Need to revisit the skilling needs in the economy

Mr Satoshi Sasaki, Director ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi spoke at the CII Virtual Conference on Fostering India’s Industrial & Job Growth through Best Skilling and Reskilling Practices

Statement | New Delhi, India | 17 March 2021
It is a great pleasure for me to speak at this CII event on a topic that is most pertinent in the current times. Let me first salute the efforts made by the industries and private sector employers, to stand up to and tackle the COVID-19 challenges posed to the world. The International Labour Organization was among the first to identify that the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis, but a social and economic crisis as well. The ILO was quick to respond to the fallout caused by this pandemic, largely capitalized on its experiences tackling previous emergencies and economic depressions. The ILO Monitors on COVID-19 and the World of Work, periodically estimate the impact on income and employment. Besides, it also provides policy recommendations to deal with the situation under four pillars, including:
  1. Protect workers at the workplace;
  2. Stimulate economic and labour demand;
  3. Support employment and incomes; and
  4. Use social dialogue between government, workers and employers to find solutions.
Skills development has a crucial role to play in the immediate effort to reduce the impact of COVID-19, in building the resilience of workers and firms, and in preparing for recovery. The timely analysis of shifts in skills demands fed into the training and education system will allow us to effectively respond to widening skills mismatch demand. It calls for rapid assessment of needs for skilling, re-skilling and up-skilling for timely and practical action. In this regard, the skill anticipation exercise has been already underway by the Ministry of Skills focusing on the manufacturing sector with the intent to feed into ‘Atmanirbhar initiative’ is an important step. ILO is privileged to be associated with the Ministry in this exercise.

India needs new skills and lifelong learning ecosystems that support implementation of International Labour Standards, in particular the Human Resource Development Convention, 1975 (No. 142) and the Human Resources Development Recommendation: Education, Training & Lifelong Learning, 2004 (No. 195). Such an ecosystem recognizes that education, training and lifelong learning are fundamental and should form an integral part of economic, fiscal, social and labour market policies. Lifelong learning policies would entail development of foundational skills including learning to learn, adaptability, teamwork, innovation, critical thinking through early childhood and basic education. Using technology to promote flexible learning options is another important element of lifelong learning, alongside equipping youths and workers with digital skills. A modular based management development programme is a good example of facilitating re-skilling and up-skilling of employees through the use of audio-visual and interactive training modality. These efforts needs to be complemented by Active Labour Market Policies, like career guidance, counselling and support services that play an important role in facilitating people’s transitions.

Besides improving the supply side, it is important for India to make the skilling eco-system demand driven. This necessitates expanding recognition and validation of skills and competencies. The current NSQF must address broader and flexible pathways for qualifications. ILO is working closely with the Ministry of Skills on developing a robust NSQF and monitoring framework. Considering the scale of informal economy in the country, Recognition of Prior Learning mechanism will have to be expanded to formalize skills and competencies gained informally. Credit transfer mechanism must be implemented to create a seamless movement from TVET to formal education system. Implementation of sectoral approach to skills development with emphasis on emerging sectors, such as the green and care sectors, will be important alongside strengthening linkages between institutes and enterprises and develop more flexible learning delivery system. It will also be essential to expand the national apprenticeship program to include the micro enterprises, which dominate the Indian economy.

Evidently, the skilling eco-system needs to adapt to ‘New Normal’ by strengthening the resilience and responsiveness of TVET systems to ensure service delivery ‘leaves no one behind’ as enshrined in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. In these endeavors, it is critical to ensure easy access and affordability of skilling packages. Equally, it is important to understand the need for the skilling packages presented in a comprehensive format and available in e-platforms. These skilling packages should be based on occupations or trades, which are not too far away from the knowledge or comparative advantage of the local community. Introducing a skill set which is completely alien to the local context, just intending to accelerate growth and modernization is not sustainable due to the risk of wide gaps in learning curve. I also would like to emphasize here that availability of quality career guidance services has become necessary. Market disruptions triggered by COVID-19 has resulted in collapse and emergence of industry sectors, necessitating informed counselling of youths to choose right vocation.

We are aware that skilled employees are at the core of competitive economies. It infuses the agility and resilience into enterprises and enables them to effectively respond to market changes. COVID-19 has amplified the need to invest in skilling, necessitating technology based service models, especially to reach out to informal workers and those at risk of entering informal economy. Our ‘new normal’ should have a human face. ILO stands ready to propel the ongoing efforts by its constituents in India in this direction.

In conclusion, while the pandemic has prompted us to revisit the skilling needs in the economy, it is important to realise for optimal results. The human software needs to be matched with investment in working conditions and making skilling ecosystem gender mainstreamed, in a country, which has among the lowest female labour force participation rates. I wish you very fruitful deliberations during this event.