Sabarinath C Nair argues for a system where workers attain the right skills and industry is satisfied
Why jobs go abegging
This issue needs to be looked at from multiple angles. From the point of view of the student there seems to be a gap between aspirations and what is on offer. From industry's perspective, a number of those trained may not have imbibed the right attitude and discipline towards work.
Job Security in the Formal Sector
It is in the country's interest to move the bulk of the workforce to the formal sector. This is where expectations from both the employer and the worker will be high, leading to higher productivity. The employer will have to provide the worker a world class working environment; and high quality work may be expected from the worker after he or has undergone formal training. The benefits of being in the formal sector accrue not just to the worker, but also to the employer. The value added by a formal worker in the formal sector is 20 times the value added by an informal worker in the formal sector. This is because the informal worker has not received relevant training, and has learned the skills on the job. His or her learning has been at a high, mostly hidden cost. Not having received formal training, his or her productivity is far lower.
The automotive and sheet metal fabrication industry offers a clear example of this. Here unskilled helpers can be converted into welders by just letting them try out welding. Within a period of three to six months, they become full-time welders, apparently at no cost, and the company ends up saving money. However, an in-depth analysis shows that what was seemingly a saving of lakhs was actually a loss, sometimes as high as a crore of rupees. Often the output of informal trainees is rejected outright or requires enormous re-work, and both these are costly. Second, the trainees require constant mentoring from regular, productive staff, which in turn, brings down their productivity as well. Third, since they are never 'taught' the fundamentals, any mistakes that remain uncorrected become permanently etched in their memory. These cannot be unlearned even after they undergo rigorous formal training later.
Vocational courses severely lacking
The long drawn out vocational courses in their current format do not help to bring the informal worker into the formal environment. It is therefore suggested that instead of having one long course that teaches everything, a short course which has the potential to double his or her salary will be more useful and make economic sense to the casual worker. For instance, for a helper working in the metal fabrication industry, a short, two-week course teaching him or her, semi-skilled MIG welding, will increase the monthly income from less than Rs 4,500 to over Rs 8,000. In a few months he or she will have saved up enough money to afford a costlier specialisation course, which holds the potential of once again doubling his or her salary. However, industry is hesitant to offer formal training mainly because of the fear of attrition of certified workers. As a result, workers are not qualified and production quality suffers, impacting business.
Another concern is who will pay for training the worker? If industry bears the full direct cost of training, it feels that the workers it has sponsored should remain in its employment for some time after receiving training. This then begs the question, can certifications paid for by the employer be 'locked' away with the employer for a period of say 6, or 12 months, during which the employer will be able to receive the returns on the invest ments made in training the workers?
Training simulators help in bringing down training expenses for industry, and cloud connectivity for the certifications (which are digital and available online) can be a win-win situation for both the workmen and industry. This can also result in building a national database of workers and their skills.
Short duration, entry level skills' training centres can be quickly set up and efficiently run by local entrepreneurs without much investment (less than Rs 15 lakh per skill). The 'micro training centres' will not require enormous infrastructure investments, and will therefore be easy to set up closer to where the untrained manpower is available. A hierarchy of training centres, with a few advanced centres offering further follow-up courses, can be established. One suggestion is for a cluster of industries to jointly invest in the micro-training centres, and address their manpower requirements quickly and cost effectively.
It is time the advances in technology are matched by systemic and mindset changes to bridge the skill gap. The need of the hour is to devise a system which not just provides training and moves workers into the formal sector, but also addresses industry's concerns.