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Bridging the digital divide: Push digitalisation of TVET and industry 4.0 skills

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India is recognised as one of the youngest nations in the world with over 50% of the population under 30 years. As the country is expected to add another 183 million people to the working age group of 15-64 years between 2020 and 2050, India would make up a substantial share of the addition to the global labour supply (National Commission on Population, 2019). The widening youth population brings upon the policy makers a responsibility to provide adequate opportunities to convert the demographic advantage into demographic dividend. As India is progressively moving towards a “knowledge economy,” it is imperative to transform the large labour pool into an adaptable, flexible and analytical skilled workforce who are responsive to the changing global needs and environment. The work force has to acquire and upgrade the skills that are suitable for the upcoming economic opportunities.

The pandemic has created the disruption of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems, posing a major challenge in the transition from face-to-face training to digital or blended mode of learning. Further, the pandemic has accelerated the push towards digital transformation such as use of e-commerce, digital payments, artificial intelligence, edtech and so on. The digital transformation is having a two-fold effect: First, there is increased focus on developing distance and online learning technologies while addressing the delivery impediments such as limited access to mobile phones, internet connection, lack of digital literacy, limited NSQF approved online content for skill training, lack for ToT in online teaching, monitoring and verification of online skill training and so on These constraints need to be addressed with multi-stakeholder approach and comprehensive policy response.

Second, as the world is gearing up for Industry 4.0 (4IR) with continued digitisation of processes within industry it is imperative that there are provisions for upskilling and reskilling of workforce in new age technologies at several stages of careers for keep them abreast with latest developments in digital technologies. TVET pedagogies are to be adapted for new-age skills such as increased automation, artificial intelligence, block chain, simulation, and gamification. Industry-led TVET programmes, incentive-linked scheme for industry to upskill workforce in new-age skills can be explored as a targetted solution to the looming challenges posed by 4IR. This indicates towards required interventions in building digital readiness of TVET system and making youth Industry 4.0 ready through digital skills.

Need and imperatives – TVET digitalisation

Covid-19 has disrupted the “traditional” delivery of technical and vocational education. The pandemic caused closure of majority of training centres, which required distance and online learning avenues to be explored. For online learning, the challenges of equipment, infrastructure and connectivity were quick to emerge, highlighting a startling digital divide. These times warrant for sustained online delivery for offering skill development through digitalised means. Some imperatives of digitalisation of TVET are as follows:

•There is a pressing need to identify means for improving access to digital infrastructure – Internet, mobile phone, laptops, and mobile data and so on, especially for trainees from low-income groups who have limited access to the equipment required to support online learning. According to the GSMA Connected Women – Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019, in low and middle income countries, 45% of adults do not use mobile internet, and women are 10% less likely to own a mobile phone and 23% less likely to use mobile internet. Interventions for providing access to equipment and services for students and teachers will be a critical part of any digitalisation plan (ILO, 2021)

•Reframing National Qualification Framework (NSQF) and Cost Common Norms to include guidelines for online skill training. Union Budget 2022 also highlighted the need for revamping NSQF to align it with evolving industries.

•Effective distance learning platforms and pedagogical resources have become a necessity for seamless delivery of online learning. These platforms should have quality and capacity to allow meeting the needs of stakeholders such as monitoring, verification for training providers, funding organization and feedback, query resolution for trainees.

•Building capabilities of trainers to deliver training through virtual mode can be one of the most enabling factors of digitalisation. Industry led ToT programmes on delivery, assessment, certification and industry based curriculum and continuous improvement of trainers needs to be established with a possibility of industry immersion for trainers for a specified time to gain hands on experience.

•Innovative solutions can be explored through Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to support access to digital technology, develop curriculum, ToT etc. Further government can support by mobilizing and allocating financial resources for enabling digital skill development, through levy-based funding and provide incentives for various PPP types.

Industry 4.0 Skills: Need of the hour

The digital transformation has impacted economies, societies and has triggered new policy changes. In line with prime minister’s vision for Digital India, the Union Budget 2022 also highlights the importance of TVET digitalisation and digital skills with focused interventions such as establishment of Digital University, launch of DESH-Stack E-Portal, high quality e-content through digital teachers, startups to facilitate skill training in Drone Shakti, establishment of 750 virtual labs and 75 skilling e-labs for simulated learning environment.

Industry 4.0 technological advancements viewed as “disruptive technologies” – internet of things, block chain, nanotechnology, AI, robotics, bionics and so on are profoundly changing the world of work and the way people work and interact with one another. The policy makers need to use the digital momentum to make TVET systems better positioned for the technological transformation. The workforce for future needs to be equipped for rapidly changing digital world, the government needs interventions for regularly updating skilling curricula, regulations to cover new skills and competences, deploying new methods of training delivery. Some proposed policy responses for making workforce future ready could be as follows:

•Mapping new skills required sector/industry wise, this would give cues to new technologies, career pathways, upskilling/reskilling interventions required

•Incentive-linked programmes can encourage increased industrial participation. This would also help bringing about awareness on the need for reskilling for making workforce future ready.

•Advocacy for newer skills demanded by industries and the need for upskilling the workforce. Concerted efforts are required by all stakeholders: Policy makers, Trainers, Training providers, workers, and employers for building awareness on emerging skills needs under 4IR, potential skills gaps, and opportunities for training in those skill.

•Emphasis on soft skills such as communication, adaptability, problem solving, resilience and so on can enhance the employee’s ability to deal with dynamic work situations and can be an important facet in the success of Industry 4.0.

•Safety net provisions such as insurance, maternity benefits, bank linkage should be strengthened in 4IR policies given the informal nature of jobs in India.

Kundan Kumar is advisor, skill development and employment, Niti Aayog, and Gagan Preet Kaur, consultant grade II, skill development and employment, Niti Aayog

The views expressed are personal

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