India: Sharda Prasad

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Sharda Prasad - Director General Employment & Training (Government of India)

Sharda Prasad describes the challenges India faces in the improvement of and recognition for its training sector.

Sharda Prasad in his position as Director General of Employment and Training for the Ministry of Labour & Employment plays a central role in delivering the Indian Government's ambitious education and training strategy. He oversees the running of more than 2,000 public sector Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and more than 5,000 private sector Industrial Training Centres. At present, 1,062,000 people can be trained in 112 trades: 60 in the engineering sector (mainly manufacturing), 52 in the non-engineering or service sector.

Mr Prasad explains: "The National Council for Vocational Training provides hundreds of training modules in all industry and service sectors and follows up with coordination of work placements with the collaboration of Industry."

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Towards a coherent training policy: An historical background

Mr Prasad begins the conversation by providing a detailed description of how India's training policies have developed since the First National Industrial Policy was announced, along with the first training centres between 1946 and 1956. The creation of these centres coincided with the introduction of a dual system with classroom teaching and workshops which were designed to provide practical experience to trainees; an early and significant apprenticeship system.

However, it was not until 1968-9 that the responsibility for delivering this type of training was transferred to State Governments. Mr Prasad explains: "In 2004 it became apparent that Indian States hadn't sufficiently modified their training systems [to meet the needs of a rapidly developing economy] so a $280 million World Bank Funded scheme was set up to select 400 Industrial Training Institutes for the upgrading of training infrastructure. It was decided that in order to make skills development relevant, industry had to be involved in their design. To this end, a Committee was set up to run courses demanded by industry as
well as organising work placements."

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Developing 21st century skills

Mr Prasad then outlines how he intends to help equip the Indian workforce for the 21st century, citing the example of the development of an 'Initiative for Development of 21st Century Skills'. He is at pains to stress that this initiative places an important and progressive emphasis on outcomes that make tangible improvements to an individual's employability: "The study will make some important conclusions on skills development, meaning practical, work associated skills rather than
academic qualifications." To put the importance of this initiative in a national and global context, he continues: "Many children in India opt for work rather than higher education. Technologies are changing and people need to be trained in these new technologies. 'Skilling people' is a big challenge for the whole world and nowhere more so than India."

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Training in India: an issue of scale

Mr Prasad is quick to recognise that he has an enormous task on his hands but remains undaunted and determined to radically increase the training capacity of India. He articulates the considerable challenges ahead: "70 per cent of the Indian population lives in rural areas. We are planning to set up 50,000 skill development centres concentrating on skills relevant to rural areas, each training 300 people per shift per annum, with a skills development centre for every 12 villages. These centres will be set up through public and private sector investment, but the larger role will be played by the private sector. The Government of India will be providing viability gap funding, wherever needed."

Mr Prasad is dedicated to leading this expansion in training capacity and simultaneously ensuring a greater emphasis on improving the quality of education delivery. While this is also a resource and infrastructure issue, he is quick to point out the human capital challenge at its heart: "The education system in India needs to be expanded in a large way. At the same time there needs to be more quality as well as quantity of education provision. This balance is vital. More 'training of trainers' is
needed."

Mr Prasad makes an interesting reference to the huge potential for the Indian workforce to equip themselves with high value skills and professional experience abroad, which they could potentially then feed back into the domestic economy: "India may well in the future have a surplus workforce of 47 million people, who if they are trained properly, can work abroad."

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Increasing the prestige of vocational education

One of the major themes referenced in the Effective Education for Employment report was that of the status of vocational training in relation to academic study. Mr Prasad begins to explore this crucial issue by outlining the barriers he and his Department have faced around an increasing recognition of the value of vocational training. For Mr Prasad, there is a clear and pressing need to bring about a paradigm shift in the mindset of people in India, and he goes on to describe some of the barriers he has faced: "At present there is too much focus on academic education. Many people in India see academic education as superior to manual skills, and even those people with 'high skills' are often not given prestige as professionals. You need skills even to display academic education."

In response to this deep-rooted problem, Mr Prasad explains that the Indian Government have commissioned a series of five in-depth reports to distribute amongst its citizens with a view to explaining key policy decisions and plans in relation to:

  1. Education
  2. Environment
  3. Employment
  4. Infrastructure Development
  5. Health

He is very positive and optimistic about the effect that these reports will have in terms of addressing perceptions of vocational education and training, and sees them as a mechanism for generating attitudinal data which can then inform subsequent actions: "Gathering feedback on these reports will lead into change in national policy in the area, and work towards changing mindsets among the Indian people."

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China: an international yardstick

Finally, Mr Prasad puts the challenges and opportunities India is facing in a global context, citing similar challenges faced by the world's other emerging economic super power, China: "China is a good point of reference for India as it faces similar demographic and economic challenges, even though the political system is different."

He takes encouragement from the rapid and profound changes that are taking place there, and feels that although China has more central control over its citizens, its success could be used to inspire similar change and help increase the perceived value and take up of vocational training in India: "In 1989, 15 per cent of people within the Chinese education system opted for vocational training, at present this figure is 55 per cent, largely due to government intervention." India's potential
is vast and changing educational mindsets could go a long way to unlocking this potential.

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