Those of you getting tired of Make in India, Digital India, and now Skill India have a valid grouse. There seems to be a surfeit of these grand announcements where the meaningful seems to be missing. The Prime Minister seems to believe that launching such grand programmes with so ambitious targets is all that he has to do.
Modi does not go wrong with understanding or explaining the underlying psyche of the people, but his speech on the launch of the skill mission was disappointing to say the least. The reason youngsters do not aspire to acquire skills is because it is seen as less than education. Modi belaboured on this aspect and said that those who cannot go to college or get higher secondary education are his target.
First and foremost, they are the wrong target because skills are not for those who cannot complete education. Skills are for everyone who is seeking a job and is not afraid of working with their hands.
The biggest challenge today is that those who work with their hands do not want their children to do the same. Somehow it has gone into our culture that working with hands is a poorer way to earn a living.
For instance, take Sonu, a carpenter who refurbished my house. He has around 20 other carpenters working for him, and at a time has 4-5 projects going around. It’s a business that gets him a good Rs 24-30 lakh per year as turnover. Nonetheless, he says doesn’t want his son to follow in his foosteps and become a carpenter. Sonu’s son will do his graduation and post- graduation. He will have to toil for 10 years to start earning Rs 30 lakhs, that too only if he is brilliant enough. The point here is that the issue is not earnings - it is respect associated with a job.
The fact today is that a trained electrician in India has a higher starting salary than a graduate. The reason there is a shortage of trained electrician but more importantly an electrician is productive right from the first day he enters the job. Meanwhile, a graduate takes at least 3-4 years to understand his job completely and become really productive.
Modi, the politician, claims that he is connected to reality of life, but on the skill front he has failed to understand the aspirations behind learning skills. Speak to any company in the skill development business and they all complain that there aren’t enough people to train.
Most of these skilled companies are based in metros have sucked in funding from National Skill Development Corporation and over the last so many years produced zilch. To put it more bluntly, corruption is rampant in slill development sector. To understand how corrupt a PPP model is, one just needs to look at this sector. Everyone in the corporate sector in Delhi has at least one of his/her family members – wife/husband, daughter or son – opened a skill development company eyeing government funding.
After the new minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy took over for a brief period of time the funding for all these companies came to a stand still. While the minister did not talk much about how NSDC will work now, or how will he make it more efficient, this is the second bottleneck in the system as it exists.
Rajesh Gilda, who runs a skill development NGO in schools called ‘Lend a Hand’, says that at school level the challenge is not aspiration. Children are happy to learn. But when they pass out, if they were to use their skills to work it is looked down upon. Parents want them to go for higher education and work in the city in a company.
The children are also confused as there is pressure on them to go to college and get a job in a city. Children from Tier-2 and -3 cities find themselves out of place while competing for jobs in the big cities. But to satisfy their parents desire and to maintain their dignity back home continue to work for a pittance in large companies.
The largest hiring engines in these cities are the BPO/IT companies that pay so low salaries at entry level that they cannot even sustain themselves. They live in small flats, 3-4 crammed inside a single room, share clothes, and justify it as they are working for MNC. These BPOs do not look like sweatshops but if you were to look at the hours and the pay they are no worse.
This aspiration encouraged by pulp writers like Chetan Bhagat and others of his ilk in the film industry has distorted the mindset of a generation. The result is that walk into any village and you will see 20-30-year-old graduates loitering around, zipping on bikes, while their parents still toil on the farms.
Until this aspiration cycle is not reversed there is no way that the next generation will get skill ready or work with their hands.
K Yatish Rajawat is a senior journalist based in Delhi. He tweets at @yatishrajawat
Updated Date: Jul 16, 2015 08:49 AM