Bridging the skill gap
Bridging the skill gap

Bridging the skill gap

India has around 12 million people entering the workforce every year of which only 6 per cent receive any form of workplace training, reveals
Dr Rajen Mehrotra
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The Apprentices (Amendment) Act, 2014 received the assent of the President on December 5, 2014. This Act is an effort on the part of The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government, on developing skills for the youth to facilitate employability. I am sure the NDA Government and the corporate sector will take further steps to bridge the vast skill gap prevalent in the country, as the numbers to be trained is extremely high. The major changes envisaged in The Apprentices (Amendment) Act, 2014 are given below:

1.Introduction of optional trade at the behest of an employer based on the business.
2.The number of apprentices to be trained in each enterprise likely to go through upward revision.
3.Multiple employers can come together, either themselves or through an approved agency to provide apprenticeship training. This can help in having industry specific training set ups.
4.The approach of the inspectors/officials in the official interaction during their inspection visits, while identifying areas of non compliance/deviation, at times, giving veiled threats of prosecution of the head of the industry/establishment has been replaced with fine and the provision for prosecution is deleted.

We have 12 million people every year entering the workforce for the next two decades in the country and only 6 per cent of the workforce receives any form of workplace training before entry. Hence, there is bound to be shortage of skilled workforce at the entry level and this has a negative impact on the growth of the manufacturing sector and also in some ways on the service sector. Amending The Apprentices Act of 1961 will positively help the country, but it will not bridge the skill gap which is extremely high, if we want to ensure that the slogan ´Make in India´ becomes a reality to attract both foreign direct investments and domestic investments.

There are manufacturing and service enterprises both in the public & private sector that recruit youngsters as apprentices, give them classroom knowledge and skill training and then absorb them in the enterprise. There are also enterprises that have obtained amendments to the certified standing orders which permit the enterprises to engage apprentices and the period of training in the enterprise and in certain cases it is for a three year period of training.

Employment enhancing vocational skills has been listed under Schedule VII in Section 135 of The Companies Act, 2013 which can be included by companies in their CSR projects. There are enterprises that have set up section 25 companies under the Companies Act towards imparting skills to the youth. Enterprises both in public and private sector need to take up CSR projects on employment enhancing vocational skills on top priority. Such an approach by enterprises both in the public and private sector will help in bridging the skill gap through CSR projects. Also the NDA Government will have to ensure that skill development activity is a top priority, which not only needs continuation but expansion and improvement on the skill development efforts started by the UPA Government in 2005.

There are quite a many enterprises in the corporate sector, who through the National Chambers of Commerce & Industry/National Employer Organizations {i.e. All India Organization of Employers´ (AIOE), Associated Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ASSOCHAM), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Employers´ Federation of India (EFI), Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), and Standing Conference of Public Sector Enterprises (SCOPE)} have collaborated with the Government-run industrial training institutes (ITI) under the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme from 2007 to upgrade ITIs and improve the skills of the students that pass out from these ITIs and also facilitate their entry in enterprises. However, there are large numbers of manufacturing and service enterprises that purely depend on the labour market for the supply of the skilled personnel, and find that people with requisite skills needed for the enterprise are quite often not available, and hence have to be developed or obtained from competitor enterprises. Reality is that enterprises for their success not only needs to recruit workforce at all levels (i.e., workers, supervisors, officers and managers) with the requisite knowledge, skill and attitude, but also develop the knowledge and skills of the existing workforce at all levels for meeting the future needs of the organization, hence a lot of enterprises have also been looking at the concept of knowledge management at the enterprise level.

Ikujiro Nanaka, Professor Emeritus, Hitobashi University in his keynote address to the International Productivity Conference, 2007, organised by the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) in Bangkok, Thailand mentioned that within an organisation there are two types of knowledge: tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge is subjective, and based on experience and hence becomes tough to express in words, sentences, numbers or formulas because it is context specific. Acquiring tacit knowledge depends on each individual´s initiative and there are persons who acquire it in professional and personal life and there are individuals who just do not bother and fail to acquire it. Explicit knowledge is objective and rational that can be expressed in words, sentences, numbers or formulas and is context free. Explicit knowledge presently is a resource available in abundance after the internet revolution and is easy for persons to acquire even if he/she is not working for an organisation.

In tacit knowledge, it is possible to develop technical skills like craft coupled with cognitive skills of beliefs, images, perspectives and mental models, while in explicit knowledge, it is possible to have a database, write manuals and also develop a theoretical model. It is, at times, difficult to convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge and back again into tacit knowledge. However, both organisations and individuals need to make efforts to understand and learn both tacit and explicit knowledge.

Every enterprise has its history of the products/services it produced, the various processes that were developed and the experience that the people working in that organisation have gathered over a time period. There is a lot of information available in every organisation, but it needs to be analysed, filtered and processed to assess whether it is intellectual and a knowledge-based asset. The intellectual and knowledge-based asset of the organisation falls into one of the two categories: tacit or explicit, as dealt earlier. The problem is on identifying the relevant tacit knowledge within the organisation, documenting and harnessing the same, so that it is institutionalised and available permanently with the organisation and not lost with the departure of employees. Explicit knowledge is documented and available in the form of standard operating procedures (SOPs), various plans (i.e. business plan, investment plan, marketing/sales plan, purchasing plan, manufacturing plan, human resource plan, finance plan, support services plan) including the annual budget along with past performance and hence easy to analyse and disseminate.

The human resource in every organisation has a goal to achieve and a role to perform, which with passage of time will keep changing with the new roles of the individual and the growth of the organisation. Individuals need to have an urge to learn and be equipped to take higher responsibilities and also the organisation needs to facilitate the process. There are personnel in enterprises that have developed the ability of continuous learning, hence they never stop learning.

The approach of continuous learning amongst the employees is more prevalent in the service sector enterprises compared to manufacturing sector enterprises. The reason is that in the service sector enterprise, the concerned employees have to regularly interact with the customers, while in the manufacturing sector enterprise; the employees continue to interact with the same persons, i.e., employees. The continuous interaction with the customers in the service sector leads to a continuous feedback thus facilitating the learning process. Employees in service sector enterprise receiving complaints from the customers is common, and at times, the complaints may be genuine or just perceptions, hence the employees are mostly trained to receive complaints without getting angry and finding a solution to the complaint, so as to keep the customer satisfied and also happy. Most employees in the service sector enterprise learn from such complaints, take preventive action, so that recurrence of complaints is avoided. Enterprises in service sector also document some of these complaints, build case studies and thus manage to convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, so that employees are trained, made to learn and perform better at the work place. The challenge to the Learning and Development Departments in the manufacturing sector enterprises is on documenting different case examples involving tacit knowledge and ensuring their dissemination as explicit knowledge.

To facilitate individuals in acquiring tacit knowledge, some of the steps listed below can be taken both by the organisation and the individual:

  • Apprenticeships or being an understudy to an experienced person.
  • Joint problem solving exercises for youngsters/less experience personnel alongwith an experienced person of the organisation.
  • Working with one´s own hand on the shop floor and in the field thus experiencing the grind and learning
  • Sharpening one´s listening and observation skills.
  • Being humble and hungry to learn at every opportunity and from all.
  • Developing the art and skills of intelligent questioning (not to challenge or express doubts but to know and learn more).

Academic institutes running professional courses in Management and Engineering are mainly involved in imparting explicit knowledge, though the present trend is to give preference in admission to students who have relevant work experience, as they bring tacit knowledge to the classroom, which helps the interactions in the classroom for better learning. There is an increasing effort on the part of most academic institutes in management and engineering to try and impart some tacit knowledge by getting visiting faculty from corporate sector/Government to come and teach. Also academic institutes through field work, project work, case studies, and role play have been making efforts to impart tacit knowledge apart from explicit knowledge, so that the students can perform better on completion of the course. Medical education the world over has always ensured that the medical college is attached and located in a hospital thus ensuring that the student obtains tacit and explicit knowledge simultaneously. Also the faculty members teaching medicine are themselves going through continuous up gradation in both tacit and explicit knowledge, since they not only teach but are treating patients in the hospital. An article on medical tourism in India sometime back mentioned that in many countries like US, many young doctors cannot recognise/diagnose measles quickly as they have never seen a patient with measles in their lifetime and their knowledge comes from text book and/or faculty only which in this case are explicit knowledge. Unfortunately academic institutes running professional courses in management and engineering are standalone institutions and are not attached to any specific company, hence there are limitations to the tacit knowledge that a student can acquire when the student completes the course. There are large manufacturing companies in India like ACC, Aditya Birla Group, BHEL, Coal India, Crompton Greaves, Indian Oil, Larsen & Toubro, MICO, Mahindra & Mahindra, NTPC, ONGC, Reliance Industries, Siemens, Tata Steel, Steel Authority of India, and many others that have set up facilities to train artisans, supervisors and managers to meet the industry as well as the enterprise needs by having academic institutions in-house attached with the enterprise, thus facilitating the learning of both tacit and explicit knowledge by the trainees at various levels.

The well known jurist and economist Nani A Palkhiwala, who was Chairman of Associated Cement Company Ltd. (now called ACC Ltd) for over two decades, wrote "Knowledge is the only instrument of production which is not subject to diminishing returns". Organisations and individuals both need to recognize the importance of Knowledge Management, build a culture, so as to ensure never stop learning and make all out effort to improve tacit as well as explicit knowledge. This approach will help both the organisation and individuals to grow and prosper. We all in enterprises need to work together to achieve the ambitious target of skilling 50 million people by the end of 2022.

The author is Former Senior Employers´ Specialist for South Asian Region with International Labour Organization (ILO), Former Chief Knowledge Officer and Chief People Officer of ACC Ltd and Former Country Head of Manufacturing and HR of Novartis India Ltd. He can be contacted at: Email: rajenmehrotra@gmail.com

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