During the summer on July 16 Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a new Skill India logo and a family of projects with the objective of training over 400 million people across India in a range of skills by 2022. Along with a mission and a policy for skill development and entrepreneurship a Skill Loan scheme was announced and financial incentives for those who complete approved training. Like other recent initiatives the projects are certainly well-intentioned. They address a range of current issues, but much will depend upon how they are implemented and whether they are joined up with other initiatives like the creation of smart cities. Their success will depend upon how people, including those with the capabilities to deliver training, respond and the extent to which the skill development that is provided is relevant, current and provides a sound base for future updating.
How will Skill India relate to corporate CSR initiatives across India? How will it relate to the inclusiveness agenda? Will it benefit groups and communities that have hitherto not substantially benefited from recent economic growth? How might CSR projects contribute to its aspirations while at the same time contributing to social objectives and benefiting those needing support? How could digital developments help address the volume issue – the sheer numbers of people who need to be trained and scattered communities of people who are excluded and in some cases rejected?
The challenge facing India is immediately apparent. The significant proportion of the world’s young people that are Indian and which are seen by many as a national asset could quickly become a costly burden. The nature of work and organisations is changing. If new production facilities resulting from the Made in India initiative are to be state of the art we may see robots and automated processes rather than people on factory floors. Fewer sales, service and support staff may be needed as customers buy and help themselves on-line. India’s emerging middle class may chose international brands rather than local alternatives. India needs more entrepreneurs who will create opportunities rather than people hoping that someone else might hire them.
A key challenge for the Government will be joining up the various initiatives that have been launched. For example, what about the digitally excluded who cannot access e-Government and other services? How will Skill India relate to the Smart Cities initiative? Will it equip people to take advantage of greater bandwidth, connectivity and digital services and will new applications of technology be used to open up and deliver education and training initiatives. Could CSR budgets be used to develop applications such as mobile phone aps to help, train and support excluded groups?
In an uncertain era in which we can never be quite sure what tomorrow might bring in terms of innovations, opportunities and challenges re-skilling is as important as initial training and development. Acquired skills can become quickly out of date unless adapted, refreshed and updated to meet changing aspirations, priorities and requirements. Basic skills are required to take advantage of digital opportunities and on-line services and kept current as technologies change.
Recently I presented the Digital Challenge Skills and Inclusion Award 2015 at a dinner at the UK’s House of Lords which was hosted by The Earl of Erroll, Chair of the Digital Policy Alliance. The event was held in the Peers Dining Room and followed an annual Next Gen conference dealing with broadband infrastructure and applications. Most of the entries contained a skills development and overcoming digital exclusion element. The award was won by Northumberland County Council with its iNorthumberland Project which involved public and private collaboration, infrastructure improvements and training and other partnerships. An evaluation of the project found the economic benefits were over five times the investment cost.
The runner up was Digital Unite for its Digital Champions Network which had created approaching 1000 digital champions. A common feature of many of the candidates for the award was collaboration between a variety of organisations across the public and private sectors. Also noticeable was the number of times project teams sought the delivery of multiple beneficial outcomes through a single initiative. Lessons learned suggest that digital applications could address digital and other exclusion issues across India and help to deliver Skill India objectives.
Digital applications can be used to deliver Government and other support services to remote areas and groups that might otherwise be excluded. One group whose plight has been recognised by the Law Commission of India is the leper community. In recent years over a half of the world’s newly disclosed cases of leprosy have occurred in India where lepers face social exclusion and legal discrimination. Every four minutes someone from India gets diagnosed with leprosy. Rejected by their families once their symptoms are visible, or their condition is otherwise revealed, they seek shelter in leper colonies and centres supported by organisations such as The Leprosy Mission and the Order of St Lazarus. Could CSR budgets be used to develop specific applications to help lepers?
An EDPAL Bill to repeal discriminatory legislation, abolish the term ‘leper’ and enshrine in law the rights of people affected by leprosy went to the Lok Sabha in July, but there are suggestions it may not be considered until mid-2016 at the earliest. In the meantime organisations genuinely concerned with exclusion could lobby for the speeding up of its progress. Should this be an element of CSR policy? The online petition option which exist at www.united4change.in is an example of a digital application to encourage the support of an excluded community. Touch screen technology can sometimes allow the support provided by relevant applications to be accessed by lepers and others whose disabilities might prevent them from using a traditional keyboard. If a single large company or group of companies focused their CSR budgets on the elimination of leprosy which is a treatable disease it might be enough to end a traditional scourge of mankind.
Smart companies and entrepreneurs set out to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously. For example, the Disability Entrepreneurship and Leadership (DEAL) Programme aims to create more inclusive workplaces while at the same time providing skills training and support for the members of groups that have hitherto found moving into leadership roles and becoming entrepreneurs to be challenging. The initiative has been promoted by ELMS a corporate learning and social responsibility partner. Having delivered a DEAL course for the blind and partially sighted Surendra Shroff co-founder of ELMS has seen the improvements in self confidence and opportunities the programme creates. He believes there are various ways in which people can become involved with DEAL as a corporate partner, employer, employee or aspiring entrepreneur. CSR programmes, plans and budgets represent one way of engaging with an initiative such as DEAL and achieving both skill development and inclusion objectives.
The greater bandwidth and connectivity that infrastructure improvements can provide could allow rural areas and hitherto excluded groups to be reached by support services specifically designed for their particular needs. For example, a broadband link to a 3D printer in a village centre or leprosy mission might allow low-cost replacement prosthetic limbs to be produced on demand that could allow a leper to access other on-line services, participate in social networks and become a teleworker. Collaborative action and investments in improved digital infrastructure can deliver Government and other services, overcome barriers and achieve quick paybacks. Imaginative applications of technology developed at a cost that many CSR budgets could afford can develop new skills and transform the lives of marginalised and excluded groups.
Developments in e-learning, open-learning and performance support services that are easily accessible and available 24/7 whenever and wherever required, including when people are on the move are transforming the training, induction and updating landscape. Affordable performance support tools that incorporate social networking can capture and share the best ways of excelling at difficult jobs and coping with issues as they arise. As a result work, including higher level jobs, can be more mobile than ever before. This creates opportunities as well as posing challenges for the Made in India initiative. People in the cheapest locations with appropriate performance support may have the potential to quickly outperform all but a few superstars among established experts.
The implementation of projects under the Skill India banner could learn much from initiatives in other countries. For example, in the UK for a period the Government’s large training budget was administered by local and employer-led Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) in an attempt to ensure that training provided was relevant to the needs of employers. However, the new bodies operated in a framework designed to provide accountability for the use of public monies and many of their staff were former public employees who brought their civil service practices and mind-sets into their new roles. In time as business leaders became more frustrated with the bureaucracy involved and suspicions of money being spent on undemanding and/or irrelevant courses in order to achieve targets the TECs were wound up.
As with so many initiatives of the Modi Government, much of the implementation of Skill India projects will be in the hands of people and practices inherited from the past. A successful outcome will be much more likely if the business community engages with them, encourages people to seize opportunities that arise and take steps to ensure that training arrangements are flexible and make use of approaches and technologies that ensure that what is provided is relevant and current. The allocation of CSR budgets to projects that develop the skills of excluded groups could be a practical way of contributing and generating both economic and social benefits.
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