Many have to be trained or retrained before they’re fit for a job, says Franz Probst of SkillSonics

Most degree holders in India dont have real life experience Vocational training expert
news Business Monday, November 28, 2016 - 19:09

With more than 60% of India’ youth in the working age bracket, Skill India, an initiative close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart, aims to empower the country’s youth with skill sets that make them more employable.

SkillSonics, a Swiss company that has collaborated with the National Skill Development Corporation, offers courses based on the Swiss vocational education training approach to companies.  The News Minute spoke to Franz Probst, Founder and Co-Chairman of SkillSonics about its training programmes and what India needs to focus on to become a global leader in manufacturing.

In India there’s a lot of emphasis and premium put in getting a professional degree- whether it’s becoming an engineer or a doctor. But by some estimates one in three graduates between the ages of 15 to 24 are unemployed.  How can vocational education and training drive innovation in India?

FP: Vocational education is not a quick fix. You can’t quickly impart skills. We see it as demand driven. First, the needs of industry and private sector have to be determined as to what skills are required and what is the standard that is required. One of the problems is that most degree holders don’t have real life experience. That presents a problem for the hiring company because they need to be trained or retrained before they are fit for the job. A linkage is missing between studies and the employment market.  

The way SkillSonics operates is that we look at the employment market and see what is required and we build courses to match these needs. This is how vocational education and training can drive innovation.

SkillSonics has been in India since 2011. How many people have you trained and certified so far? What are your targets? And what are the skills they are trained in? 

FP: The Swiss Vocational Education and Training Initiative India was started in 2008 by Swiss partners and co-funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation. Right from the start with a feasibility study, the team that was in 2011 absorbed by SkillSonics was in charge of leading the Initiative in India. The company was founded in September 2011 and became operational in 2012. We have trained 5000 people so far and our target is 1 million in the technical, electrical and engineering field by 2023. 

We offer 100 courses today. They range from one week to four years. The programs include deep technical training – where people are trained in well-equipped workshop.  The trainees also gain strong competencies in soft skills. They are, for example, suited for roles in quality control, as team leaders and generally where multiple skills are required. They match international quality standards – some have already received awards.

Tell us about the Quality Assurance Project. 

FP: They key to maintaining quality of a vocational education and training programme are excellent multiplicators – instructors, teachers, examiners. Under the QAP, we are creating multiple courses to address this issue together with our Swiss partners, the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET), the Swiss Mechanical and Electrical Metal Engineering Industries (Swissmem) and the Mechatronics School Winterthur (MSW). The idea behind the QAP is, like trainees, trainers need to not just have theoretical and practical domain related knowledge but also practical experience on how to train a trainee. For example: How to impart precision drilling on a machine. It is important that they also learn to mentor and nurture a young boy or girl into becoming a professional. We are now in a pilot phase and we hope to roll out the all the programmes across India by August 2017.

The Make in India initiative is a pet project of the government. India’s demographic dividend is favourable unlike countries like China or Japan where the labour force is expected to shrink in the next few years. What does India need to do to become a global leader in manufacturing?  

FP: The regulatory framework needs to be conducive for companies to invest in India – it is in the hands of the government to reduce barriers. One of the factors is the availability of a highly skilled workforce which is what SkillSonics is working toward. This will allow India to find and hold its place in the global value chain and become a leader in manufacturing. India knows what to do, but it also needs to be rigorously implemented. SkillSonics wants to contribute since it provides all products and services that are required to skill people to international standards – programs, strict assessment processes and excellent courseware for the trainees and the trainers, all available in India at local price levels. 

Attrition levels in the country’s workforce is high. How does a company retain talent?

FP: This is everywhere an issue. Look at it from an individual’s point of view: The private sector needs to understand that if you impart proper training you increase loyalty. And that lowers attrition. The proof of the pudding is that the employees of the companies who have been trained in our programmes, are almost all still working in their companies. Attrition is perhaps at 1%. 

You’ve spent some time in south India in the 1960s and of course in the last few years.  What is your personal attachment to the country? And what do you believe has changed since then and what needs to change in terms of skill development and talent?

FP: My attachment to India is the country takes me back to my youth – the colours, richness in culture, the kindness of its people. It is a huge learning that the world can take from India. 

India has changed dramatically, and changed for the better. There is still a lot of poverty but at the same time the percentage of the poor living below the BPL has gone down, which is an achievement. At the same time, huge issues concerning, for example, the environment and pollution have come up. 

With regard to training, India will reap its social divided only if it invests in the quality of its vocational education and training system and creates career paths for professionals – then starting your professional life with a vocation becomes aspirational and it is a start to a career. 

Vocational training is usually associated with mechanical or electrical works. But this isn’t the case, is it?  Would SkillSonics be looking at expand when it comes to other sectors? 

FP: We are working towards building other programs and courses, for example in the area of commerce, food processing, construction, hospitality and health.  

What do you believe are the roadblocks in India? Does bureaucracy continue to be hurdle? 

FP: At times, it still is; there is a lot of administrative work to do even for a small company like SkillSonics with around 25 employees. Also, there have been situations where we couldn’t roll out a programme because of constant changes in the state bureaucracy. By the time you have your next meeting, the persons you interacted with first are gone and you have to start afresh. But certain things have also happened very fast and in an exemplary way, for example the creation of the MSDE. 

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