­tivised for com­pli­ance and pe­nalised for non­com­pli­ance.

In the In­dian con­text, such an align­ment ex­er­cise needs to ex­tend to ap­pren­tice­ships ad­e­quately to en­sure that they are weaved into a na­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tion frame­work that pegs equiv­a­lence of skill-at­tain­ment mile­stones to higher ed­u­ca­tion lev­els. Univer­sity-level vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tives in In­dia such as B.Voc. de­grees also need to be in­te­grated with a ro­bust ap­pren­tice­ship com­po­nent to truly re­alise their ob­jec­tive of mak­ing young peo­ple in­dus­try-ready, and to en­able them to achieve lat­eral and ver­ti­cal mo­bil­ity to en­sure their em­ploy­a­bil­ity and flex­i­bil­ity to pur­sue for­mal ed­u­ca­tion.

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