Friday, June 07, 2013

Training 500 million People by ’22 Unrealistic: Government Think-Tank

The Manmohan Singh government’s target of skilling 500 million people by 2022 is grossly inflated and is based on a speech by late management guru CK Prahalad instead of any demographic analysis. The country would actually need only about half that number of trained manpower by then, the government’s own think-tank, the Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR), has said in a research paper.

The IAMR, housed under the Planning Commission, has pegged the number of people who need to be trained by 2022 at 249 million to 290 million people in three different scenarios. “The 500 million number is a serious over-estimate,” Santosh Mehrotra, Director General of the institute, told ET. This target was first enunciated by Manmohan Singh in 2007 and was enshrined as the key objective of the National Skill Development Policy (NSDP) ratified by the cabinet in 2009.

In 2010, the prime minister acknowledged that the magic figure came from Prahalad’s vision for India after 75 years of independence, outlined at a speech in New York. The Michigan university professor said India has the potential to become the world’s “largest pool of technically trained manpower”. “(Prof Prahalad) was the moving spirit behind what motivated and what propelled the idea of skill development in the last four or five years,” Singh said.

The government has so far brushed aside the IAMR’s views as any dilution in the skill development target would constitute an embarrassment. Nearly two dozen ministries and agencies have been assigned targets to train millions to achieve the ambitious task of making half a billion employable in a decade.

Mehrotra said a sound method must be used to estimate the skills gaps. “The correct way to arrive at our skilling target would need a ground-up approach with a combination of census and sample survey undertaken systematically across the country,” he said. “India’s current labour force is 470 million and there’s an assumption it will grow phenomenally just because of the surge in population.”

The window of opportunity called the “Demographic Dividend” is available to India only till 2040, said an IAMR research paper that has flagged a number of concerns about the 500 million target. “Before devising the skill development strategy, a task of greater importance is to estimate the magnitude of the challenge and to assess the skill gap,” said the paper reviewed by ET.

The current goal, for instance, doesn’t define skills, doesn’t account for the millions in general academic education, and expects a massive exodus of workers from agriculture. The IAMR has estimated that at the most, 290 million people need to be trained, including 100 million who must acquire at least 10 years of schooling, new labour force entrants who need vocational training and those already in the workforce that need more formal training. As of now, just 45% of India’s non-agricultural workforce has 10 years of schooling.

The IAMR had first raised its doubts about the skill development targets during the formulation of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan last year, but the target was left untouched. Yet, for the plan, a modest target of training 50 million has been adopted. This leaves the government with the almost impossible task of training 450 million people in the Thirteenth Plan period that culminates in 2022. To put that in context, India’s official training capacity as of now is around four million a year, though it is not fully utilised.

Industry officials working with the government on skill development admit there’s a problem. “We have our doubts about the 500 million training target, but it’s for the government to introspect and reorient its policy response, for which they first need to acknowledge that the number is probably incorrect,” said a senior industry official on conditions of anonymity, adding that the specific targets for every ministry and agency to attain the 500 million mark seem to have been assigned randomly.

Source: The Economic Times, June 7, 2013

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