- IT & ITES What started as a captive training initiative is being expanded to external campuses, including engineering ones, through teacher training and improved curriculum
- Retail Mall mania and the entry of big players in organised retail has been supported by efforts to train entrants in soft skills and merchandising
- Aviation Spurred by severe shortages of pilots and trained personnel, several new airlines, like Kingfisher, have set up training academies
- Construction A crying need for trained masons, carpenters and electricians is seeing companies engage not just in captive training but also linkages with institutions
- Automobile With many global players setting up a base in India, the mismatch in skills of engineers is being addressed through tie-ups with ITIs and private colleges
- Research One area where industry is yet to act in a big way to help realise India's potential to become a hub for contract and clinical research
***They say India will have jobs galore for the next decade or so. But ask industry today, and it has only one refrain: just where are the quality people who will drive these opportunities? That's why the role of the private sector in Indian education is changing, albeit slowly. From the early days of philanthropy to the established trend of capitalising on demand for higher education, industries are now forging partnerships with institutions and universities to meet their need for particular skill sets.
Whether it is IT and IT-enabled services or aviation and retail or construction and manufacturing or healthcare and hospitality, there is one common thread: a growing—and acute—shortage of skilled manpower. The ways to tackle this are varied. So, if UB Group has set up the Kingfisher Training Academy in more than one city to train pilots and other aviation staff, other firms are expanding their inhouse training and development initiatives—like Infosys Campus Contacts. A third model is the tie-up of companies and industry associations with various universities or private colleges to meet specific skill sets.
"These initiatives are still mostly in the services sector," says Partha Mukhopadyay, senior research fellow, Centre for Policy Research (CPR), Delhi. Interestingly, this new trend is led not just by big players like Infosys, Wipro, Reliance and the ada Group, even mid-sized enterprises like the Jaypee Group, Toyota Kirloskar and Welspun are in the fray. There are also many examples of smaller firms forging such partnerships. There is, alas, no authoritative data about the various programmes under way. For a pointer, consider a research paper co-authored by Devesh Kapur of the University of Pennsylvania and Pratap Bhanu Mehta of CPR. It states that in 2000, direct and indirect training costs in the US private sector totalled between $284 bn and $387 bn, making the private sector the largest provider of professional training in the country.
In India, inhouse training has been gathering momentum over the past few decades. "Till the '70s, most industries behaved as if training programmes were not their responsibility. Now many have their own training programmes, though industry as a whole isn't as active as it could be," says Anand Shah, consultant to Anil Agarwal Foundation's upcoming Vedanta University in Orissa. A major factor for this is the lack of trust between the private sector and the higher education regulators, be it the AICTE, UGC, medical, dental or other educational authorities. "A mutual distrust is hampering this PPP. Yet, industry has so far been the only finishing school for soft skills, communication, attitude and work culture," says M.P. Kapoor, former officiating director, IIT Kanpur, and ex-director, Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology in Patiala.
Part of the problem, ironically, must also vest with industry. Delhi University vice-chancellor Deepak Pental isn't surprised. "There is a bit of lack of trust as industry does not have the patience for the results (of collaboration) to show. There is high expectancy on one side, but slow movement on the other," he says. Happy with the ongoing collaborations—be it vocational courses at the Campus of Open Learning or development of high-yielding varieties of cotton and mustard seeds in partnership with seed companies and state-owned laboratories—Pental firmly believes "such partnerships are the only way we can address the needs of the industry and employment".
To be sure, many private universities—BITS Pilani, Vellore Institute of Technology, Maharishi Markandeshwar Deemed University, Mullana, Haryana and so on—have taken the lead in forging alliances to equip students with sector-specific skills. "Where they have core competence, the corporates are trying to strengthen technical skills through education whether for training project managers, masons or carpenters," adds Kapoor, currently with the NIIT Institute of Information Technology (TNI). Take, for instance, Welspun, which has tied up with AIMA and BITS Pilani for various diploma and degree courses for its employees.
"There are many examples where industry has started putting money for training and product development projects, which have produced a lot of IPR (intellectual property rights)" emphasises Y.S. Rajan, senior advisor (technical), CII, and former advisor, department of science and technology. Rajan firmly believes that without the role of private sector in higher education, India would not have been ready for new demands from, say, manufacturing and retail. Encouragingly, in response to a questionnaire by CII's University Industry Council, 85 per cent of the universities expressed interest in collaboration with industry. And this is not merely for placements, but also for receiving industry people as visiting faculty members and for R&D. Already, 150 universities have become members of the council.
Currently, most of the existing partnerships between industries and universities are straightforward business models. Take, for instance, Bharti Enterprises' tie-up with Chandigarh-based Global Retail School or Future Group's alliance with Mumbai-based Welingkar's Institute to offer retail management courses. Or there is low-cost airline SpiceJet's partnership with Dehradun-based University of Petroleum and Energy Studies. Many others like Reliance Retail and nis Sparta Ltd (a division of Mudra Communications) are emerging as major players in the training arena. More recently, NIIT entered into alliance with Genpact to set up training schools for the BPO sector.
"The training programmes have happened more specifically in the IT sector as the shortfall (in skilled manpower) is much larger," says M.P. Ravindra, advisor, Infosys, education and research. There is, he argues, no option for companies like his. "The need to create multiple skills in engineers to keep ahead of competition is an artificial means, and hurts our productivity by taking the focus away from our core business. We're doing it as we're helpless," he underlines. But there's an important side benefit. Firms like Infosys have started contact programmes to impart tried-and-tested modules to varsities and colleges. The infusion of both financial and technical inputs, along with focus on making the course more relevant, is boosting the employability of students from these colleges.
Though it's early days yet, the captive inhouse training that helped industries to establish India as a software and BPO hub is now being replicated across the entire service sector and subsectors. "Skills have to be built in a certain domain context.... Over time, we will see it in banking and financial services, construction and infrastructure, which is still running on lower-end labour," points out Ashish Rajpal, CEO of iDiscoveri Education. However, in some emerging areas like biotechnology, there seems to be mighty talk—but little implementation.
Over the last few years, huge avenues for drug discovery and development have opened up for India. But many of the companies now undertaking contract research—which requires special skill sets in areas like molecular biology, bioinformatics, genomics, among others—are facing major shortfall in manpower talent. As the options are poaching from rival companies (which can be a double-edged sword) or bringing back trained expatriates from overseas at high cost, some firms are now looking at alternatives to improve human resources.
"Unfortunately, there's still inadequate investment in this direction. There is some progress in the area of chemical research and clinical trials. The Institute of Clinical Research (India), in tie-up with a varsity in the UK, is now offering one- to two-year programmes for graduates," states Saharsh R. Davuluri, vice-president, corporate planning and development of Neuland Laboratories, which has a joint venture with US-based Cato Research for bridging its skilled manpower needs.
So while there is consciousness and eagerness among many from industry to invest in higher education and make it more relevant, the lack of trust and some archaic polices—like controls on curriculum—remain serious obstacles. The fact remains that "while the industry investment is just a drop in the ocean, in actual, what is happening is substantial and now only requires replication at all levels," emphasises TNI's Kapoor. In an era where everything, from lab staff and academicians to planners and administrators, is becoming professional, only a more focused education can help India realise its demographic dividend. That's something both industry and educators have to realise. And the quicker they do so, the better.