The/Nudge Forum: Experts explain why skill development requires efforts from all stakeholders

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On Independence Day, The/Nudge Foundation in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation and the Skoll Foundation brought together world leaders and all global stakeholders on a 24-hour non-stop global platform to speak, listen, engage and network for India’s development.

This one-of-a-kind 24-hour global forum included panel discussions featuring India’s top philanthropists, economists, activists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, government representatives and all other stakeholders on a gamut of topics — from poverty to philanthropy to healthcare.

Among the many engaging sessions was one about a crucial building block for the country’s progress — skill development. The session, ‘Making India the Skill Capital of the World’ saw Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in India delivering an address to provide a snapshot of the government’s efforts in enabling skill development in India via various initiatives, programs and partnerships.

The minister’s speech was followed by an invigorating discussion between Geeta Goel, Country Director, India, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Dr Manish Kumar, MD & CEO, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) around the drivers of skill development, the future of skilling and the change needed in the current dynamic. The session was moderated by Abha Thorat-Shah, Executive Director, Social Finance, British Asian Trust.

With COVID-19 at the centre of all discussions, Dr Mahendra Pandey began his address by emphasising the upheaval caused by the pandemic and how the central government’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative is working towards empowering the highly-affected. He also spoke of the government’s Skill India Mission helping people upskill for employment as well as be socio-economically empowered. “With these initiatives, we are giving an impetus to India’s economic growth. Skill training is being imparted by 25,000 institutes and in the last five years, we have opened 18 national skill training institutes of which eight are dedicated to promoting women empowerment,” he said.

Bridging the skill gap

In an effort to empower citizens returning to India because of the pandemic, SWADES (Skilled Workers Arrival Database for Employment Support), an initiative under the Vande Bharat Mission is undertaking a skill-mapping exercise with the aim of creating a database of qualified citizens so as to map their skill sets and help them with employment.

Addressing the skill gap in the industry today and the efforts of the government in bridging the gap further, the minister also highlighted the role of eSkillIndia, a multilingual e-learning aggregator portal that has been launched with the NSDC.

“We should all have the same goal of being atma nirbhar (self-reliant). So, I would urge all stakeholders and industry partners to help us advance the Skill India Mission for it to reach every person in India,” he concluded.

Taking off from the minister’s call to be atma nirbhar, session moderator Abha Thorat Shah asked panelists Manish and Geeta their thoughts on how India can achieve the lofty goal of being the skill capital of the world.

Private sector participation

While Manish was of the opinion that India is already the leader in skills for sectors such as healthcare, IT and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES), other sectors are lagging behind and need guidance from bodies like the NSDC and others, Geeta said that the country’s ‘aspiration population’ is the reason why India is moving in the right direction. However, she emphasised on the need for the private sector and especially entrepreneurs to step in to enable the skilling of India’s workforce.

“The government is a significant source of capital; private capital is also coming in. But what is missing is entrepreneurial engagement. Skill India Mission needs to move beyond government and into the hands of the entrepreneurs. The government has been a strong enabler, but real progress happens when the private sector also steps in,” she said.

To this, Manish added that earlier the private sector did not skill people for the fear that competitors may poach them after receiving training. “And so the government stepped in to impart skilling. But as the ITES sectors began to grow in India, each company opened their own training sectors. So, it is essential for the government to show the private sector the way, who must then take it forward.” He also added that since the New Education Policy 2020 emphasises skilling, it will make the young generation more relevant to the global and domestic market. “While sector leaders are also influencing the skill agenda, we are moving forward with a focus on quality and industry readiness to ensure that employers get a skilled workforce,” he said.

Partnering for development

The NSDC has 650 private partners and 10,000+ skilling centres that work towards skilling 5 million people, so partnership opportunities are endless, Manish said, answering an audience query on how the private sector can partner with them to enable skilling.

“You could focus on one sector or multiple, it could just be knowledge-based or investment-based or in the area of channelising investment. We can help you deliver skills,” he added.

Speaking on the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s work in the area, Geeta said that different demographics need different solutions, which is why the Foundation works on three different parameters - ‘catch-up’, ‘leverage’ and ‘leapfrog’.

“We help our partners 'catch-up’ by training them in say healthcare and sanitisation, thus creating opportunities. We ‘leverage’ India’s vast access to technology to match skill sets to the global requirement, and we are ‘leapfrogging' to emerge as masters of few sectors such as coding, healthcare, construction and finding ways to develop India as experts in these sectors,” she said.

The discussion also touched upon other crucial aspects such as understanding the pulse of India’s youth, their aspirations, delivery of relevant skills, bringing more women back into the workforce, the stigma around vocational skills and why skilling alone is not enough for employment.

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