Now that I’ve settled down in Mumbai, I’ve started to get into the nitty-gritty of my project. So, first a bit of background, I work at the offices of Tata Consultancy Services (“TCS”) in South Mumbai, but I don’t actually work for TCS. Instead, I work with Mr. S. Ramadorai, former CEO of TCS who was appointed as the Advisor to the Prime Minister on the National Skills Development Initiative. My office, and by extension my project, is run like any other corporate office, everything is formalized in writing, there are concrete deadlines for projects and there are meetings upon meetings to discuss the project; I’m comfortable in this kind of environment and kind of thrive in the rigidity of it all. Mr. Ramadorai and his team, both in Mumbai and New Delhi, have taken up the responsibility for providing innovative, scalable and efficient solutions to India’s skills deficit problem.
So to answer the question, the National Skills Development Initiative, in broad terms, is an Initiative undertaken by the Prime Minister that aims to skill 500 million Indians before 2022 in an effort to be more globally competitive and to formalize employment for the majority of the population. The Government has recognized that India must take advantage of its “demographic dividend” to ensure future growth and to remain globally competitive. The Initiative is an overwhelmingly large task which touches nearly every aspect of India. Various initiatives are implemented by a multitude of Government Ministries, some are implemented by the private sector and some are implemented through a public-private partnership. To that end, my office, inter alia, seeks to make fundamental changes to the vocational education system in India as well as to use modern technology, in the form of broadband, to provide skills trainings to remote locations in India.
My first project entails me working with India’s vocational education system. Unlike the United States, vocational education in India is not yet mainstream, it’s still shedding the societal bias in favor of a traditional 4-year undergraduate model, and it is fragmented into a purely public model, a purely private model and a hybrid of a public-private partnership. I’ll specifically be working with Industrial Training Institutes (“ITIs”) which are purely government run vocational schools. As with many things run by the Government, there are no standard guidelines for how to run the ITIs (other than an accreditation process which occurs either when an ITI is set up or when new courses are added), this has led to grave inconsistencies in ITIs which directly affect its graduates. In order to close the gap between how the ITIs currently run and how they should run, we are developing a set of Standard Operating Procedures (“SOPs”). By the end of the month, we hope to have a pilot group of 6 principals from vocational schools in Maharashtra (2 from ITIs, 2 from the private model and 2 from the private-public partnership model) come to Mumbai to give us their individual input on our draft of the SOPs. Once we get this input, we’ll create a final document which will be a guide to existing ITIs on how to meet the standards that we have set. An integral part of the project for me will be to monitor the implementation of the SOPs, to document the level at which the ITIs are currently running and how they got to the benchmark we set, and to note difficulties they incurred in the process. The hope is that once these 6 principals successfully (hopefully!) implement the SOPs, we can roll out the SOPs to the rest of the ITIs in India to ensure that all graduates come out on a level playing field, regardless of whether they went to an ITI in Mumbai or an ITI in the remotest part of India.
My second project allows me to work with the Office of Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations (“PIII”), another Advisory Office to the Prime Minister. The PIII is currently working on a program called “Rural Broadband” (“RBB”) which will provide a broadband connection, along with ancillary services, to every panchayat. RBB aims to provide a range of essential public services, including education, remote medical services and local e-governance, through an on-line medium so that citizens aren’t denied benefits because of government bureaucracy or their remote location. What my office is trying to do is to determine if we can use RBB as a platform for pushing out skills trainings to the remotest parts of India which are often overlooked. But the task is not as simple as it may sound, first a survey of each locality must be done to determine the local industries, if any, that are there and what kind of skills they have a demand for, or to determine what local talent already exists in the region and how we can provide additional skills to encourage the local talent. Only after determining the demand, can we digitize skills trainings and provide it for consumer use. So far this RBB is running a pilot program in a village close to Ajmer, Rajasthan. Integrating skills training with RBB, therefore, will be essential in meeting the goal of skilling 500 million by 2022.
What I have found, through site visits to Mumbai-based ITIs, is that there is a huge gap between what industry demands, in terms of skilled workers, and what the ITIs are supplying. There is a disconnect between: 1) what skills training is required by local industry and what is actually taught at the ITIs, 2) the number of competently skilled graduates the industry can absorb and the number that are being churned out by the ITIs, and 3) the principal/faculty interaction with local industry leaders. Through increasing participation of industry, we hope to close the gap, and therefore, provide ITI graduates with lateral as well as horizontal mobility in terms of their future careers.
These projects, and indeed the whole Initiative, may seem as though it is a lofty goal which has not real chance of coming to fruition, however, such broad-ranging and all inclusive change is precisely what is necessary to have any real impact on the future of India and the equalization of its citizens. I’m excited to be a part of something is that is a potential game-changer for India!