With the Indian economy growing at more than 7% every year, it is estimated that it will need around 109 million skilled workers to support the 24 key sectors of the economy. Although 12 million youth between the ages of 16 and 29 enter the workforce each year, only 8% are considered to be employable, according to government estimates. Hence, there is a huge need for vocational education programs to be setup in all parts of the country to help bridge this skills gap.
Vocational education is primarily aimed at giving students the skills and knowledge to perform in a specific job role. This type of education has been prevalent in countries around the world for more than 600 years starting from apprenticeships, where a young student developed practical skills while assisting an older master craftsman, to formal training programs taught in colleges today.
Each vocational course is specific to a type of job role. For example, a vocational program to train electricians will not be suitable for a student who wants to work as a plumber. This means that the quality of training imparted by a vocational course will be primarily assessed on how effective its graduates perform in the first job they join after the course. Hence, the curriculum of a high-quality vocational course needs to be updated annually to match the changing needs of the job market in various industry sectors. This is in contrast to non-job oriented academic programs in universities which can teach the same curriculum for more than a decade and just needs to ensure that students pass standardized exams.
Based on the above, what are the current trends in the job market that necessitate changes in the existing vocational education courses offered in India?
There is an overwhelming shift from blue collar to white collar work. Due to archaic labour laws and the increased cost effectiveness of automation, many factory owners now prefer using machinery instead of hiring labour. A majority of young Indians also aspire for higher paying jobs that require more mental capabilities than manual work. In addition, most industry sectors are working with rapidly advancing technologies that require constant upskilling of their workers.
Hence the majority of jobs will be available in India’s fast-growing services sector in areas like Banking, Healthcare, IT, Design, Hospitality and many others. Regardless of the industry, the nature of these jobs will require employees to have strong soft skills along with the hard skills (eg. software programming, financial modelling etc.) needed to perform their role successfully. The soft skills that most employers want in a job candidate are strong communication skills, team working ability, problem solving abilities and a positive attitude. This is mainly because most work in services industries requires interacting, collaborating & convincing co-workers and clients.
Hence, along with changing their curricula to ensure up to date hard skills are imparted, vocational training providers also need to develop their students’ soft skills as an intrinsic part of their programs. This means that vocational training institutions cannot stick to only providing theory-based lectures in their courses. They need to focus on newer educational methods like group projects, simulations, role-playing, live industry projects that enable their students to use their thinking abilities and collaborate with each other to improve their soft skills. Only by developing their students’ hard skills and soft skills can vocational training providers ensure they build truly employable graduates who can quickly help bridge the ever-increasing skills gap in the Indian economy.
Akhil Shahani, Managing Director, The Shahani Group