Posted on

November 21, 2018

You need skill to work efficiently and effectively. Skill has relevance only in the context of work/task and by itself has little/no meaning. So, any skilling initiative should be tied to a job and should equip the trainee well enough to help them land the job that they were skilled for - makes sense, right? Perfectly logical - am sure, you couldn't disagree. None of us do.

Now using this/similar logic, policy makers and program designers have set placement targets where 50% to 70% of all trainees undergoing skill development programs should be placed. Again, makes sense - if even half of the people who under go this kind of training do not get into jobs, then what is the point of these skilling programs? Apart from this, I am not sure if there was prior data and analysis used to arrive at these lofty targets - will be happy to hear about it from anyone who maybe privy to the same!! I have been looking for the basis on which these targets were set for quite some time...

So, things should be hunky dory in the skills space! However, that's not the case as actual placement achieved across programs is quite low ( 10% to 20%) (https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/why-india-s-skill-mission-has-failed-117090200098_1.html). Why is this happening? Where are we going wrong?

While this is a complex issue and there are many variables that lead to successful outcomes, for this article, we'll focus on the role of the Skill Provider in achieving the target percentages. Should the Skills provider be solely responsible for the Placement targets? In my mind, the answer is a vehement no. It will be good to remember that the Skill provider's strength is imparting skills and making transfer of learning happen and not in making placements happen. Placements should happen - but, aren't the competencies required there different? If not, then how do we explain the existence of an industry sub sector that focuses only on Placements?

It doesn't end here, for successful placements, one of the key ingredients is the quality and intent of trainees sourced for the program - if sourcing is not right, then no matter what happens during the training interventions and there on, during the placement stage; the placement numbers will be dismal! One can take the horse to the pond, but can't make the horse drink, if it doesn't want to! Now, does this mean that the Skills Provider should also be an expert in sourcing candidates? Policy makers/Corporates tend to think so!!

So, the job of the poor Skills Provider ,who already has a super tough job on its hands to transform a seemingly "untransformable" set of people, becomes even tougher - pretty much setting it up for failure! It would be good to remember that we are dealing with adults who are not academically inclined and do not have high endurance and where a lot of fossilisation has already happened and unlearning, critical to learning anything new, is difficult to achieve! And by the way, the Skills Provider has to achieve this working with an army of "not so" able bodied soldiers as the Skilling sector doesn't attract the best and brightest professionals since it is not the most happening profession from a societal stand point! Now, over and above that it has to worry about 2 very different kind of functions - Sourcing & Placements! What are the odds of success? No points for guessing..

So, off the bat, these programs are designed to fail! A possible way out is to have specialists operate these 3 key processes ( Sourcing, Skilling, Placement) in the Skills value Chain i.e. one company works on one process only. A central/nodal team akin to a Program Management Office cutting across the 3 processes, is responsible for governance of the eco system and optimises the same for scale and scope. Proper entry and exit criteria needs to be defined and adhered to at every process level. Expecting one company to do everything is bound to fail esp. if we are looking at large numbers!

Specifically, if we look at Placements, we have to consider both Demand & Supply side of the equation, if we have to achieve high percentages. Typically, we have been focusing a lot on the supply side without fully/optimally aligning the supply to demand! A lot of times, this is not in the control of the Skills Provider as they are mandated to impart skills training in areas where the demand maybe negligible/non existent and then expected to achieve 70% placement rates! The choice of skills at times is driven by political/corporate agendas and at times as a result of sheer "ignorance" of market and industry dynamics. The latter can be attributed to the whims and fancies of a few individuals who go by their "gut feel" as they strongly relate to the dictum - "We are feeling beings who think and not thinking beings who feel"!

Skilling programs under the CSR umbrella take an even more unplaced view on placements! By definition/design, the beneficiaries are from a lower socio economic strata and worse/paradoxically so, even less inclined to hard work. Since input quality is not under control, the training/transformation process should be intense, holistic and over a long duration to make up for the quality of input, if we were to expect good outcomes. Taking the analogy of a hospital, they'd need to be in ICU and not in General Ward! However, what's happening is just the reverse. Limited budgets are assigned to impact large numbers ( expenditure per candidate is significantly lower as compared to the tightly coupled HTD model executed in controlled environments) and while the expectations for placements still stay in the range of 50% to 70%! How can you win when an initiative is designed to fail?

Now, moving from today's tightly coupled mode ( all 3 processes run by one agency) to a loosely coupled mode with strong governance will require structural changes and hence will require time. So, what should be done in the interim?

Running the closed loop Source/Hire, Train, Onboard/Deploy HTD model is definitely a way out in the interim - please refer my earlier article - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/everyone-seems-talking-htd-hire-train-deploy-model-freshers-kumar/ The numbers will be smaller but more definite and the percentages will be higher.

And just in case the long term becomes very long term, don't despair as we are on the verge of Unlocking HTD with SkillTech! With a little help from my friends in the policy/program design space, this will help achieve scale with quality and that too very very rapidly! My only submission to the policy makers/program designers is to be aware that while Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai is probably the best placed to cure Cancer, the success rates there also is wanting..

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