Skills lead to productivity, and productivity, ideally should lead to people commanding a wages premium. However, the skills ecosystem in many states is broken. How does India become a land known for high quality vocational skills?
Industry body FICCI's 12th Global Skills Summit in Delhi on Friday witnessed two excellent presentations - both by former Information Technology (IT) industry veterans. While Subroto Bagchi, the former Chairman of Mindtree and the current Chairman of the Odisha Skill Development Authority spoke on how his state moved the needle on skills development, Mohandas Pai, a former Board member of Infosys and the current Chairman of Manipal Global Education, outlined a vision of what the country must do to become a skills leader in the world.
One interesting part in Bagchi's presentation was how he fixed the Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) in Odisha. Prior to 2016, ITIs in the state had rundown infrastructure, full of cobwebs and dirt. They were uninspiring. Bagchi came up with a 10-6-4-2 formula. ITIs were asked to identify role models - 10 students each ITI is proud of, six students of the 10 who migrated outside the state to work and made a name, four girl students of the 10 who did well in their career, and finally two students of the 10 who turned small entrepreneurs. At the bottom of the pyramid, students didn't have any role models but today, the state has hundreds of them. Bagchi also changed the staid uniform students wore at ITIs into more stylish outfits.
More importantly, 100 ITI principals went to the Institute of Technical Education in Singapore for a few weeks training. Most of them travelled overseas for the first time. They came back to write and set a new vision for their institutes. Most of them understood the importance of a creative and a well run infrastructure. A vibrant institute turns aspirational, a place students are proud of. Bagchi also introduced philanthropic funding in vocational training, possibly a first for any Indian state.
Mohandas Pai stressed on the importance of a diversified skilling policy. For instance, the top 300 million of India's population who live in the bigger cities and towns require a different set of skilling versus the next 300 million. India cannot and must not have a homogeneous skilling programme forced down centrally. The country, he said, also required 50-60 centres of excellence and trainers from overseas. Vocational skills, he added, must be linked to education but not before standard X. Else, it could push the poor out of the education system - poor families tend to press their children to work instead of continuing studies.