Apprenticeships not only provide an immersive skills training environment, but also offer crucial insight into the real world of work thus bringing youth a step closer to their future employers.
By increasing youth access and employer engagement in apprenticeships or other forms of skills-based vocational training, the severe jobs-skills mismatch that pervades the Indian labour market can be challenged head-on.
How Big is the Problem?
Employability rates among college graduates languish under 50% dropping to 30% in disciplines such as commerce and arts. Equally alarming, an astonishing 80% of India’s total college student population is enrolled in disciplines with the least market value. Why is that? An acute lack of awareness among youth on what skills jobs require is a key reason. Secondly, practical skills and problem-solving abilities which most employers seek can only come from real work experience. There exists a palpable mismatch between what employers expect of young people at the recruitment stage and what youth know of what is expected of them.
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Rajesh Aggarwal, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, eloquently summed up the problem at a NETAP-IAF event, “What are the key challenges from a skills scenario? Youth say they don’t know what they should get skilled on. They don’t know what their interests are, their aspirations are not very clear. What skills should they acquire so they are able to earn a decent livelihood? Employers say they are not getting the right kind of people.”
The innate qualities of skills-based training and apprenticeships can have a revolutionary effect on closing the dichotomy between the academic world and the world of work. A lot of the areas of mismatch between employer-youth expectations can be significantly reduced by increasing the number of apprenticeships at the recruitment stage.
The Risk Associated with Youth
Employers lament the lack of work experience in youth, unsure if the investment in taking on a fresh recruit will reap benefits. This invariably places young people at a huge disadvantage as they find themselves trapped in a vicious circle of no-experience-no-job. However, the very job-specific skills and workplace awareness that employers seek can be provided by on-the-job learning and training.
Apprenticeships – A Stepping Stone
A raft of industry-friendly tweaks to the Apprentice Act in 2014 has enabled businesses to invest in recruitment and workforce planning under the overall apprenticeship framework. The reasons why India needs more apprenticeships prior to or at the point of youth leaving the education system are hard to argue with. Learning on the job makes young people aware of the skills and competencies required, allowing them to take better decisions on whether that job is meant for them. Moreover, once youth go through the process of familiarisation with a particular work culture of a business, the chances of retention go up dramatically.
Talent development can be an expensive affair. For a business, getting it right with a candidate who has been trained in their own workplace in exactly the skills they seek is a complete win-win. Furthermore, employers will promote apprenticeships in roles and job sectors where there is a demand. The entire supply chain preparation and talent matching occurs at the apprenticeship stage thus significantly reducing further upfront recruitment and training costs.
More than mock interviews on landing jobs India’s teeming graduates need improved access to on-the-job experiences which will arm them with the right skills and the confidence for what awaits them next. Employers have a huge role to play in providing opportunities for apprenticeships and skills-based training. Equally, policymakers and academia need to step up with extensive career guidance and work preparation for young people which should become an integral part of the education curriculum.
A Boon for School Leavers
The same holds true for school leavers; drop-out rate is the highest at the secondary level in India according to Ministry of HRD education figures for 2018. Apprenticeships must be offered as a non-degree pathway to employment to curb school drop-outs drifting in the NEET (youth not in education, employment or training) category which is growing at a rate of around 9 million annually. This calls for job creation in non-graduate roles for school leavers to build an alternative talent pipeline for employers.
Apprenticeship Advantage for MSMEs
The challenge of finding fresh recruits who can hit the ground running is substantially overcome through an apprenticeship programme. Indian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are the largest employment provider after agriculture. The nature of business for MSMEs is primarily hands-on or trade-oriented. Hence, when it comes to skills versus degrees MSMEs value work experience over qualifications thus presenting immense opportunities for apprenticeships or other forms of experiential skills training.
With alarm bells ringing loud and clear on a severe de-link between youth skills and market demand, apprenticeships can become the holy grail for Indian employers to find the right future recruits and for our youth to increase their employability skills. Apprenticeships, therefore, need to be at the heart of making the transition from education to work.