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Can India’s Apprenticeship Strategy Lead to better Employment numbers?

Jobs have, understandably, become a highly debated topic in recent times. While all eyes scrutinise employment numbers, and opinions are aplenty, we bring the focus back to why apprenticeships should get the spotlight.  

With multiple sectors facing huge skills gaps in the coming years, apprenticeships hold tremendous promise in nurturing our youth right from the schooling level. And when governments recognise this, and get it right by working with businesses, the entire economy – local and national – stands to benefit.

The Basics

Briefly, what exactly are apprenticeships? They are ‘an age-old, internationally recognised and powerful model of learning, designed to develop the knowledge, skills and judgement required in the workplace.’[i] A blended learning and training program, ideally a large portion of it- 80% practical hands-on skill acquisition – and 20% theoretical knowledge acquisition is imparted in a profession or trade.  

For generations, apprenticeships have been the bedrock for skilling the youth towards employment and providing clear career progression pathways in countries such as Germany and the UK, and are embedded in their national employment and workforce development agendas.

What about Indian apprenticeships?

Stipulated by the Apprentice Act (1961) apprenticeship provisions in India have come a long way from their erstwhile heavy focus on the industrial era.  Having undergone four amendments, most recently in 2014, the Act is now viewed much more favourably by the business fraternity.

Then and Now
  • What can be attributed to simply a case of gross legislative faux pas, we can sigh in relief that the punitive penalty of imprisonment of employers for breach of laws related to the Act has now been removed.
  • Under ‘optional trades’ employers can now design their own industry-training curriculum to cater to specific business needs – a change brought about mainly to encourage SMEs onboard apprenticeships without undue interference from labour law enforcement agencies.
  • Sector Skill Councils and State Skill Development Missions have been set up with the mandate to ease local employment of apprentices by businesses through local skills gap analyses and setting up training in line with local needs. These government agencies are also tasked to make it easier for businesses to access information and funds.
  • The National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) launched in 2016 marked the lofty ambitions of the government to infuse fresh energy into Indian industry to evangelise apprenticeships. With an outlay of Rs.10,000 crores to train 5 million apprentices over five years, this was the highest allocation towards vocational skills development since 2009.[ii]   
What Can Be Better

Apprenticeship uptake remains painfully low. An MSDE press release[iii] earlier this year stated close to 5 lakh apprentices have enrolled under the NAPS since its launch. Industry is more cautious and pegs the number is at best 3.5-4 lakh apprentices. Either way, it is a far cry from the initial goal to train 50 lakh apprentices by 2020.

Why is this? Many reasons – as enumerated by our esteemed contributors.

A serious lack of awareness among employers on the various offerings of the government under the NAPS and the plethora of other skill development schemes, explains Bharat Pawar, Senior Vice President – HR at National Bulk Handling Corporation Ltd, in his article Need for Awareness to Build the Apprenticeship Brand .

And Yogesh Bisht, Customer Care Associate and Vice President – HR, Shoppers Stop Ltd. questions why Indian employers ‘continue to acquire talent laterally from the competition. Doesn’t that seem a little short-sighted?’ ‘…why not skill and develop your own workforce?’, Yogesh asks in his article Why apprenticeship makes long term sense .

A key recommendation of the IAF’s stakeholders to improve Indian apprenticeships is to bring all work -based learning schemes under the aegis of the Act. This single step would go a long way to inject much needed consolidation of the various skilling schemes.

The financial assistance to employers from the government under NAPS is currently at 25% of the monthly stipend paid to candidates. NITI Aayog feels this may not be attractive enough for both employers and candidates, and possibly a key reason for low engagement with apprenticeships. It has hence tabled a proposal to the Finance Ministry to increase the contribution to 50%.[iv]

Yet another legislative reform in the Act, which FICCI’s Sandip Somany hypothesises has the potential to snowball apprenticeship numbers is to allow firms to hire even a single apprentice. This could have a truly remarkable effect if even half of our 76 million small scale firms onboard one apprentice each. Around 40 million new jobs are created in a flash.[v]

To sum up, the aptly named recent NCAER report “Skilling India- No Time to Lose”[vi]  sends an urgent reminder that the time to act is NOW.


[i] Source: Creating and Supporting Expansive Apprenticeships: A guide for employers, training providers and colleges of further education, Unwin and Fuller (2010).

[ii] Govt approves Rs10,000 crores for skill development plan, July 6 2016, LiveMint

[iii] Skill India’s ‘Fark Dikh Raha Hai’ campaign gets wings- More than 1 crore youth join hands with Skill India every year- Skill India- MSDE Press Release Feb 14 2019

[iv] NITI Aayog suggests raising monthly training stipend to Rs 5,000, March 19 2019, Economic Times

[v] Government should amend Apprentice Act to create more jobs: FiCCI’s Sandip Somany, Jan 7 2019, LiveMint

[vi] Skilling India: No Time to Lose’- 2018- National Council of Applied Economic Research

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