Scaffold to fill the Skills Gap

4 Oct

Skills for Social Mobility


Employers crying out for competent staff to employ in their offices, houses and factories. The unemployed educated wondering where to find a path to their future. A chasm between the two – called the Skills Gap.


The Skills Gap is not just an Indian phenomenon. Many countries have had white papers discussing the gap and have invested in tools to fill the gap. Some of those tools engage the young unemployed, and seek to send them to a retraining program. Some of these go down to the level of schools and seek to build deeper skills – an example being the coding program for children in the UK, or the funds being allocated to the teaching of STEM subjects in countries such as the USA. Some countries have well developed skills development programs, while others are either seeking to copy perfection, or create their own paradigm in their own countries. Successful models include Germany and New Zealand, other countries have robust models too.


Skills development in India has either been in the realm of leadership training, delivered within corporate houses or sponsored by them, or, has been in the realm of vocational training conducted formally by the ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes) or informally. Factories do train their workers, but this can rarely be called a formal training program. There are a few honourable exceptions here, but large parts of the workforce learn on the job rather than in an apprenticeship and training program. Let us all agree that this has proven inadequate.


Inadequate in every sense. The ITIs are poorly equipped, often outdated in their curriculum and approach, lack governance and there are not enough of them to serve the needs of the nation. There seems to be nothing available to take their place. Private sector efforts here are fragmented and even the total capacity has not reached close to the need, or demand. Much has been discussed, studied and planned here. The first hurdle of course was the need for industry to inform the vocational colleges of what they expect from potential employees – the disconnect has cost us dear. Sector Skills councils have been formed and tasked with creating curricula that clearly tell the networks of colleges what is expected of their graduates.


Professional skill building has fared much better in India. Not only has a diverse range been achieved, but also a large number of institutes offer choice to the candidate. While much remains to be achieved, the fact that some institutions who were unable to provide good quality teaching were forced to shut down reflects on the maturity of the market for professional education.


The sad truth is that we have failed to build a robust training network that will allow our youth to be competent and proud of their trade. The divide between those who serve us via their trade, those who assist us via their profession and those who own via capital or enterprise is clear. While enterprise is open to all, it is very difficult for a tradesman to become a professional – and this divide is artificially created by our education structures.


The gaps we have in our skill building systems are many. But the one that must be plugged first is our ability to certify for skills already acquired via any pathway. Accreditation of prior learning and experience must give points towards professional status for the trades, and must work as a quality trademark. The structure of such accreditation must be such that it can even allow a pathway into higher education, or credits towards professional and vocational diplomas. The formal acknowledgement of learning via experience (certified after testing, of course) will go a long way towards bringing the unorganised, underqualified tradespeople into the ambit of professionals. With this, gaps will clearly be identified, growth paths sighted and goals set.


Identifying key skills and formally certifying them can help mobility across professions too. This will certainly ease pressure on young students who now will have choice – in the current system if they wish to move, they must start at the very bottom and lose a year. If part of their previous learning is relevant to their new choice, it would help to give them credits for that work. The system that certifies prior learning must be a scaffold to help people rise up pathways that were not built into the structure.


Free vertical and horizontal movements along this scaffolding system will show the way to create social mobility using skills building structures. Popular pathways can be identified, the needs of the employers and the ambitions of the employees can be highlighted. This is a plug in to a current system, not a full solution. But without this, the barriers betwen the old and the new cannot be broken.



This was published in the Times of India blogs on October 2, 2012 and is linked here



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