Is NSDC model superior to an apprentice-led one?
Given the very low level of skills of India’s workforce, and the high degree of unemployability as a result of this, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) model seemed like a breath of fresh air. Since it was privately-run—the government stake in it is 49%—it could take quick decisions and it was structured well. One problem with the ITI-led model, for instance, was the Industrial Training Institutes were teaching curriculum which was outdated. With 40 sector skill councils, on the other hand, NSDC had leaders in the industry deciding just what skills were to be imparted in each sector; and, in a sense, each council could play the role of a mentor to see whether the 249 training partners—with 3,451 training centres—were doing their jobs well. Not surprising then that, within a period of seven years, NSDC was able to boast of having skilled/trained 5.6 million persons against its target of 6.6—NSDC has another six months to reach this.
But with both its CEO as well as COO putting in their papers, it is not quite clear what went wrong. The former skills development secretary had wanted to have the CAG audit NSDC since public money was being spent; there has been talk, similarly, of how the training was not good enough or of how some of the larger training partners were also re-skilling their own employees with the government paying for this. Certainly, it is odd that with 5.6 million people getting trained, just 2.4 million could be placed given the shortage of skilled workers being talked of all the time.
It is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If the quality of the training is an issue, mandating that payments be made after a person has stayed on in a job for a year is one way of taking care of the problem—no employer will keep a person for so long if the training is not up to the mark—but that plays havoc with the whole financing structure of training centres, so this will have to be reworked from scratch. And while it is very difficult to prevent unscrupulous training partners from re-skilling their own employees or tying up with a college which is ready to ‘lend’ them its students for such skilling—particularly since the government has also been willing to make one-time payments to those getting a skills certificate—certainly more rigorous audits have to be put in place. Also, since skilling is fully funded by the government in countries like Singapore, thought needs to be paid as to whether the NSDC-model of low-cost loans is ever going to work; more so since industry is not committing to either hiring those trained or to pay them higher wages. Also, while Parliament has approved amendments to the Apprentice Act, thought has to be paid as to whether this is a superior system since industry benefits from training these employees.