Data from the Census 2011 shows that the proportion of Indians having a technical diploma or a certificate, not equal to a degree, is a miniscule 0.2 percent. In absolute terms, the number of such persons has been enumerated by the Census as approximately 19 lakh in 2011.
Given this revelation, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government's plan to provide skill training to around 402 million people (i.e. 40.2 crore people) by 2022 under the Skill India Mission may certainly be a lofty goal, but appears to be too ambitious under the prevailing circumstances.
Even the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office informs us that only 4.7 percent of India’s total workforce has undergone formal skill training as compared to 52 percent in the USA, 68 percent in the UK, 75 percent in Germany, 80 percent in Japan and 96 percent in South Korea.
Assuming annual growth of India’s population at 1.2 percent, the population count is likely to reach 138 crore in 2022, from 121 crore in 2011. This means that if India succeeds in its Skill India Mission, the share of skilled people (i.e. 40.2 crore) in its population would be almost 29.1 percent by 2022 – which at this point appears to be a tall task.
This is further complicated by the fact that there are multiple sources of data on existing skilled workers in the national economy.
The Census 2011 data shows that the share of main workers having a technical degree or diploma equal to a degree or a post-graduate degree is 1.9 percent; in case of marginal workers this figure is 0.5 percent.
The proportion of main workers having a technical diploma or a certificate not equal to degree is 1.1 percent whereas in case of marginal workers the figure is 0.3 percent.
In a separate report published earlier by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) entitled Status of Education and Vocational Training in India, it was found that among persons aged 15 years and above, only 2.4 percent had technical degrees, diplomas or certificates during 2011-12. The MoSPI report was based on the National Sample Survey 68th Round.
Data sourced from Census 2011 and MoSPI report, however, cannot be compared because of methodological differences.
The table below shows the level of technical education among Indians according to various estimates available.
Table 1: Technical Education among Indians (rural, urban and total)
Proportion having technical diploma or certificate not equal to degree (all ages) in all areas (rural+urban)
Proportion having technical diploma or certificate not equal to degree (15 years and above) in all areas (rural+urban)
Proportion having technical degrees or diplomas or certificates (15 years and above) in all areas (rural+urban)
NSS 68th Round
Proportion having technical diploma or certificate not equal to degree (all ages) in rural areas
Proportion having technical diploma or certificate not equal to degree (15 years and above) in rural areas
Proportion having technical degrees or diplomas or certificates (15 years and above) in rural areas
NSS 68th Round
Proportion having technical diploma or certificate not equal to degree (all ages) in urban areas
Proportion having technical diploma or certificate not equal to degree (15 years and above) in urban areas
Proportion having technical degrees or diplomas or certificates (15 years and above) in urban areas
NSS 68th Round
Source: Census 2011; Status of Education and Vocational Training in India, NSS 68th Round
The tabular data above, as can be seen, is also a commentary on the differential between skill levels in different demographics and gender categories.
For example, the Census 2011 data shows that the proportion of males having a technical diploma or certificate not equal to a degree is 0.22 percent while this proportion for females is even lesser at 0.09 percent. In both rural and urban areas, the proportion of males having a technical diploma or certificate not equal to a degree exceeds that of females (see table 1).
Again, the proportion of persons having a technical diploma or certificate not equal to degree aged 15 years and above is higher in urban areas (0.33 percent) as compared to rural areas (0.18 percent), and so on.
The 4th Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey report (2013-14) too provides information on education and skill development among the labour force. According to it, among population aged 15 years and above, 6.8 percent received/are receiving vocational training. Out of that 6.8 percent, 2.8 percent received formal training while the remaining 4 per cent were informally trained.
Clearly, given such a dismal level of skilled people at hand, accomplishing the ideal of the Make in India programme, which has been devised to transform India into a global design and manufacturing hub, will be an uphill task.
Formal versus non-formal vocational training
The problem with Census data is that it takes into account only formal vocational training and education which could probably explain why the level of skill (including technical skill) among Indians is so low according to these estimates.
Contrary to this, the MoSPI report entitled Status of Education and Vocational Training in India considers non-formal vocational training as well. It says that among persons aged 15-59 years, about 2.2 percent received formal vocational training while 8.6 percent received non-formal vocational training during 2011-12.
According to this report, non-formal vocational training includes skill acquired by heredity, self-learning, learning on the job etc. Formal vocational training on the other hand is that which takes place in educational and training institutions, follows a structured training programme and leads to certificates, diplomas or degrees, recognised by the state/central governments, the public sector and other reputed concerns.
Within the non-formal vocationally trained persons in the age group of 15-59 years, MoSPI estimates that 3.0 percent received non-formal vocational training by 'heredity', 1.7 percent received the same by 'self-learning' and 3.5 percent got that by 'learning on the job'.
Even in the case of non-formal vocational training, the gender gap persists. In rural areas, nearly 11.1 percent of males as compared to 5.5 percent of females and in urban areas, almost 13.7 percent of males as compared to 4.3 percent of females received non-formal vocational training.
The importance of informal training cannot be neglected. While comparing the formally and informally trained groups, it has been found by the 4th Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey report (2013-14) that the unemployment rate is actually less in the informally trained labour force.
In case of the informally trained, the percentage of unemployed persons is 2.8, whereas in the case of formally trained persons, the percentage of unemployed persons is estimated at 14.5.
However, among the formally trained employed persons, more than 50 percent were reported to fall in the wage/salaried category followed by self-employed category. Among the informally trained employed persons, more than half were reported to be in the self-employed category, followed by casual workers.
Lack of basic education
Speaking to Sonali Campion and Taryana Odayar at London School of Economics on 6 November, 2015, Prof. Amartya Sen criticized the development model of the NDA government as well as previous governments. He said, "India is the only country in the world which is trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force."
Sen also pointed out that like the British government during the time of Adam Smith, the present Indian Government is not paying sufficient attention to basic education.
Completion of basic education affects the skills acquired by an individual to a large extent. At the national level, among population aged 15 years and above, 20 percent had secondary education and only 12.7 percent had higher secondary education during 2011-12, informs the MoSPI report.
The same report also draws attention to the Net Attendance Ratio or NAR (per 100 persons), which has been defined for a particular level of education as the ratio of number of persons belonging to a particular age-group currently attending that level to the estimated persons in that specified age-group.
In India, NAR per 100 persons is shown to be 82 percent at the primary level in educational institutions, 61 percent at the middle school level, 52 percent at the secondary level and 39 percent at the higher secondary level.
Among the specified reasons, the predominant reason for not attending any educational institution (among persons aged 5-29 years) was ‘to supplement household income’ for males and ‘to attend to household chores’ for females in both the rural and urban areas.
Critics of NDA’s Skill India Mission have argued that that unless the quality of education imparted by the schools improves, vocational training is going to have little impact on the creation of a well-skilled workforce. The need of the hour is to provide impetus to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) with more budgetary support and adequate monitoring.
The SSA is a major flagship programme of the Government of India to universalize elementary education in the country, and it is the main vehicle for implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act (2009). Unfortunately, the Centre has recently decided to reduce its share of funds in SSA from the previous 65:35 ratio to 50:50 ratio, which many states including Tamil Nadu have opposed.
In view of this move as well as in the light of the statistics available, how the government proposes to achieve its skill development targets will be interesting to follow.
It is also important to note the temporal dimensions of the issue – how India has approached the skill development challenge over the years and under different governments. This would be critical to understanding the gaps and what needs to be done to create the labour force that the country needs at this juncture. This shall be taken up in the concluding part of this article.