Skill India, design intervention

During the 1990s, which ushered India into the era of economic liberalization, policymakers had grappled with questions surrounding the government’s role in business. For long India’s mixed economy model, which carried an intrinsic socialist bias, had made it obligatory for governments to set up industries and public sector enterprises and provide employment. Decades later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reflects similar skepticism when he says that the government’s job is merely that of a facilitator. Today governments are not only stepping out of the past, but have also carved a new role for themselves which is largely that of an enabler. 

In their changed market-friendly avatar, successive governments have strived hard to create an eco-system which may augment entrepreneurship rather than running a business themselves. However, the spirit must be converted into concrete action plans. So we have the Skill India and Make in India- the two mutually complementing flagship initiatives of the NDA government. While the first may enable people to acquire new and globally benchmarked productive skills, the second could leverage it to develop entrepreneurship and thereby transform India into a global manufacturing hub.

Over the years, our manufacturing sector has seen tremendous growth. But the nature of this growth has largely been quantitative rather than qualitative. From automobile to electrical, electronics, fashion, textile, heavy machinery, machine tools; our list is big and growing. Nonetheless, there are very few that are recognised for their design, innovation or global competitiveness. Surely, we need to acquire the best practices and methods of skill enhancement to make our manufacturing sector globally competitive. Technology, innovation, design- Make in India requires multiple skills. For decades, the large section of India’s manufacturing sector has been possessed with the low-cost miracle of ‘Jugaad’ (makeshift innovation) and thus has seldom invested in real design or technology innovation. The reliance on low-cost advantage may provide a short-term dividend. However, in the long-term excellence strategies have to be different.

Incidentally, the NDA government has launched the Skill India and Make in India initiative at a time when the world economy is recovering from an extended slowdown. Major economic power centers, including the US, the European Union, and BRICS are set to make a comeback. The government seems to have set an ambitious target – to increase the contribution of the manufacturing sector from current 16 percent to 25 percent of the GDP by 2025. It’s estimated that India’s manufacturing sector has the capacity to reach US$ 1 trillion by 2025, contribute 25-30 percent to its GDP and create 90 million jobs by the same year. Besides GDP growth, the possibility of job creation is an attraction that no elected government can resist.

However, to make India a global manufacturing hub we will have to first set our priorities right. What would be the USP of our products – technology, innovation, design or a mix of all three? Would we like to become a mass producer of crude, cheap, unsafe, unattractive, uncompetitive products without any brand identity or manufacturer of innovative, problem solving, state of the art, environmentally sustainable products that will meet the requirement of the present and the future? Some of the best known global brands today such as Samsung, LG, Lenovo, Ikea, and Swarovski are the finest examples of skill, design, craftsmanship, technology and innovation embedded together. If Indian products and manufacturing quality still lag behind these brands it’s also because we haven’t seriously invested in skill development. Instead, we have relied more on our traditional savior ‘Jugaad’. While only 5 percent of our workforce has undergone formal training in skill development, it’s 96 percent in South Korea, 80 percent in Japan, 75 percent in Germany and 68 percent in the United Kingdom. On the Global Innovation Index, India ranks 76 out of 143 countries. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) estimates that by 2022 our requirement of skilled manpower in twenty-four manufacturing sectors will be somewhere near 110 million.  Are we prepared?

Skill has many dimensions. Besides techniques, processes and technology it also manifests through the creative methods of arts, crafts, and design. Industrial design, which is a convergence of art, craft, technology and innovation, among others, itself is an important skill required for manufacturing quality products. Making different types of products require different skills. Besides the medium and large we also have a sizeable industrial sector which comprises of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that manufacture a variety of products. They account for nearly 45 percent of India’s manufacturing output, generate 40 percent of its export and employ nearly 73 million people. Despite such figures, this sector depends on outdated methods, skills, and techniques. Innovation and product diversification largely remain out of its domain. However, it desperately needs innovation and product diversification for its survival and growth. Through design clinics and workshops National Institute of Design is trying to infuse design sensitivity and skills to the MSME sectors. However, for better results design should be integrated into the Skill India and Make in India initiatives.

The craft sector, which produces handloom, Khadi, furniture, utensils, pottery, leather goods and a host of other products, is also driven by intricate legacies of skills. They should not only be nurtured but also improvised so that the craft remains relevant as a manufacturing process. Hence, both Skill India and Make in India should identify the skill sets required to improve the performance and productivity of this sector. Make in India identifies 25 priority sectors of manufacturing. They may require skills of design, technology, and innovation in different degrees. The synergy between policies, design processes (creative and innovative), skills and technology can make Skill India and Make in India far more effective.

(The author is a Senior Faculty of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Views expressed are strictly personal)
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