Aug 29, 2008

India - Transforming the skills environment

There is a constant refrain in the Indian IT and BPO sectors that less than 20 per cent of the 300,000 and more engineers who graduate each year are employable in the software industry without huge investment in learning and training inputs. The BPO industry too has been investing heavily in internal training as well as partnerships with colleges to get some modicum of capability in the millions of graduates who come through the education system in our country with degrees but without any core vocational skill to hit the growing running in any firm that employs them. And in recent times, many other sectors like retail, hospitality and healthcare have joined the clamour for a better skilled workforce. Will the great Indian promise and the “demographic dividend” that previous generations have left as their legacy remain as potential success that never gets translated into economic success of the people?
Our educational apparatus has failed to deliver what the industry needs and no number of finishing schools which are now mushrooming all over the country will compensate for a structural malaise in the learning content and processes. For a solution, there is no better process to understand than Germany, where the process engineering approach is now transforming the fortunes of a nation. The country has thought through its needs and introduced a dual system of vocational education, a process that we have much to learn from even as the Indian services industry faces the daunting prospect of preparing 8-10 million skilled services professionals every year, with at least a million of those in IT and BPO. Guided by the Vocational Training Act, 1969, and updates in 2005, the responsibility for creating talent is shared by the firms, the training schools and the young people and administered by the 80 Chambers of Commerce and Industry that have ensured its implementation across all sectors of the German economy.
As in everything to do with Germany, the system permits adequate room for innovation within a prescribed framework that has seen a national decree established for every profession with over 350 training occupations recognised, of which 250 are in the field of industry, trade and services. The content of the educational curriculum, the apprenticeship in the industry and the intermediate and final examinations for each profession have been specified with more than 170,000 professionals working on an honorary basis on the examination boards. With an investment of over ¤27 billion in vocational training with an average cost per trainee of nearly ¤18,000 per year, the country can be justifiably proud of the results it has achieved — and the results are becoming a benchmark for the rest of the world.
Looking at the motivations of a cross-section of participants in the vocational education eco-system, the role of each player becomes apparent. The employers participate in the system with adequate time and some monetary commitment from their side because this participation enables them to build talent within the firm, and they prefer this to a training levy, which would otherwise have been imposed. The training schools have been successful in building high standards and are now aligning with the EQF (European Qualifications Framework) to enable participants and training in all parts of the EU, the students see this stream as a high-reward process that provides them monetary independence at an early age and the government itself is providing its full backing because of the inherent employment and social benefits that have already begun to show results for the German economy.
The IT training streams in vocational education in various German schools have been built on the lines of the yeoman effort done in the early years of private sector participation in IT training in our country, but where they have improvised further is the laddered programs from basic IT operator courses to advanced curriculum that enable specialist professions like application development, systems integration, electronics technicians and IT economists for commercial applications to be developed. With an option of three days at work and two days in class every week or a sandwich program where every week of intensive courses is followed by two weeks’ work in the participating company, the training rigour is maintained and seen as superior to the standard training school process supported by a few projects in the industry, which has been the Indian model of education.
If our efforts at resource creation on a national scale have to succeed, we will need the same intensity of efforts in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan to encourage public-private partnerships that will build resources for the IT and BPO sectors as well as all the other services professions in the country. The moribund state of the ITIs, which are only now being focused on by worthy associations like the CII, should not be the fate of services education and this will require Nasscom and the state governments to develop processes and programs and the private sector to work in concert to address the enormous challenge. There is significant interest in the venture capital and private equity fraternity to fund significant ventures in education, which is encouraging. What is needed are multiple ventures engaged in what Bill Gates calls “Creative Capitalism” — ventures with a clear profit motive which have the funding and the sustenance to develop a model of “Quality with scale” and transform not a few hundred but tens of thousands of lives across the country. The entire eco-system needs to pitch in — the central and state governments, universities and colleges and of course the corporate sector to support entrepreneurs who have the courage to do educational ventures of substance for the benefit of the country!
The author is chairman, Nasscom, and Global CEO of Zensar Technologies

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