Rethinking vocational training4 min read . Updated: 21 Apr 2013, 07:57 PM IST
The chain of post-secondary vocational and career training to apprenticeship and employment is broken in India
Umang is a pleasant young man who visits our home every two weeks. He comes to clean and replace a tracheotomy tube for my father who has a respiratory condition, and is generally available if we have any questions about his breathing. Umang is a homegrown respiratory therapist, a new occupation created by the elderly living longer and home-based technology that is improving their living standards. He learnt on the job at the intensive care unit of a city hospital. A top pulmonologist I spoke to in Delhi is envious, saying that he doesn’t have access to a respiratory therapist there.
“Only available in Bangalore and Hyderabad," he says with a touch of exasperation. Despite the demand, there is no diploma course for respiratory therapists in India today nor is there a certification procedure.
We live in a community in which common areas are governed by a housing society. The management committee of the housing society sub-contracts various aspects of maintenance to external firms. While we have many competitors to choose from for low-tech services such as housekeeping and building security, we have limited choice of vendors for the maintenance of fire equipment and the water-softening plant. The professional quality of one fire vendor, hired to help prevent emergencies, was so poor that he actually created an emergency by flooding our lift well with high-pressure water from the fire riser. The alternative vendor seems little better.
Training to become a respiratory therapist, a fire-safety technician, a floral designer, a locksmith, a forensic science assistant, or a wedding planner, in most western countries happens in a vocational training institute or community college. In Germany and several other central European countries, they have a formal dual education system where training at a vocational school (Berufsschule in Germany) is combined with apprenticeship at a company or guild. In the US, a network of career institutes and community colleges, both traditional and online, provide a wide variety of career and technical education (CTE) options. The Association for Career and Technical Education is the largest national association in the US dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for careers. CTE streams students through 16 career clusters and 81 pathways. Educators, the government and businesses develop the range of options and course content jointly. Successful vocational training systems abroad have three common elements—they are adaptive to changing needs of the economy, they are collaborative and they offer credible (and portable) certification. This portability is geographical and also between certificates, diplomas and degrees.
In India, government Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and state technical institutes dominate the vocational training system. There are over 1,800 ITIs in India. There are also eleven technical training institutes for women. The World Bank has allocated $359 million for upgrading several institutes to centres of excellence. The plan was to take place under a public-private-partnership model. It has seen implementation delays and has largely been a failure because critical decision-making elements, such as staffing and course fees, have been retained by the government. Periodic reviews of this programme available in public domain are voluminous documents with lots of tables and numbers that suggest only modest improvement on the basic stated objective of “employment outcomes of graduates from the vocational training system".
The goal of a vocational system is clear. It is jobs. On that score and on others, the entire chain of post-secondary vocational and career training to apprenticeship and employment is broken in India. Existing institutes do not embody either adaptability or collaboration—imperative for success in a fast evolving economy. Even if they are successfully upgraded they do not offer the capacity required for the size of the economy. The full current capacity for public and private vocational training centres is less than a million seats. This is less than a fifth of India’s desired annual capacity.
What can be done?
Ancient India was a model for vocational training. Modern India needs to change its failed post-independence model to achieve that objective. Tinkering will not do the trick. A brand new architecture for our vocational training system is required. Governments—both state and Union—should focus on skill standards and certification portability. For the rest, vocational training should be fully privatized.
This private ecosystem needs to be organized under a governance umbrella (made up of educators, government and business) that becomes the instrument for standards, evolution, collaboration, certification and portability.
The National Skill Development Corporation, which has made a good start on retraining the workforce, should be retained. It adds a dimension to this framework. Apprenticeship regulation (Apprenticeship Act 1961) should be relaxed and rigid conditions eliminated so long as minimum wages are paid. To provide for wider access, online and distance career education should be encouraged when standards are met through credible testing.
PS: “Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible," said Saint Francis of Assisi.
Narayan Ramachandran is chairman, InKlude Labs. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read Narayan Ramachandran’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/avisiblehand