Hindustan Times (Lucknow)

Preparing young Indians for an unstable labour market

- 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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