Lost in implementation: India’s skill training project suffers from gaps, malpractices

Andhra Pradesh is only one of many states recording complaints.

WrittenBy:Anuradha Nagaraj
Date:
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At the heart of Telugu Desam Party president Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest earlier this month is a two-year-old complaint on the functioning of a skill training initiative by the Andhra Pradesh government.

While the arrest has triggered protests by supporters and conversations on how this will play out in the state election, it’s also put a spotlight on persistent problems that have plagued the country’s numerous skill training programmes.

While nearly 53 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people are under the age of 30, steady employment is a challenge for millions of young people. When the national skill development mission was conceived, it promised to align employer and industry demand and workforce productivity with trainees’ aspirations for sustainable jobs.

Central and state-run skill training initiatives have been branded as flagship programmes that will help the country become the “skill capital of the world”, with a young workforce that is trained and industry ready. 

Skill training programmes offer a range of short-term courses across retail, hospitality, agriculture, wellness, construction, I-T and other sectors. They include courses for electricians, warehouse packagers, tailors, hairdressers, beauticians, farm machine repairing, solar technicians, videographers, among others.

But on the ground across regions, complaints have been piling up on the functioning of these initiatives – from no training centres to poor training, no certification, no placement or forced placement, lack of trainers, and no assurance of a decent wage for those trained.

“At present, 70 percent of the programme is plagued by malpractice and only 30 percent is running well and following laid-down guidelines,” said a senior consultant in the skill domain, on condition of anonymity. “How skill programmes are being run is an open secret. A mapping of the programme implementation, needs and failures is urgently needed.”

On September 17, Dharmendra Pradhan, the union minister for education and skill development, launched “Skills on Wheels”, where a customised bus with retrofitted tools will travel across “aspirational and backward districts...to empower 60,000 youth over a period of five years”.

According to the 2022-23 annual report of the ministry, actual expenditure until December 31, 2022 was Rs 604 crore. 

But those in the sector are first calling for a review of existing programmes,  to look at the quality, relevance of training, efficiency and access to the training.

“What has happened in Andhra may not be a one-off case and unearthing these problems is a step in the right direction,” said Chetan Kapoor, CEO of Tech Mahindra Foundation, whose urban skill development programme is one of the largest CSR-led skilling programmes in the country. “It clearly sends out the message that skill development cannot be seen as a numbers game or a profit-making venture. Course correction and newer innovations in implementation are the need of the hour.”

The ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship did not respond to requests for information by email or telephone.

Why Naidu was arrested

In December 2021, a police station in Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh registered an FIR based on a report by K Ajay Reddy, an official of the state’s skill development corporation.

Reddy, who also conducted an enquiry on the issue, had pointed to “swindling of funds by two companies” directly and via other shell firms creating invoices without providing services.

According to the FIR, the estimated misappropriation of public funds adds up to more than Rs 370 crore.

The remand report filed against Naidu in court accuses him of criminal conspiracy, cheating, abetment and abusing his position as a public servant. He’s presently lodged in Rajahmundry jail.

V Kranti, the sustainability coordinator for a skilling programme run by the Society for Rural Development, told this reporter: “There is going to be a 100 percent impact of this scam in the skilling sector, particularly on young people who are already facing numerous challenges.”

He added, “There are numerous gaps, but the focus is just on meeting targets. As a result, skilling is not being provided properly or monitored in most cases. It has become a timepass for the hundreds of companies that have become part of this ecosystem.”

Kranti also said that “proper need analysis has to be done during the selection process” of the trainee while enrolling them in the course.

“Youth aspirations are high and that is often a big gap in the skill training as it doesn't meet their requirements,” he said. “Skilling and employability should be matched to ensure bright careers for the youth.”

No jobs

Government data shows that between 2015 and March 2023, of the 10 million (1,37,24,226) people trained under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, less than 20 percent were “reported as placed”.

Similarly, six years ago, the Suryamitra Skill Development Programme was launched to develop a workforce to install, maintain and operate renewable power projects. Less than a third of the participants have found jobs in the solar industry.

The recent parliamentary standing committee report on labour, textiles and skill development pointed to these gaps and recommended that “satisfaction level of employers on the training imparted to candidates” be gauged under the PMKVY. It also said lessons must be learned from the deficiencies.

In its last annual report, the central ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship identified 14 challenges, underlining issues being raised by trainees, skill centre operators and prospective employers. 

According to the senior consultant, the fact that skills provided do not meet hiring standards often results in trained candidates being forced to work at low salaries or in places far from their homes.

Sanjay Chittora, programme manager of the Skill Training, Employability and Placement Academy run by non-profit Aajeevika Bureau, has seen the boom in the number of companies providing skill training or certification at close quarters.

“Skill training has become a numbers game,” Chittora said. “There are hundreds of companies that have set up offices, invested in spaces, and signed up for government-run schemes. But most of them are far removed from the ground realities of the youth they want to train.”

Chittora’s organisation worked with the Rajasthan skill development corporation for over three years but chose to work independently after disagreements over implementation.

“Often these companies are based in cities, far from their target audience. With payments being linked to how many people have been trained and placed, often a person is trained in X skill and gets a job requiring Y skill,” he said. “The programme will not work if the business model approach is there. It needs dedicated people on the ground, with a good connect to people who need skilling or reskilling.”

Update on September 22: An earlier version of this story said no centres or institutes had been set up in the six clusters of Andhra. This has been removed.

Anuradha Nagaraj is an award-winning, independent journalist writing on migration, climate change and just transition.

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