The education world and the apprenticeship world have coexisted in India for nearly 6 decades; the skill world has also been around for more than 10 years now. And yet the industry says it doesn’t get manpower who they find ready to deploy without incurring expenditure on post recruitment training, and employability for most youngsters after graduation remains an issue. If there is a connector which can stitch all of this together, it is apprenticeship. While the signalling value of apprenticeship, as an effective last mile training tool which gives the much needed practical exposure to a youngster, has always been well accepted by the industry, it had not really taken of in India despite being a law since 1961. However, it seems to be at last, becoming a distinct and real possibility on the ground in India following the comprehensive reforms in the Apprentices Act/Rules made by the Govt. in 2014/15, as a part of one of its first major initiatives bringing industry into the centre stage of the programme. And the focus on apprenticeship embedded degree programme in the National Education Policy (NEP) announcement, can only take this momentum forward.
The UGC Guidelines issued in July/August 2020 as a follow up to the NEP is a good first step towards implementation but only the first-a lot needs to be done & the nitty gritty around the roll out path has to be right for it to ground.
Some of the important open issues which need to be addressed on priority are as under: –
- The UGC has issued two sets of parallel Guidelines around the subject of starting apprenticeship embedded degree programmes. A set of guidelines were issued by the UGC to run skill based degree programmes under BVoc. These were recirculated immediately after the Budget announcing the introduction of apprenticeship linked degree programmes in 150 select colleges. Separately, the UGC has now, following the NEP announcement issued fresh Guidelines for Apprenticeship Embedded Degree programmes without any reference to the BVOC Guidelines earlier issued by them. The two need to be integrated.
- There are two schemes being run by the Govt. for apprenticeship training offering a subsidy to the industry -NATS for degree programmes being run under BOAT under the Ministry of Education, (MOE) and the NAPS being run by the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE), for all others who don’t opt for/are not covered under NATS.
- There are three types of apprenticeship programmes/job roles an establishment/company can choose out of to engage apprentices-(i)the Govt notified job roles for students for graduate engineers doing apprenticeship training under BOAT managed by the MOE (which are subsidized under NATS), (ii) Designated Trades which too are Govt notified job roles for students mostly from ITIs doing their Diploma in engineering, managed by DGT,(under the MSDE), which are subsidized under NAPS), & (iii) Apprenticeship curriculums called Optional Trades which are not notified either by BOAT or DGT and is a window for the industry, (including the service sector industry), under the Act/Rules to design and run its own apprenticeship programme as per its requirements. This category was introduced by the Govt. as part of the 2014/2015 and is also managed by the MSDE with the help of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). The Optional Trade offers a huge opportunity window for the industry, (including the service sector for the first time), to engage apprentices who could be engineering students undergoing Degree or Diploma holders or ITI courses as earlier but also non-engineering students undergoing Degree courses.
In this context what is important to note is that under the Optional Trades window the industry does NOT need any prior approval of the Govt. to design and run the apprenticeship programme -it is required to only “ disclose the duration and syllabi of the optional trades on the portal site.” (Rule 7A(6) of the Apprenticeship Rules 2015).
A common thread running across all the three is that they all fall under the Apprentices Act and has the industry formally contracting the students as apprentices and paying a stipend to them.
In order to roll out a comprehensive apprenticeship embedded degree programme as envisaged in the NEP and the latest UGC Guidelines on the subject released after the NEP in July 2020, therefore, all of the above strands need to be knitted into a whole and an integrated way forward etched out. The Govt. will need to ensure the following:
- The Guidelines issued by the UGC for apprenticeship embedded degree programmes need to be integrated into one. They need to cater to all the degree programmes and be open and flexible enough to be able to respond to what the industry needs -as and when the programme rolls out some standardization of processes can be considered but over-regulation at the beginning will kill the potential of the initiative. The approval process needs to be same for all apprenticeship embedded degree programmes whether under BVoc or any other and provide. The Guideline needs to provide for multiple entries and exit options and vertical mobility.
- While all the apprenticeship embedded degree programmes may run under MOE/UGC under BOAT the industry must be allowed to run them across all three sets of job roles as covered in Para (iii) above as per the need of the industry.
- Further that the industry is allowed to opt for subsidy under NATS or NAPS as per their convenience.
- Another extremely important concern which needs to be addressed is the interchangeable use of the terms apprenticeship and internships in the Guidelines issued by UGC. It must be understood that a formal structured programme like apprenticeship must NOT be equated with a loose at arm’s length causal concept which is the internship. The ILO, which steers the implementation of apprenticeship programme globally, has stressed this time and again. It needs to be clearly understood right at the outset that while apprenticeship is a serious training intervention involving the industry, an internship is a loose arrangement a product of an education eco-system deputing it’s students to a company for a temporary period without any formal contract under law, but only by way of an “attachment” or “exposure”, not necessarily involving any training on the shop/office floor of the company. Equating the two will most definitely dilute the benefits of the programme on ground and defeat the purpose of introducing this in the colleges even before we begin. We must not allow the colleges to tick the compliance box by doing internships on the pretext that the industry is not keen on apprenticeships. The Sector Skill Councils, the Industry associations at national, regional and local levels should be used to get in the industry demands and interests. And, such colleges which do not get in the industry connect should not be permitted to start the programme, or else we are sure to have another failure on our plate as the industry will see no value in it. Hence, it’s is critical that all of this is structured under the provisions of the Apprentices Act with the industry meeting its obligations under the law to engage apprentices, getting into a contract with the students and paying the stipulated stipend under the law to them.
- In line with what is suggested by ILO, the industry needs to be at the centre while designing all such courses whether under Bvoc or non BVOC, with all other stakeholders including the govt and college playing the role of facilitators. Of course, all of this has to be done in consultation with education counterparts. To ensure this, institutional mechanism being put in place must have representatives from industry/industry associations, (& the concerned Sector Skill Councils), at every step of curriculum design and approval at the college (Board of Studies), university (Academic Council), & UGC level, with chair/co-chair of all such committees being alternatingly from the industry and academia
- A Steering Committee be constituted chaired/co-chaired alternatingly by the Secretary of the Ministries of MSDE, MOE and an eminent industry representative and other expert bodies/reps of DGT, NSDC, SSCs to steer this at the national level.
The recent trends indicate that industry is beginning to accept the programme in its current form in a big way with number of contracts under the optional trades umbrella going up 5 times during 2019-20. A recent study by Dalberg/DFID, perhaps the first after the reforms reveals that 67% of the companies surveyed believe there is a net positive value in apprenticeship; 57% see long-term gains. An ROI study of Apprenticeship done by the India Apprenticeship Forum reveals that by following the apprenticeship route industry found its hiring cost being reduced by 50%, the rate of attrition reduced by 10-25%, while productivity increased by 20-25%. Hence, the focus on apprenticeship embedded degree programs could not have been better timed and is the next logical step forward. If we can structure the roll out properly, and use apprenticeship effectively, to integrate the education, skill and the employment world, the twin problem of employability for the youth and a ready to employ skilled force for the industry can be resolved to a large extent and India can well and truly be on its way to becoming the global skill capital.