Vocational and technical training has been the central pillar of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious skill building mission since 2015. It is also the feature that will drive India’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat push. But data reveals that despite the government’s high-priority, the uptake for vocational and technical training has been surprisingly low. It is no wonder that many commentators are saying this has been languishing in neglect and needs to be infused with some ‘gati shakti‘. In 2020-21, over 84 percent of Indians between 12-59 age group did not receive vocational and technical training.
If fewer people are receiving VTT (vocational and technical training), then this calls for a greater awareness campaign, like other flagship programmes such as Swachh Bharat. With a Covid-battered economy, India can’t afford to go slow on a programme that has tremendous potential to catapult both the manufacturing and services sector.
Fewer people got training
We looked at the government’s Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data for the period 2017-18 and 2020-21. While there is so much talk about pushing VTT to bridge the employability gap, we found that the programme is yet to achieve the desired result.
The PLFS dataset shows that 92.6 percent of the people surveyed (in the 12-59 age group) during 2017-18 and 84.4 percent during 2020-21 did not receive any VTT, with a marginal three basis point difference favouring the urban areas as against the rural.
The situation is worse for women, with 95.6 percent in 2017-18 and about 90 percent in 2020-21 not receiving VTT, compared with men (about 90 percent and 79 percent for the respective periods). The lower level of VTT is one of the causes for a faltering growth in labour productivity.
The above results imply that only 7.4 percent (2017-18) and 15.6 percent (2020-21) of the people in the 12-59 age group received some form of VTT. This does not augur well for a country that aspires to become a hub of manufacturing and financial services.
An all-round dismal show
We also found that out of those who received some form of VTT, almost half received ‘learning on the job’ or are accounted for as ‘self-learning’ during both the periods for which data is available. The same trend was visible in both rural and urban areas. ‘Learning on the job’ and ‘self-learning’ means that there was no formal training provided and people learn and pick up skills as they work.
Formal VTT, which the PLFS defines as “training that is acquired through institutions/organisations”, accounted for only 1.8 percent in 2017-18. This marginally increased to 3 percent in 2020-21. People receiving such formal training in urban areas is two to three times those in rural areas. It is also seen that males in both rural and urban areas accounted for a higher share compared to females.
People who received VTT for carrying out hereditary activities accounted for less than 1.5 percent in 2017-18, which more than doubled to 3.8 percent in 2020-21. However, when compared to the overall scenario, it accounted for only about one-fourth to one-fifth of those who received VTT. No wonder people pursuing hereditary jobs are on the decline.
Further analysis showed that people across age groups did not receive any training—above 89 percent in 2017-18 and above 78 percent in 2020-21. Hence, the spread of malaise is “age-immune”.
Moreover, 20 states/UTs in 2017-18 and 23 states/UTs in 2020-21 (out of the total 36 surveyed) recorded higher than the national average of people who did not receive VTT.
A very large share of India’s population cutting across age groups did not receive any form of skill training, with the bulk of such population coming from rural areas and comprising women. Is it the lack of demand or the supply shortage of skill programmes or the inadequate infrastructure and trainers that is hampering the spread of VTT?
With limited dataset available from the PLFS, it is not possible to get a satisfactory answer. Only an in-depth analysis would be able to provide us with the much needed answers. Both the public and private sectors should shoulder the responsibility to build an efficient and competitive workforce, specifically targeting the youth. A fresh relook at the approach to extend the spread and depth of skill programmes is the need of the hour.
Dr Palash Baruah is Associate Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi. He tweets @DrPalashBaruah.
Danny Lewin Wankhar is a retired Indian Economic Service officer. He tweets @dan20041976.
Views are personal.