Skilling the right one is the real challenge

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Jobs often go to candidates who are not qualified either professionally or temperamentally. This leads to chaos

The Government must be credited for having brought alive the phrase, ‘skill development’, on an unprecedented scale. It seems to have become the latest bandwagon on which all wish to climb. So be it. However, like in many things in public life, the phrase appears to be akin to ‘old wine in a new bottle’.

As the knowledgeable know, this usually creates cracks in the bottle. More to the point, skill has been made synonymous with downstream livelihood, focussing on domains like drivers, plumbers, electricians, and more. There is nothing wrong with this approach. All communities in the country need this kind of skill formation.

The trouble is elsewhere, in at least three manners. Talk of skill development in India has been on since independence. ITIs are a chain of institutions across the country, so well-known that many confuse them with IITs. However, the pace of growth and requirements has been so large that not even World Bank grants were able to breed vibrancy into ITIs or polytechnics to either make them world-class institutions or indeed make them the seed-bed of certain types of employment. The more successful of polytechnics, for instance, the Allahabad Polytechnic or the Institute of Rural Technology, have their hands so full that they sought shelter under the omnibus title of ‘Institute’.

In a status-bound society like in India, if the affected party does not see his status rising after undergoing a given skill-formation experience, he either stops making that kind of effort or convinces himself that he needs to peruse ‘higher education’. This has led to a strange kind of skill formation in ,say, Commerce or in Engineering with does not make any sense to many employers. Further, degrees have made individuals unfit for understanding dignity of labour.

The truth, however, like always, is multi-faceted. Not only do many people not know their jobs, but because of ‘contacts’ they are loaded with assignments for which they were temperamentally and professional inept. Consider one of the biggest employers in this country — Indian Railways. The road to skilled jobs in the railways reportedly has often been through serving as domestic help to the high-and-mighty of the railway system.

Putting it simply, it is always difficult to map skills where standards of recruitment and selection are unknown. Many people are not even aware of what it takes to deliver till they start learning by doing, and at times with huge costs to themselves and others. Watch the electrician climb the pole to set right the electricity fault. Even his manner of doing so, would show the risk he is running, not only for others but for himself too.

Illustratively, when the rain falls and some electrical line snaps, resulting in people getting electrocuted — the incident does find a small mention in the media. But nothing really changes. The episodical reactions are predictable and useless.

The limited inquiry made by the writer did not ever show the ‘fault’ which led to the snapping of the lines and the individual being electrocuted, being ever investigated, conclusively. The responsibility is never fixed in most such cases.

As a people, we have mastered that art of evasive investigation. Recall an incident of stampede on the new Delhi railway station, during the ministership of a public leader who had visited jail for long periods of time. The investigation into the stampede showed that there was no lapse on anybody’s part. Hence, there was no question of fixing accountability. That so many people died was regrettable, but since no one had caused the tragedy, the event was declared as ‘just happened’! So much for skill formation and more. If the story was to end there, it would be comprehensible even if it were regrettable. The truth of the matter is, at many levels of institutions, there are individuals for whom inefficiency is a conscious choice.

People chose to be inefficient because, to be inefficient is ‘no crime’. It breeds convenience. The superior of his own survival looks the other way, colleagues defend and plead for one another. Subordinates see it as the way to go. Skilling India, therefore, needs not just physical effort but mindset change.

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