New Delhi: From 9am to 6pm during the work week, Amandeep Singh works as a foreign exchange agent with a small company. But for two hours every Saturday and Sunday, the tall, lanky man becomes a student of course AUR203, Repair and Overhauling of Engine Systems, at Aapka Karkhana, a motor workshop tucked away in an urban village in west Delhi.
“I’ve wanted to do a course like this for a long time,” says Singh. His brother Jagtar Singh, who is also part of the same course, nods encouragingly.
Their pursuits have been made possible by the Skill Development Initiative Scheme (SDIS), a vocational training programme created by the ministry of labour and employment.
SDIS, which started in mid-2007, is the first vocational training programme created for the unorganized sector, which employs 92% of India’s workforce. It was targeted in particular at school dropouts and low-skilled workers—the majority of those in this sector. It was also one of the first vocational training programmes to involve the private sector.
It was hoped that the Modular Employable Skills (MES) courses that it offered would lead not only to skill standardization in the informal sector, but would also enable people in this sector to demand better wages.
At work: Trainer R.N. Tuli (second from right) conducts an automotive repair course at Aapka Karkhana, a motor workshop providing vocational training under the Skill Development Initiative Scheme based on Modular Employable Skills , in New Delhi; (below) Tuli interacts with students. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The beginnings were tentative; allocations and awareness were low, and systems weren’t in place. But over the years, with the programme outlay increasing nearly 10-fold from Rs16 crore in 2007-08 to Rs157 crore in 2010-11, the government has stepped up efforts to involve private companies and institutions.
In the last few months, there has been a surge in interest in the scheme. Companies, small and large, have sensed an opportunity. Some see a direct monetary benefit, but for others, the returns are in the longer term and more diffuse. And through methods that at times border on being suspect, they’re getting into the business of teaching students such as Singh vocational skills.
The courses are designed keeping in mind that their target students are already working in the informal sector, and can’t take much time off. They are short, modular and can be conducted on a flexible timeline. To enrol, a person is only required to be 14 years old and have passed class V. The course fees that range between Rs500 and Rs2,000 are refunded to students who pass; and at the end of the course, they are given a National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) certificate.
In essence, the programme takes courses offered at government-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), which are designed to train people for employment in the formal sector, and breaks them up into shorter “self-sufficient” modules.
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The target for the first five years was to train one million people. Provided they had the requisite infrastructure and expertise, private institutes and companies could become vocational training providers (VTPs). The government would pay them Rs15 per person for every hour of training.
That doesn’t seem like a lot of money; but for a small garage such as Aapka Karkhana, it was significant, and the investments required minimal. So five months ago, a classroom was created; and then two months ago they started computer courses, which are conducted in an adjoining, even smaller room.
They currently have 45 students—31 in the automotive courses and 14 in the computer courses. But says B.R. Narang, the proprietor of the workshop, grandiosely, “We have a capacity for 150.” Narang has been advertising on local cable television channels and in a Hindi newspaper, and is confident of filling up that capacity.
Perplexingly, Aapka Karkhana has also applied for permission to start MES courses in nursing. Where’s the infrastructure for that? “We’re going to tie up with some local nursing homes.”
Money, however, is not what brings Larsen and Toubro Ltd’s Construction Skills Training Institute to this scheme. The institute, on the outskirts of Delhi, has been conducting basic construction courses for people from below poverty line families for a while, but has added MES courses.
“It brings us wider recognition from the government,” says regional training manager Nishith Behari Saxena. It’s also, according to him, a means of establishing the company’s credibility in rural areas from which they source workers. “People are suspicious of contractors, so it helps when we tell them that we’re offering them a free government course.”
The recruiters at the Institute of Fire Safety and Security (IFSS), a training institute run by Premier Shield Pvt. Ltd, a Delhi-based security service provider, use the same line when they recruit in slums and rural areas around Delhi.
“There’s going to be a demand for over two lakh security professionals in India over the next two years,” says Pradeep Bajaj, the director of education at the institute, looking across the balcony to an open training courtyard where safety ropes dangle from scaffolding, and buckets and sand bags lie strewn around pits.
“The market currently does not insist on certification,” he says, “but a few years from now, it’s going to be very important, especially in the security sector.” The institute now offers nine MES courses for security guards (personal, industrial, general, etc.), apart from the courses it offers on its own.
These courses provide Premier Shield with manpower, and according to Bajaj, the affiliation with NCVT gives the institutes courses—which are much more expensive—a certain credibility.
“The pass percentage of our courses has been 100%,” he says proudly.
Students of MES courses are required to be assessed by an independent body, empanelled by the government. The bodies range from industry organizations such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to smaller private companies.
What Bajaj does not say however, is that India Skills Pvt. Ltd, the body that assesses his students and which, according to him, gets a 10% commission for the use of the institute’s space to conduct assessments, is closely connected with Premier Shield. They share the same address and telephone numbers.
In defence, Jasjit Ahluwalia of India Skills says that “they are two separate companies” and protests that he only plays an “advisory role” in Premier Shield’s “background screening business”.
A.S. Kesai, director (SDIS) in the ministry of labour and employment, the man in charge of the scheme, is aware of some of these shortcomings. “You can find a loophole in every system,” he admits. “It’s difficult to manage a scheme of this size with only 19 people to assist me.” But he’s optimistic, saying the glitches will be sorted out in due course.
In the meantime, the line of companies looking to enter the field is growing.
Bikanervala Foods Pvt. Ltd is in the process of starting sweet-making courses, and Career Launcher India Ltd will offer MES courses at new vocational training branches it is setting up.
At least 650,000 people have already been trained countrywide under the programme. That’s only a drop in the ocean of the unorganized market, but it’s a beginning. And at least some of those people are happy for the training and the qualification.
Riyazuddin Saifi, a classmate of Amandeep Singh, runs a motor garage near Aapka Karkhana. The certificate, he says, has been good for business. It’s helped him establish his credentials with customers and manufacturers, and it will hopefully make it easier for him to get a government loan, with which he plans to turn his garage into an “authorized service centre”. He also plans to send the mechanics at his garage to the course.
Singh hopes that the certificate will allow him to make more money than he earns from his current job. “Besides,” he jokes, “who would not want a government certificate?”