Designation: Railway minister
Career: Elected to the Karnataka State Assembly 10 times since 1972. Elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 from Gulbarga
Interests: Reading sports books, removing superstition
Q. India has set a target of skilling 50 crore young people by 2022. Do you think it is achievable?
A: While we have set the target to have a skilled workforce of 50 crore people by 2022, we have also set a mid-term target of skilling 5 crore people in the 12th plan period. I am sure that with the active involvement of all stakeholders, this is very much achievable.
Q. What are the preconditions to achieve this target? Do you think the current policies are good enough?
A: We would need active involvement of the states and the private sector in particular to achieve this target. We are trying to ensure that not only our policies but also our implementation system remains in tune with the time and delivers quality with scale.
Q. The quality of vocational training at the majority of institutes in India is poor and archaic. What is being done to improve it?
A: We have taken a lot of steps to improve the quality, including active involvement of the private sector, training of trainers, funding for upgradation of facilities etc. These efforts have started showing early results. We will scale up these efforts and take many more new steps to ensure that a majority of the candidates are able to find a job immediately after passing out.
Q. Except for the government giving money to vocational trainees, there is no institutional mechanism (bank loans etc) for funding students. Isn’t it possible to get the private sector involved in financing skill development?
A: This is not correct. The government has worked with the Indian Banks’ Association and a scheme for providing credit for vocational course has already been rolled out. A credit guarantee fund for the same is also being set up. Efforts are being made to mobilise private sector investments in various forms. We are proposing to set up a good number of ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes) and ATIs (Advanced Training Institutes) with active involvement of the private sector.
Q. There is a lot of emphasis on capacity building but not on placements. How do you solve this problem?
A: We are focusing on capacity building as well as placements. We realise that good placements alone will drive more youths to vocational training and therefore we are planning to take a variety of steps, including soft skilling of candidates, better information flow about jobs to candidates living in far-flung areas etc, to solve this problem.
Q. How do you bring more workers from the unorganised sector to the organised sector?
A: We need to upskill these workers as well as let them know about opportunities in the organised sector in an easy-to-access manner.
Q. There seem to be too many agencies—18 central ministries, NSDC, state governments—active in skill development. A lot of effort is duplicated. It was also one of the objections raised by your ministry during the inter-ministerial consultations on NSDA. How can this be streamlined?
A: We need to involve as many players as possible in skill development-related efforts and the task cut out for the country is huge and unprecedented. With the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Skill Development and the NSDA, we hope that things would be coordinated in a better way and we would be able to take all steps required for proper functioning of the skill development eco-system.
Q. Isn’t the labour ministry the right place to centralise skill development efforts? Why, for instance, should the finance ministry run a skill development scheme?
A: As indicated earlier, the job at hand is too large for any single ministry to handle. The finance ministry is not running any scheme directly, but only helping NSDC set up a much-needed quality training capacity on the private sector side.
Q. There are 1,436 MES (Manufacture Execution System) courses approved by the labour ministry. How many of these are actually active? Is it possible to get broken-down data on how many institutes run courses for each of these?
A: As you would agree, from the menu of such large number of MES courses, a few are likely to be more popular than others. There are around 8,000 VTPs (Vocational Training Providers) in the country today through whom these courses are being run. Given the huge potential this scheme can achieve, we are planning for a major revamp of the scheme in the next few months.
Q. How much money has the ministry spent on skill development since 2009 when the National Skill Development Policy was articulated? Can you give details of the funding in each of the 73 industry segments?
A: The ministry has many windows through which funds are spent for variety of purposes like creation and upgradation of training capacity, training of trainers, funding of per training cost etc. It is difficult to divide the money spent industry segment-wise; for example, as a welder can be absorbed in variety of industry segments.
Q. The Cabinet last month cleared setting up of the National Skill Development Agency, which was earlier proposed as an authority. Hasn’t it effectively rendered the NSDA toothless?
A: I don’t think so. Let us wait for the issue of a formal notification for setting up of the NSDA before writing it off.
Q. You had misgivings about the NSDA not being accountable to Parliament. What are your comments?
A: NSDA is proposed to be attached with the finance ministry, and thus would be fully accountable to the Parliament.
Q. Earlier this year, your ministry and the HRD ministry had clashed over the ownership of vocational qualifications framework. Why do such tussles happen?
A: There was no tussle but some differences in perceptions. We have amicably resolved it already.
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(This story appears in the 12 July, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)