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Why India needs to add a new skilling chapter to apprenticeships

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Economic Times in ET Commentary |  ET | March 15, 2016 | Blogs | By Manish Sabharwal & Sumit Kumar |

NEW DELHI: India today has about 20 million students in physical higher education classrooms, 3 million in distance education classrooms and 3 lakh in apprenticeship classroom. The need to count apprenticeships as classrooms rather than jobs became obvious to us at a job fair in Gwalior. Tired at the end of the day one of us began telling job seekers that if they didn’t have work experience we couldn’t hire them. Most went away, but one smart student refused to leave and said, “Do you guys in suits leave your brains behind? I already have a degree but you tell me that I can’t get a job without work experience. How am I supposed to get work experience without a job?” The only way to solve a chicken and egg problem is to become vegetarian i.e. do something completely different. We’d like to make the case that taking apprenticeships to a higher level by offering online training would not only accelerate skill development but also help tackle the wicked problem of unemployability.

The learning-by-doing and learning while-earning programme of apprenticeship is gaining prominence as a global policy tool. The UK achieved its target of 2 million apprentices and has set a goal of 3 million apprentices by the end of next Parliament session. Research suggests that British businesses gain about £26 for every £1of government investment, encouraging thousands of companies to hire young learners. During the academic years 2014 and 2015, over 872,000 people were working as apprentice. The US celebrated the first National Apprenticeship Week earlier in November to make millions of Americans employable which is required to give a fillip to the economy. It is estimated that apprenticeship programmes in the US gain as much as $3 to every $1invested from improved safety, elimination of re-work and increased productivity. Similarly, those completing an apprenticeship earn substantially more during their career than an average college graduate. India’s apprenticeship regime is anaemic — we only have 4 lakh apprentices and only 28,500 of our 6.3 crore enterprises engage formal apprentices. But if we had the same proportion of our labour force in apprenticeships as Germany (3.7%) then the 4 lakh would be more than 1crore. Employers have stayed away because the Apprenticeship Act of 1961was written for the industrial era and amendments in 1973, 1986 and 1997 made are progressively painful and prescriptive.

SKILLSObviously, the stick of a mandatory legislative requirement that every employer should have apprentices did not work. We should have either had 15 million apprentices or 15,000 CEOs in jail but we had neither. However, amendments to the Act made in 2014 create an enabling environment. They make employer volunteers rather than hostages, they allow customised programmes, and considerably reduce the licence raj. We anticipate that these changes could increase India’s apprenticeship by at least 500% over the next few years. We believe that further momentum for apprenticeships can be created by innovating and creating new connectivity to higher and online education. Michael Spence got his Nobel Prize for his work on signalling value of higher education i.e. IITs and IIMs are good places to be at but better places to be froms.

We need to harness the obsession with degrees via policy changes that will allow universities to give academic credit for apprenticeships — a form of recognition of prior learning — and increase pull for apprentices by allowing their lateral entry into degree programmes. This change should be accompanied by ending the current regulatory restrictions on universities that prevent offering national online education. These restrictions are particularly toxic because they handicap Indian universities relative to international online providers such as Coursera, Udacity, etc, which are free to enroll Indian students. Online classrooms are low cost, personalised, flexible, and much more scalable than physical classrooms. Employers need policy to recognise apprenticeship as practical education, shop floors as classrooms, and assigned tasks as curriculum and many of them such as Pizza Hut, RBS, Whirlpool, Rolls Royce, etc, are working with universities to design apprenticeship programmes specific to their needs. Our skill university in Gujarat recently crossed 10,000 apprentices in our flagship NETAP (National Employability through Apprenticeship Programme). We could have rapidly reached the one-lakh-mark without any government funding if we were allowed to operate online nationally and seamlessly offer academic credit with apprenticeships.

India’s higher education system needs to reverse the current over-regulation and under-supervision. It needs to focus less on inputs and more on outcomes (the current intifada by UGC against off campus centres and deemed universities is comical if not tragic). It needs to recognise that consumer protection in aworld of near perfect information and social media allows more room for innovation. An innovation comes from a number of genetically diverse and statistically independent systems with different operating models.  China’s farm to non-farm transition helped manufacturing. In the case of India, it was transition from sales that gave way to customer service and logistics. A new ministry for skills was an innovation that finally gave us one neck to catch and ended the dysfunctional “anybody can say no and nobody can say yes”. This needs to be complemented by a few policy changes by the HRD ministry that would make regulation agnostic to mode of delivery and end territorial restrictions for all universities. India’s youth deserve 15 million apprenticeship opportunities and Corporate India is willing. All that is needed is the regulatory space. –  (The writers are with TeamLease Services and TeamLease Skill University, respectively) –  Courtesy


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