Skill Reforms: Underlying themes of the Sharda Prasad Committee report
The committee had twin goals in providing a roadmap for skill reforms, first to meet the employer needs of skills and second, to provide a decent means of livelihood to youth. While all the recommendations towards these goals of the committee are important, understanding few underlying themes of the recommendations will help us appreciate the steps proposed to make a better skill development system
The first recurring theme is a constant focus on the key stakeholder- youth. Each recommendation underpins that the vocational education is not only for the under privileged communities, it is not for your neighbor; it is not a stopgap arrangement for those who could not make it to the formal education system. It is for all of us. It takes concrete steps to the mindset change, e.g. make a separate stream like we have for science and humanities after class X, create vocational schools and vocational colleges for upward mobility and a central university to awards degrees, diploma etc. Steps in this direction would be a make or break for the skill development to succeed in India.
The second recurring them is the realization of human potential. This leads to specific recommendations like aligning the courses to international requirements, ensuring basic foundation of the 3Rs, life long learning, etc. It mentions that ensuring that every national standard provides for an in-demand skill set with global mobility translates to better jobs and better living standards. The local demand will be a variation/subset of the global norm and we cannot let courses of short duration (with no real skills) meant to under utilize and force low pay for suboptimal jobs be called national standards. Hence the current national standards have to drastically improve. We should not have more than 340 courses like Germany and anyone who is trained in this will be an asset for the country to be proud of.
The third recurring theme is to do what is right. Cases of conflict of interests, rigged assessments, training happening only on papers is not new. Such instances impact the credibility of the whole effort and take us many steps back from the goal. As a policy- not having an credible assessment board, too many sector skill councils each trying to maximize its business, lack of arms length measures in institutions have all created a huge ethics and accountability problem. Perhaps skill development is the only business in the country with one and only customer- the government, it is neither the student nor the employer who needs a skilled workforce. Such a market failure calls for stronger oversight to ensure the money is actually spent to improve young lives.