The second wave of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns led to 10 million Indians losing their jobs, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. However, there has been a brief resurgence of the economy in between. Many are turning to the skill training sector to find answers for job losses like enrolling in online courses to upskill and reskill.
While skill training provides part of the solution, it is fraught with challenges that need to be addressed if it is to meet the emerging needs of the country as it gets back on its feet.
The pandemic caused unprecedented disruption in the provision of education and skill training as teachers and learners struggled to make the shift to virtual modes of instruction. While there were instances where access to skill development was maintained through a swift shift to digital learning, the social and digital chasms that were prevalent long before the pandemic, deprived the most marginalised groups of the opportunity to continue pursuing their learning.
Mere access to online learning is a challenge for the marginalised. Lack of digital literacy, devices, and internet services, presented insurmountable barriers for many in accessing skill training, and going forward, there is a need to find ways to reduce the cost of telecommunications and digital infrastructure and to make it more accessible to those who need it the most.
Additionally, skill training is renowned to fuse classroom learning with practical and work-based learning. The transition to a solely digital mode of learning did not translate effectively in the acquisition of many practical skills, where specialist equipment is required and a hands-on approach is the only way.
While going digital presented many innovations and opportunities for the sector, it can never replace workplace and practical modes of instruction so vital to the skills sector. As such, going forward, blended learning should be embraced to optimise the strengths of all modes of instruction including harnessing a mix of face-to-face and remote training, along with online and offline instruction.
The pandemic, however, presents an opportunity to increase efforts to reskill and upskill workers, with a view to better align the skills of the labour force, with the needs of industry. There is a need to foster a culture of ‘lifelong learning’ with the necessary incentives and support systems in place to motivate continued uptake.
Now more than ever, the value of skill training should come to the fore to help people, and the entire country, get back on their feet. But we must ensure access, equity, and quality in skill training to ensure that it is relevant to both employers and trainees resulting in employment and ensuring that the economic engines of India can keep churning.
— Written by Pearl Tiwari, Director and CEO, Ambuja Cement Foundation