There is a cable tower in Ropar, Punjab which has been in a state of disrepair for nearly a year. The engineer who is a degree holder, finds it below him to climb up and check what is amiss and even the junior diploma holder feels uneasy treading what he finds a “lowly” terrain. That leaves the innumerable semi-skilled technicians who go by the category of “mechanics”, to fix the issue. The only problem is how do you zero in on the right guy, for inspite of dozens scaling up the 120-feet tower, the right solution to fix the problem has been far from coming.
With thousands of training institutes and polytechnics mushrooming across the country imparting their own curriculum and deploying their own set of methodologies, there has been a complete absence of standardized benchmarks. While the IITs and even the TTIs (technical training institutes) have recognized curricula, the same cannot be said about certificate courses (one month to six months) run by private organizations and NGOs where something like air-conditioning servicing is taught in twenty different ways. These institutes work in isolation, are region specific and operate as islands without any experience or knowledge sharing.
Enter, the department of science and technology, which in partnership with UNDP, has researched for a year through six partners under the Skills Project and is now ready to launch Skillsindia.com by the end of April. The technical aspect of the portal in terms of structuring the site, managing it and coordinating with the other content partners has been outsourced to one of DST’s successful technology business incubators, the JSS Academy of Technical Education in Noida. The other partners are Trichy Regional Engineering College – STEP, Agnel Vocation Training Institute, Goa, Vivekananda Institute of Biotechnology, West Bengal, Centre for Research and Industrial Staff Performance, Madhya Pradesh and Electronics Service and Training Centre, Uttaranchal.
JSS Academy of Technical Education Chief Executive Raghunandan Rajamani explains that the portal which has been designed and tested, is targeted not so much at the people who enroll in skill-training programmes, for that would be an unwieldy exercise. The more effective way of doing it, according to him is to reach out to the training institutions directly and get them to use the portal and access the information they want in addition to using the network that the DST and the Ministry of HRD have.
“Not only will the portal have a repository of information, scientifically administering training on 45 trades to start with and by the year-end scale it up to 200 across sectors, from agriculture to ICT, it will also give handy course material to trainers who can customize it any way they want, be it in the form of a CD, printouts or a bound book translated in the regional language,” he adds.
He is aware that this kind of an initiative on the flip side has the risk of spoon-feeding institutes and spoiling them by handing out readymade material, but at least the issue of standardization is resolved. And going by the structure of the site, clearly it provides a list of to-dos and must-haves on a particular technician’s training criteria, so institutes would know where they are bang on target and what precisely is missing from their charters.
Mr HK Mittal, Advisor and Head, National Entrepreneurship Board, under the Department of Science and Technology says, “The real winner on the site is the employment exchange for low-tech jobs, right there at the press of a button. This will connect prospective employers and entrepreneurs to the people who may be in their city/region along with contact details.” With CVs of hundreds of students likely to be posted and linkages creating automated responses, the potential for a low-skill worker finding temporary and/or permanent jobs is immense. He is sent via e-mail a list of people and the persons concerned are also similarly informed. The database relies on institutes who become users and post their students’ details on the site to start with. It will provide a cursory match and help reach out to potential employers who have net connectivity. It will have a trainee database and will do a city and trade match. Entrepreneurs in the technology incubators will be encouraged to hire from here.
Says Mr Raghunandan, “there appears to be no such service available anywhere in the world. There are sites overseas but these are mainly for educated, upper end householders and consumers who generally fix their technical problems themselves. With professional fees of plumbers, carpenters and technicians being expensive and a host of self-help manuals available, the websites if at all, only help strengthen their existing levels of competency.
“We have kept the site simple, uncluttered and easy to navigate. Information has to be easily downloadable and since bandwidth in three-tier cities could be an issue, we did not want to structure an unmanageable framework. When one portrays technical information at lower bandwidth, Internet penetration can be poor, therefore a challenge. Having high- end content may be an attractive option but not when your target user may not be tech-savvy and there could be language discomfort and low attention span.”
The portal does not attempt to teach or train a user but bridges a learning gap and is meant for a person who has a basic knowledge of skills. Typically for a product like a cellphone, skillindia.com will take the user through links that show the product, specification/types, common brands (not the fancy Blackberrys, but the basic handsets that people of that target group are likely to use and run into trouble with), safety precautions, trouble shooting, common tools and learning basket.
The learning basket is where a competency-based curriculum is listed out. It will have a performance criteria which will help the institute/trainer/trainee evaluate, measure and judge what he/she has learnt from the training programme and how equipped is he to launch himself as a technically sound person who can undertake mobile phone repair jobs. Some of the trades that the site will have include home appliances, from mixer grinders to washing machines in the service segment; welding, auto repair and maintenance in mechanical engineering, cell phones, CD/DVD players, colour TVs in electronics and vermin composting in agriculture.
The revenue model has so far not been worked out, though private sector participation seems a natural option, by virtue of it being a mutually beneficial needs-based arrangement. Clearly, it is volumes in terms of site-hits and page-views that they are looking at the moment, with problems like the tower mentioned above being fixed by the right handyman whether it is Ropar or Timbuctoo.