The shocking report of the National Sample Survey Organisation that only two per cent of India’s youth and only about seven per cent of the whole working age population have received vocational training shows remarkable shortcomings in this country’s manpower planning. Strangely enough, higher education seems to have attracted the attention of our leaders more than vocational training which can provide jobs for many more people. This lack of focus on the essential component of skill development places India in a peculiar situation. While domestic economic growth creates a huge employment demand as well as job opportunities, a shortage of skills is making more people unemployable. India has a large population and it is estimated that by 2025 over 70 per cent of Indians will be of working age. This ‘demographic dividend’ should give India an edge over the developed countries where a larger segment of the population will then be aging but will be a demographic disaster if the majority of the working age population is not able to get jobs due to a lack of skills. Even though the government is not unaware of the importance of vocational training and has set for itself a task of creating a skilled workforce of 500 million by 2022, its efforts in this direction remain woefully short, having restricted itself to the creation of a National Skill Development Council.
Put together, all the Industrial Training Institutes across India only have the capacity to train a million people annually, whereas close to 13 million people are being added to the workforce each year. Moreover, placement outcomes from these institutes are poor with the Planning Commission of India having attributed this to a mismatch between training delivered and required, with even the vocational training offered not being fitted to the needs of the casual workers, many of whom are migrants from rural areas with poor education. A problem with the delivery of vocational education has been the lack of coordination between national and state governments as well as mismatched prioritisation in policy-making and implementation. For instance, the central government has estimated that the construction sector will create over six times more jobs than Information Technology (IT) and related services sectors by 2022. Yet, the state growth plans for some important states show training initiatives for the IT sector and none for construction. Thus, if government wants to help the people with vocational training, it has to go beyond policy initiatives that on the surface seem to improve training, but are inadequate and do not meet training needs.