Satyam Darmora

India’s Skills Training Maze : Why the country needs strong certification standards

This post is the second of a multi-part series about the skill development sector in India and how to solve the challenges of increasing both formal and informal sector employment. Read the first post in the series: “Skill development for the future”

India’s labour force is one of the largest – 900 million people by 2020 – and youngest in the world. Experts agree it will be difficult to achieve the necessary, rapid pace of equipping such a massive population of young people with relevant and employable skills. Without significant changes, the country will only be able to train up to 50 million people by 2020.

In my last post, I outlined the need for India to pivot to support the training needs of 500 million skilled workers by 2022, and suggested a three-pronged approach to ensure such efforts lead to a positive shift in the sector. I now turn to the first of the three efforts, based on the foundation’s experience in the field since 2007.

As the saying goes: ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’. At the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, these are words we live by. We believe that measurement standards are the bedrock to quality training—which, in India, can lead to meaningful careers for young people.

Access to skills training is important, but the quality of the training is proving even more critical to the success of students. Several private companies and NGOs have entered the vocational training sector as of late, improving access and heightening demand for skills training. However, the quality of all training providers requires improvement that is immediate and sustainable. Without strong quality benchmarks, both employers and students will quickly lose trust in the skills development ecosystem, jeopardizing a widespread vision of a skilled India.

To address this national dilemma, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), a public private partnership, has begun the challenging task of creating high-quality, vocational education institutes. As part of their mission, NSDC has established 31 Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) over the last five years to support the standardisation of training and certification requirements across industries. As an independent entity, each SSC acts as an intermediary between industry and other stakeholders such as students and training institutions. While SSCs are a sign of progress, high quality skills training is still not a guarantee for students in India, and the system is flawed.

For instance, in a market flooded with public and private training institutions, SSCs were to be the gatekeepers of both quality and standards. Their trademark was to be the seal of approval, easily recognisable to both employers and students. Instead, their very autonomy has limited their ability to leverage synergies and common implementation structures, thus preventing progress for all.

Quality standards are one of the most critical challenges facing the skill development sector in India and it is clear that SSCs need reform in order to overcome the associated obstacles. With our own experience on the ground, the foundation suggests the following:

1. Create a shared certification brand for all SSCs

At present, every SSC has its own certification process and name, yielding 31 different skill sector brands in the market. Understandably, this creates great confusion – employers are unsure how to gauge students’ qualifications after training, and students are left in a quandary as to the skills they should learn to secure jobs in specific industries.

We suggest an umbrella brand for all SSCs – “National Skills Standards India (NSSI)” – with a seal of approval that identifies the sector in which the student was trained and reflects a national standard of excellence for skilled trades in India. This universal mark would be easily recognisable to all in the skill development world, and represent quality and harmonised training and certification across SSCs. This common branding would only be possible with the support and active participation of the Ministry, the NSDC and the National Skills Development Agency (NSDA).

2. Build synergies for greater efficiency and better quality

Individual SSCs must have their own mandate for developing quality standards. However, they could cooperate to create common assessment delivery mechanisms and behind-the-scenes legal, technological and financial systems. This restructuring would not only improve efficiency, but would enable the SSCs to focus on what they care about the most – setting industry-specific quality benchmarks. Agencies would then have easy access to more information while evaluating trainers and trainees. Functional synergies would ensure that quality is kept high and costs low. We also suggest a research and development fund for SSCs to continuously improve the quality of training through evolving student-friendly curriculum, training aides and training methods.

3. Streamline SSC governance structures

While SSCs should have their own independent governing bodies to promote ownership and participation by industry, a leaner organization is a more nimble one. We suggest eight people in an SSC governing body; five shareholders, one CEO and two independent nominees from academia and/or the vocational training sector. This apex body could have a revolving structure with one year board service and others on a newly-created advisory council, and vice versa.

This is one of the first steps to ensuring a relevant and positive shift in the sector.

This article was originally published by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation Blog and has been republished with permission.

Satyam Darmora manages the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s Family Economic Stability portfolio.

employment, skill development