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Hands-on training earns hard cash
Vocational courses are slowly earning respect in a degree-hungry nation because of the demand for skilled workers.
It is college admission season - and students aren't just gunning for the degree courses. Vocational ones are also attracting students. Maanvi Singhal has applied for a diploma in web designing at Bharti Vidya Bhavan and a few private universities in Delhi. "I want to do a vocational course because I know web design is my calling. If I take up a degree course in arts I would still have to learn web design in order to get a job. This way, I save time, " says Singhal, who cleared her CBSE class 12 exam in Meerut with 87 per cent.
Karishma Khandelwal from Modern School, Vasant Vihar in Delhi, is doing a year-long diploma in fashion media make-up at Pearl Academy in Delhi. "My mother runs a beauty salon so I wanted to study professional make-up. It will help me run the salon, " says Khandelwal.
There was a time when vocational education meant a diploma in some seedy polytechnic located in a rundown industrial area. It would get you job as a beautician or a salesperson and a measly salary. Now the idea of vocational education is undergoing a change. Not only is it earning social acceptance in a degree-hungry nation, it is also enjoying a healthy industrial demand because India is facing an acute shortage of skilled workers. While these jobs continue to be blue-collar, they fetch higher salaries (Rs 1 lakh to Rs 8 lakh a year) now.
Only 7 per cent of the total workforce - 3. 15 crore approximately - in India is skilled, according to a 2009-10 NSSO survey. In comparison, China is home to 120 million, or 12 crore, skilled workers. "There is a huge demand for skills at work - both vocational and life. Finding good workmanship and good technical skills is a tough task, inspite of all the eco-system of training and education, " says Sairee Chahal, CEO, Fleximoms. Be it electricians, plumbers, insurance agents, accountants, travel agents, health workers, web designers, make-up artists, restaurant managers, photographers, bartenders or shop managers, the government of India has set a target of generating 500 million, or 50 crore, skilled professionals in India by 2022.
The banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) industry faces a shortage of 42 lakh skilled workers as per the national skill mission. "The BFSI industry is quite regulated and employs skilled workers. Whether it is on-rolls employment or contractual employment through various financial intermediaries such as direct selling agents, insurance agents and mutual fund advisors, there is mandatory training and certification. Being a rapidly growing sector, there is constant demand for skilled professionals, " says Vinod Nair, head, academics and product development, BSE Institute in Mumbai, the learning arm of Bombay Stock Exchange. It offers short and long-term courses in various aspects of finance. Nair is also part of National Skill Development Council, which accredits various vocational curricula and modifies them to meet industry demands.
Emergence of new industries such as luxury has also created demand for new skills. According to a recent survey by Luxury Connect, 69 per cent of firm owners and managers in the sector would want to hire professionals who are specifically trained for luxury. "There's very little investment in retail training. We need to introduce long-term training programmes instead of organising sporadic workshops, " says Yashovardhan Saboo, CEO, Ethos Boutiques, a retail chain of Swiss watches in India.
There are institutes which are training people in luxury retail. Pearl Fashion Academy offers undergraduate courses luxury management and diplomas in lifestyle and fashion ecommerce;SDA Bocconi (a well-known business school teaching luxury management) has opened its India branch;Luxury Connect business school also trains students and professionals in luxury business.
Entry of international make-up brands, such as MAC, and proliferation of televisions channels has created demand for professional stylists. "After doing a course in make-up artistry and hair styling you can earn upwards of Rs 30, 000 every month if you get placed with a company or earn anything from Rs 1, 500 to a lakh per assignment as a freelancer. That's why every year more and more students are enrolling in these courses, " says Ashima Kapoor, a professional makeup artist and guest teacher at Pearl Academy of Fashion. Vocational courses in private institutions cost anywhere between Rs 5, 000 to Rs 40, 000 for the entire duration, which could be six weeks to a year.
In order to get customised workforce many companies have opened their own skill teaching centres. Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) runs a not-for-profit SVGH Vocational Training College in Chikmagalur and Fiat has sponsored and supported the Don Bosco Techanical Training Instutute in Pune, which trains boys in automobile skills required for the industry. Three hundred and sixty students pass out from the CCD centre every year and get absorbed in the hospitality sector and in CCD. Future Sharp, a skill development vertical run by the Future Group, has quipped 30, 000 people with vocational skills in the last two years. IndiaCan, a vocational and skill development venture of Pearson, trains 70, 000 students a year across its 200 centres in courses as varied as clinical nutrition and video editing. B-Able trained 15, 000 students last year in skills that got them jobs in both rural and urban centres. These institutes aim to double these numbers every year.
Despite the demand for skilled workers and increase in enrolments there remain serious issues with vocational education. Muralidhar Rao, CEO of Future Sharp, says industries are not specifying the skills they need and are not willing to differentiate between skilled and unskilled workers at the entry level. "As a result there's no incentive to upscale your skills, " says Rao.
While the perception towards non-degree qualifications is changing, there remains a mental block. Varun Dhamija, vice president professional education business at IndiaCan, adds that biggest competitor of vocational education are schemes like NREGA that guarantee work. "Why would people opt for skill upgradation? So right now there's a debate on whether to teach a man to fish or to feed him fish, " says Dhamija. He also feels that in order to increase social acceptance of vocational qualifications, the National Vocational Education Framework should aim at allowing students to switch between degree and non-degree courses. "Credits should be allowed to be carried over as in the UK," says Dhamija.
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