One way to stem this challenge is through apprenticeships. Globally, apprenticeships have been a well-accepted method for industry-ready training in countries such as the US, the UK, Germany and others.
The role of an apprentice goes far back in time. The stories of Renaissance are full of workshops of famous artists, sculptors and the like that had apprentices.
In India, the New Education Policy has brought apprenticeship under focus even more clearly for today’s times.
The University Grants Commission provided detailed background on this in their guidelines for higher education institutions to offer apprenticeship and internship embedded degree programmes.
The UGC said:
“Amendments made to the Apprenticeship Act and Apprenticeship Rules during 2014 to 2019 have opened the prospect of linking apprenticeship programme to education. The extant provisions enable non-engineering graduates, fresh non-graduates without any prior skill training, and students undergoing training as an integrated component of the curricula to undergo apprenticeship training for a minimum of six months to a maximum of three years. The flexible curricular structure will create new possibilities for outcome-based learning and facilitate graduation degree described in terms of such learning outcomes.
“Accordingly, with the objective of making the fresh graduates employment- ready with necessary knowledge, competencies and attitude, UGC has formulated these Guidelines for Higher Education institutions to offer Apprenticeship/internship embedded Degree Programme for embedding apprenticeship / internship in general degree programmes offered by the Universities. These guidelines will enable the apprenticeship / internship embedded Degree programme in the general stream with cooperation between industry and Academia.”
Two things are clear with this approach. First, earlier many skilling programmes were driven by supply-side innovation. The focus there was on training a certain number of people on a specific skill. While that is useful, there is a need to initiate industry or demand-side planning into skilling to ensure the problem of employability is addressed. This method does that.Second, while certain programmes and colleges encourage internships as part of the curriculum, this kind of approach will broaden the base to include students across disciplines and types of colleges to create a more level playing field for entry level jobs.
Neeti Sharma, President and Cofounder, TeamLease Edtech, says they have learnt a lot while working on these programmes.
They work with three groups of stakeholders — universities, corporates and students. Their approach enables students taking up online degrees to simultaneously pursue an industry-led apprenticeship, while also getting a stipend and continuing to learn.
Neeti says, “In the case of apprenticeship, with the laws being defined by the government, the student gets a regular stipend unlike in the case of some unpaid internships. And the time duration can also be longer, from 6 months to 36 months, to ensure that the student does not get exploited.”
In some cases, she clarifies, employers also get some benefit. With an increased mandate for universities to bring this in as part of the degree curriculum, Neeti sees it as a positive step to bring more flexibility across learning and earning pathways, a factor that the New Education Policy clearly recognises.
It also has another benefit, as she explains, “Imagine a role like a machine operator or a basic retail-store worker. Sometimes, people do not see an upward momentum in some roles. With embedded degree apprenticeship, we see a way to bring people back to formal education. For example, pursuing a Bcom or a BBA in parallel to the retail job. Or getting a degree in mechatronics — a combination of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science — while working as a machine operator. In this way, the students can keep building their skills through studies in allied disciplines.”
McKinsey wrote an article a few years back on reviving the art of apprenticeship to unlock continuous skill development. It spoke about how while traditional apprenticeship was sometimes suited for tasks and skills that can be observed visually and practiced in person, there are more knowledge-based and cognitive skill-led jobs that are today looked at from the apprenticeship perspective.
While the underlying regulations and demand will evolve and the programmes keep improving, we hope more students can find the right employability fit with strong implementation of such large-scale measures.