My grand dad was a plumber, with no educational qualifications. He was just the person everybody turned to when the tap leaked, the gutter rotted and the drains backed up. And my dad, wasn't just a plumber; he was a master plumber, time served, the best sweated joints in Liverpool. My big brother, he is not just a plumber, time served, but he has studied and become a heating and ventilation engineer (and a multi millionaire as all plumbers are these days in UK). His education in the vocation not only helped him be successful but also master the skill and do well for himself.
The skills agenda in India is one of mammoth proportions requiring much convergence and alignment. India with its unique demographic opportunities and economic possibilities finds itself uniquely placed as compared to the other growing nations. My engagement with the Indian policy making in the so many years has demonstrated certain facts clearly: the Indian Government's seriousness to reap the demographic dividend is evident from its ambitious 500 million skilled work forces by 2022 target. An array of policy initiatives like the National Rural Livelihood Mission demonstrates the desire to address both quality and quantity. The Indian Industry, on its part, has shown great leadership and taken responsibility of training youth on global benchmarks either through own initiatives or organisations.
Sadly, we have been noticing that large numbers in India have no access to training or education while a considerably large number have access but no quality in vocational skills. This makes it all the more important to have a system that ensures equitable balance between skills and education.
As an economy treading towards services not only for domestic, but also global markets, redefining some key elements of education is an absolute necessity. An opportunity to enter the work force needs to be made available to students via the vocational education route. Models that address the education needs for school drop outs, differently abled, special categories need to be merged with vocational training elements to allow them find respectable work opportunities and an individual growth path. For the students pursuing higher education compulsory skill programs shall ensure employability. Vocational education should not be considered as the last option or for school drop outs, under performers but as mainstream career opportunity. Fact is that India is a growing service economy and not everyone can be and should be a doctor or engineer. Hence the need for such training.
The biggest challenge that a student faces in the selection of the career, is often an inability to select a vocation of choice due to lack of proper entry level aptitude assessments. Vocational skills 'taster programs' at the time of entry into an institute could ensure they do not fall into the trap of a wrong choice which they have to then pursue lifelong.
Dual degree programs which are emerging from the marriage of vocational qualification and higher education, with a modular training approach are a great solution for the Indian market.
The pedagogy of training making it more practical and less theory dashed with industry project work will go a long way in making the candidates’ job ready. Amongst this all, another critical need which needs immediate solution is a lack of trained teachers and trainers. This needs to be looked into on an urgent basis.