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Sreelatha Menon: Skilling the workforce

Sreelatha Menon/New Delhi 09 Dec 12 | 12:17 AM

Fixing an air conditioner or a car does not require a degree. Or, for that matter, catching snakes, milking cows, keeping bees, laying bricks, and taking care of patients.

School dropouts and those who have never attended school often excel in such jobs. Vocational training centres (VTP) are coming up across the country under the Centrally-funded Modular Employable Skills (MES) programme to provide short-term courses in these, and some 1,400-odd skills related to 72 different sectors, ranging from textiles and retail to animal husbandry and agriculture and construction. The courses under the scheme are usually short in duration, lasting between 120 to 300 hours.

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Not that there is an actual course in snake catching. Officials in the Confederation of Indian Industry, which is one of the 40 assessment bodies in the scheme, say many people do not get jobs, despite having good skills. So, this is a way of providing them certificates and attesting their skills. Besides, if an institute offers to enroll itself in the scheme, and is willing to provide some of the courses, the government refunds the expense at the rate of Rs 15 an hour for each student. The trade certificate is issued by the Directorate General of Employment and Training (DGET), Government of India. The ever increasing list of courses include dialogue-writing, subtitling of films, spinning, automotive repair, and almost anything under the sun.

The best part is that the student pays nothing, and the institute is refunded on his or her behalf. But that also seems to have become a bottleneck for the scheme, since delays in reimbursements are already being reported.

John Bosco, principal of a government industrial training institute (ITI) in Trichi, Tamil Nadu, trained 2,000 students last year. He runs courses in welding, fitting, vehicle repair, and gets most of his students from the ancillary units of various industries. Bosco is still waiting for a payment of Rs 68 lakh for the students trained in 2011-12. Hence, this year, he took up only 700 students, he says. The national trade certificate of the Central government is coveted by the industry as well as school dropouts, he says. The students can get jobs abroad with the certificate.

MES seeks to capture all those skills that can enable people working in the unorganised sector to get catapulted into the organised sector, says DGET chief Sharda Prasad. The target is to benefit all those who are out of school and looking for work, he says. There are over 7,125 VTPs now, including government and private ITIs. While only Rs 220 crore was allocated for the programme last year, it has received Rs 700 crore this year. Prasad says the government’s target is to skill one million people every year — to meet the 500 million requirement by 2020. The next step would be to create a data base of all those who possess various skills and make this accessible to the industry and society, he says. Meanwhile, the industry is the biggest supplier of workers for re-skilling to these courses. Some of them are also skill providers.

Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) and TeamLease have their own VTPs. R C M Reddy, managing director of IL&FS Skills, says the scheme will be more viable if rates are based on the requirements of various trades — which DGET has ruled out.

Regrettably, what is amiss is sufficient visibility for these courses to attract needy candidates. Various states’ skill missions have set targets and hence, schemes will be publicised, says Prasad.

The 12th Plan seeks to provide Rs 3,500 crore for the MES scheme in the coming five years, a drop considering the money set aside for a scheme like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the scheme marooned in leakages and delays.

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