New Delhi: Business leaders tasked with modernizing the country’s state-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) through public-private partnerships (PPP) are discovering that old government habits die hard—and change is harder to induce.
Ask Satish Chandra Agarwal. More than two years ago, the chairman of the Rs88 crore PTC Industries Ltd, a fabrication and forging company with factories in Haryana and Gujarat, accepted the offer to overhaul the ITI in Lucknow and equip students, mostly 10th class dropouts, with skills the industry needs.
It’s one of the 1,396 ITIs the government plans to revamp through the PPP route to meet the needs of industry for skilled labour.
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Agarwal joined as chairman of what is known as the Institute Management Committee (IMC), a tripartite panel of state officials, industry partners and principal of the local institute, in March 2007.
But more than two years on, Agarwal is a frustrated man. He says it took more than a year for the panel to decide whether the institute should focus on one specialized field —refrigeration—or whether to upgrade existing training courses.
The curriculum, more theory-oriented than practical, was not easy to change without state and Central approvals that took a long time coming.
“The last nail in the coffin,” Agarwal said, was when trade union members of the college stomped into a room to demand an explanation on how he called a meeting without informing them. He resigned last month as chairman.
ITIs, established under the ministry of labour, train students as electricians, plumbers, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and in other trades in a country where lack of sufficient skilled labour and a burgeoning, young working-age population has been a source of mounting concern for the government.
According to the 2007-2008 Economic Survey, about 64.8% of the country’s population would be in the working age of 15-64 by 2026. A separate study conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and consultancy Boston Consulting Group says that India will have a net additional workforce of 89 million between 2007 and 2012, of which 57 million are likely to be school dropouts.
The government is providing a Rs2.5 crore, interest-free, long-term loan to each ITI and about 600 of them have signed in-principle agreements with industrial partners since April 2007. A total of Rs1,500 crore has been disbursed to the 600 institutes, but so far, less than Rs44 crore of the money has been spent.
The new management of the institutes, although empowered to take financial decisions to buy equipment or carry out renovation work independently, find they often can’t proceed without clearances from the state government.
While the current skill development programme can support the training of 3.1 million people, the government has set an ambitious target of training as many as 500 million by 2022.
The ministry of labour has launched multiple initiatives to set up 1,500 new institutes and upgrade existing ITIs with financial assistance from the government, the World Bank and private help.
But the PPP model is floundering due to heavy-handed state regulations and lack of clear guidelines. Industry partners say progress has been slow for varied reasons: inability to take new hires to oversee the revamp and frequent transfers of government-appointed staff, who are often fearful of taking independent decisions. Principals of these institutes are often strapped for time because they are burdened by administrative duties.
At least two ITIs located in Anantpur, in a drought-prone region of Andhra Pradesh, have not even had a regular principal for over a year.
“The government has to take a decision whether they are serious about training or not. There must be commissioners who can monitor (progress) strictly,” said V. Suryanarayanan, head of MG Metallic Springs Pvt. Ltd, which makes automobile springs, and is the chairman of an IMC.
State governments’ insistence on carrying out all facelift jobs at ITIs through department utilities is also posing delays. States such as Tamil Nadu have let it be known that all contract work has to be executed only by government agencies.
“The whole process from getting quotation to execution takes a long time because you have to follow many rules,” said Rajeev Lokhre, general manager of TVS Motor Co. Ltd and chairman of the managing committee at an ITI located in Mansur in Karnataka that’s an emerging industrial hub.
Changes in the curriculum often need the approval of both the state and Union government, and have to pass through the 47-member National Council of Vocational Training, which meets once a year.
Members of the council include officials from labour and human resources development ministries as well as industry associations such as Nasscom and the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Ficci). It is headed by the labour minister.
At least three Central labour ministry officials, who didn’t want to be named, said industry leaders can approach the ministry if changes in the curriculum are required. “Changes can be made to meet exclusive local labour market requirements if the industry approached us,” said one of them.
Many of the industry partners at the institutes’ managing committees have been recommended by industry associations such as CII and Ficci.
But industry partners say that bureaucracy is only a part of the problem. They say local industry partners in institute managing committees often fail to turn up at meetings where their signatures are crucial for releasing funds.
And there are others who give up midway due to business commitments. For example, Vivek Gogate, managing director of Gogate Electrosystems Pvt. Ltd, relinquished his post as chairman of a women’s ITI in Nashik in Maharashtra more than a month ago. He cited “business priority” as the reason to Mint.
Two separate ITIs in Barnala, a town in Haryana, have been allocated a total of Rs5 crore that has been lying unused for more than a year.
The appointed chairman is Rajendra Kumar Gupta, chairman of the Trident Group, which has interests from yarn to paper.
A staffer from one of the colleges, who requested anonymity, said: “He is not being able to give time and he does not seem interested. He said he needs a permanent principal in place before work can begin.” Gupta did not reply to email queries or respond to phone calls.
This brings into question whether the government’s current approach to building a competent labour force can deliver the ambitious skill training goals.
“There has to be an alignment in development of courses that meet industry needs and build a curriculum that can be implemented on an even basis across the country. The focus should not be just about skilling, it should be about employment,” said N.S. Rajan, partner, human capital, at consultancy firm Ernst and Young.
Institute staffers who prepare development plans often get transferred before they can execute the proposal. Jeet Singh Yadav, who was heading the ITI in Kotputli in Rajasthan, said he received a transfer notice the day he was presenting the proposal to officials in June.
He said he hesitated taking the offer to another neighbouring town as he was keen to follow up the facelift plan he had proposed. “My seniors told me that (a) similar scheme will follow wherever you go. You can execute it there,” he said.
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint