Monday, 3 October 2011

Employability Skills and Vocational Education

Dr.SS Mantha, Chairman
All India Council for Technical Education

India's transition to a knowledge-based economy requires a new generation of educated and skilled people. The competitive edge will be determined by its people's ability to create, share, and use knowledge effectively. India requires a knowledge economy to develop workers - knowledge workers and knowledge technologists - who are flexible, analytical and will be the driving force for innovation and growth.

It is a well known fact that technical education plays a vital role in human resource development of the country by creating skilled manpower, enhancing industrial productivity and improving the quality of life. To achieve the goals of a knowledge economy, India needs a flexible education system: basic education to provide the foundation for learning; secondary and tertiary education to develop core capabilities and core technical skills; and further means of achieving lifelong learning. This should facilitate quality learning.

With more than 8000 institutes in the degree sector, 2500 in the polytechnic sector, and more than 1.9 million seats at the entry level in the degree stream, 0.5 million in the polytechnic stream, we have one of the largest technical education systems in the world. A host of ITI's in every State also cater to vocational education and skill building.

Reforming the Education System
Today, a student who wishes to get into a technical education programme can do so. A few problems like finding the finances can be facilitated through a good student loan model. The Government's model of providing the same through setting up of a finance corporation is laudable in this context.

However the near total inclusivity has also put undue and tremendous pressure on the system to respond to the new expectations like finding a suitable placement for almost 1 million youngsters graduating from our Institutes every year currently and growing to 2.0 million in three years to come. It would also be worthwhile here to note that a student with 50% minimum eligibility at the qualifying examination also gets into this system along with the student at the top of the ladder. A normalisation of the process caters to common denominator and hence a fall in standards.

Our examination systems being what it is will also cater to common denominator that only aids in propagating more mediocrity in a system that is already mediocre. 

Hence we have a system that is extremely difficult to be high on quality metrics. The industry would obviously employ the best of the lot. In the absence of an industry profile, the available job market in absolute numbers, and the available graduates, the mapping would always be incongruous.

New institutes, programmes and new courses are all based on perception and whims of a few entrepreneurs, who prefer to set up institutes in the areas they choose with scant regard to the demographic needs. The affiliating universities and the State Governments do not help the cause by not preparing the perspective plans for the regions in their jurisdiction. This results in a highly skewed growth of technical education with no bearing on either industry needs or that of the country's needs.

The net result of the above understanding is that there are a large number of graduates who are unemployable. Are there enough jobs for every one graduating before raising the bogie of un-employability is a million dollar question which no one wants to answer?

Though many institutes provide quality education comparable to the best in the world, many of our institutes are now fully short of facilities at all levels, be it in infrastructural or faculty both in required numbers and quality.

Need for Skilled Manpower
Two greatest concerns of employers today are finding good workers and training them. The difference between the skills needed on the job and those possessed by applicants, sometimes called the skills-gap, is of real concern to human resource managers and business owners looking to hire competent employees. While employers would prefer to hire people who are trained and ready to go to work, they are usually willing to provide the specialised, job-specific training necessary for those lacking such skills.

Most discussions concerning today's workforce eventually turn to employability skills. Finding workers who have employability or job readiness skills that help them fit into and remain in the work environment is a real problem. Employers need reliable, responsible workers who can solve problems and who have the social skills and attitudes to work together with other workers.

Employability skills are those basic skills necessary for getting, keeping, and doing well on a job. These are the skills, attitudes and actions that enable workers to get along with their fellow workers and supervisors and to make sound, critical decisions. Unlike occupational or technical skills, employability skills are generic in nature rather than job specific and cut across all industry types, business sizes, and job levels from the entry-level worker to the senior-most position.

Finishing schools are generally expected to build greater self – confidence, demonstrate self-direction, enhance communication skills, strengthen people skills, develop leadership skills, display a professional image and strengthen attitudes.

A finishing school should create a skill based curriculum, identify the needy students through tests or personal choice, conduct training programs preferably at the end of 6th, 7th, and 8th Semesters, for (1, 1, 2 months).

Though many institutes provide quality education comparable to the best in the world, many of our institutes are now fully short of facilities at all levels, be it in infrastructural or faculty both in required numbers and quality

The emphasis should really be on developing skills in reading, writing, science, mathematics, oral communication, listening, learning, reasoning, creative thinking, decision making, problem solving, responsible, self confidence, self control, social skills, honesty, integrity, adaptability, flexibility, team spirit, punctuality, being efficient, self directed, good work attitude, well groomed, cooperative, self motivated and self management.

Profiling the Employment scenario
The employment sector needs to be profiled to provide information on job opportunities in various sectors in terms of numbers and the projected growth. There is also a need to identify potential employers i.e., industries and service sectors so that a meaningful mapping can be made on the availability against the need. The gaps would also throw up some interesting data like no job opportunities in certain areas and no candidates available for certain jobs.

 The National Engineering Eligibility Examination (NEEE) on the lines of GRE general and advanced could be a good student accreditation metric that can be used by the industry for placements and our education system to determine the learning gaps in our current teaching learning process.

There also seems to be a concerted move to bring in technical education that is imparted through a conventional mode into the ambit of distance learning. A B. Tech or a M. Tech or even a technical diploma that is offered in the conventional mode is sought to be offered through the distance mode conveniently forgetting that applied sciences are supported by 40% to 50% practical component, rigorous training and conceptual learning. Falling standards in the regular mode of delivering technical education would go for a free fall if we were to institutionalise this model.

A country that survives on basic tenets of democracy would find no way of differentiating the degrees awarded in the conventional mode and the distance mode and would make no discrimination in the principle of equal opportunity to employment paving the way for a free fall in standards.

Undoubtedly today we have access to other learning models than the synchronous ones. We have good CBT's and many are being developed. Having said this, I believe that teaching is a performing art. Teaching conceptual courses that need training on real machines cannot be substituted by CD's and Computer learning.

109 million persons will attain working age during the period of 2007-2012. The net addition to workforce is, therefore, expected to grow to 89 million

If the present trend continues, 109 million persons will attain working age during the period of 2007-2012. The net addition to workforce is, therefore, expected to grow to 89 million of which around 13 million are likely to be graduates/post graduates and about 57 million are likely to be school drop outs or illiterates. A significant share of incremental demand is likely to be for skilled labour - graduates and vocationally trained people are expected to account for 23% of incremental demand by 2012. The study further estimates that India is likely to increase deficit of 5.25 million employable graduates and vocationally trained workforce by 2012. Hence focusing on vocational education is of primary importance.

For this majority group, access to secondary education and VET is crucial and for most of them secondary education and VET will be the last stage of their formal schooling. An effective school to work transition for these young people, made possible by higher quality secondary and tertiary education and VET, will improve their employment prospects and lifetime earnings.
Importance of Effective Quality Assurance Efficient quality assurance models can play a decisive role in modernising Vocational Education and Training (VET), and improving performance and attractiveness, achieving better value for money. However there has to be a realisation about the need to increase VET responsiveness to changing labour market demands, increasing the effectiveness of VET outcomes in improving the match between education and training demand and supply. Across the country, we also need to achieve better levels of employability for the workforce and to improve access to training, especially for vulnerable labour market groups.

Frequently, accreditation and certification are used synonymously and what is called accreditation in one country might be called certification in another. They are both about external verification of quality but they have a slightly different focus. Certification is about compliance with the standards, rules and criteria as defined by a methodological framework for quality assurance, such as the ISO-9000xx standards. 

This GER is a summation of individual GER's in various disciplines like Arts, Science, Commerce, Engineering, Fine Arts, Social Sciences, Liberal Sciences etc. If the maxim is to increase the overall GER, we need to increase the supply side of all these disciplines or reduce the dropout rate. An objective function model created for GER estimation and solved as an optimisation problem would throw up interesting possibilities.

Role of AICTE
AICTE is currently in the process of working a bridge between providing competence based skill modules in addition to basic content modules - both at the school and the University level, so that a child can choose a mode of education that is interesting to pursue and valuable to be practiced for a career. This also needs to provide the child full multiple entries and exits to a formal education system from a vocational mode and vice versa and an opportunity to be placed gainfully with an appropriate job. 

If around 5000, i.e, approximately 50% of the AICTE approved institutions conduct any of the VE courses under various programmes like engineering, technology, management, computer applications, pharmacy, architecture and hotel management, every week in the evening for 3 hrs, for a year or 45 weeks, 0.4 million can be trained raising the GER by 4.1% or 33% of the current GER, with no extra inputs required for infrastructure. CII and other bodies can work on a viable model to make this happen.

Finally we need to rely on the human capabilities approach developed by the economist Amartya Sen in the paper published on "capability approach and the brokering of learning provision for young adults development, quality of life and freedom", wherein he explores the key ideas in the capability approach of: capability, functioning, agency, human diversity and public participation in generating valued capabilities. He then considers how these ideas relate specifically to education, before arguing that participatory action research might be a methodology for implementing and evaluating capabilities in education as a way of doing fairness and equality in education. 

It is time we imbibed an approach to education and skill development which is human and Indian in essence, perspective and content in that it serves our needs of effective and qualitative education, employability, self employability and re-employability. Such an approach would certainly be globally competitive and participative too. In a fast changing world, we need to stand tall, upright and be counted. Effective skill based technical education for employment is the key and the vehicle. 


  1. Dr. Mantha
    Please let me know if and how I might be of assistance. I am part of the Association for Career Tech Educators here in the US and have been a major player in the area of workforce education development particularly in the realm of communication technologies.
    Dave Cornelius

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