Interview : Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey, interviewed by Arvind Passey.

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Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey
Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey Minister Of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Government of India

Skills can have a killer effect only when supported by a robust economy. With a downturn in economy being the epicenter of all conversations, do you think skilled people, industry and expectations of higher earnings move together in harmony?

The Skill India Mission has given huge impetus to the skilling ecosystem of the country by placing importance on training people in vocational trades that have a direct link to livelihood. We understood early that with the skilled workforce, we can nudge our economy to grow at a faster pace. We have a huge pool of young talent, which is aspirational and accounts for about 40% of India’s population. Using their skill set, we are on the journey to make India the Skill Capital of the World. For this, we are catalyzing many programs and partnering with industries and organizations who are constantly supporting us in our skilling endeavor. We have opted for a holistic approach that is enabling our young workforce to be largely equipped with industry-relevant skills. I would say that we are in harmony with the aspirations of the public, our partners, industries and gradually meeting their expectations because without their support we will not be able to achieve our objective.

Upskilling our youth through the conventional education framework is a daunting task that has anyway remained directionless for decades now. What new ideas has the ministry thought of or implemented that can change this course?

Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey We have taken up several initiatives to bring in a change in mindsets. We want to inspire the youth to move beyond degrees and opt for certification and training in vocations and trades. For this purpose, we have created several vocational training institutes. We have introduced short-term training modules under our flagship program, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) to train candidates in soft skills, entrepreneurship, financial and digital literacy. We also believe, increase of women participation in the workforce will boost the economy, therefore, we have committed to equip our women with market- relevant skills and lead them to a path of self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship.

Through a wide network of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) spanning across the country, which are more than 15000 today, candidates have been enrolled and special focus is being laid on enrollment of women. We are also working towards building an inclusive society, which provides equal opportunities to ‘Persons with Disability’ (PwD). To enable them to earn a dignified livelihood and to be able to become economic contributors, we have launched reforms to impart skill training through proficient and certified trainers. Over 50% (1.34 crore) of PwDs are in the employable age of 15-59 years, but 74% of them are non-workers or are marginal workers. We are committed to empower these PWDs for leading productive lives and creating an ecosystem where their rights are protected and equal prospects are created.

The skillful experts training the PwDs are on the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQC) approved job roles aligned for a specific disability and are also provided disability orientation and sensitization. NSQF is a competency-based framework that organizes all qualifications according to a series of levels of knowledge, skills and aptitude. Besides, we have introduced various reform in Apprenticeship Act, 1961, to create an ecosystem for apprenticeship training across various industries. Only last week, we ended the Apprenticeship Pakhwada that saw participation by state governments and the industry, who came together to commit to engage 7 lakh apprentices in the current fiscal. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has pledged Rs. 560 crore outlay for states to promote demand-driven and industry- linked skill development and signed MoUs with various states through Third Party Aggregators (TPAs), who will take the apprenticeship dream to fruition.

How will you define freedom of speech, sir? Being a trained journalist, what is your opinion on freedom of expression? Do you think the social media is causing damage to national harmony in any way? Is a point of view expressing dissent to be considered an act of treason?

The Constitution of India defines Freedom of Speech and Expression as the right to express one’s convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. I do not need to define it further. However, the same Constitution also clearly states that this right is not absolute, and it should in no way harm the security or integrity of the nation. Social media has both a positive and negative side to it. Today, the people are more informed thanks to the advent of technology.

At the same time, fake news and unverified information shared on social media has often been the cause of public discord and disharmony. Sometimes news on social media causes undue distress to individuals who pay a heavy price for no fault of their own. This is where my appeal to every citizen would be to use social media for spreading and accessing only the right and verified information. We all have a responsibility towards each other and the society and we should fight this growing culture of disinformation.

The mindset today is to seek jobs and this has been a major reason for India having a large number of professionals having little or no ability to think like an entrepreneur. Does the ministry have any plans to push an agenda that transforms this mindset? After all, we need more job creators and not so many job seekers.

Dr. Mahentda Nath Pandey Education Post

We are called the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, with an equal emphasis on both words, ‘Skill Development’ and ‘Entrepreneurship’. All initiatives, programs and schemes towards skilling are also aimed at creating self-employment, especially for the youth who have a huge appetite for starting something on their own. With the steady growth of the Indian economy over the last decade we have seen a surge in the number of startups across the country, in technology and communication areas. Of late, new entrepreneurs have emerged in other sectors like logistics, healthcare, childcare, sanitation, etc, and it is a very good sign for a country which is set to soon the world’s youngest nation. Our entrepreneurship ecosystem is still growing and the Government has introduced reforms in regulatory and tax policies to boost the ecosystem of self-grown businesses. With time, the effectivity of our interventions will begin to show.

An entrepreneurship-backed growth engine was hamstrung by a lack of adequate skills and an entrepreneurial mindset among young Indians. We have been working persistently to bridge the skill gap by getting entrepreneurs convenient access to funding, providing them with right mentorship and improving ease of doing business in the country. We are catalyzing and coordinating entrepreneurship efforts across India to ensure sizeable and measureable outcomes by empowering potential and early stage entrepreneurs and connecting them to peers, mentors and incubators to nurture their growth. As an important step to propagate a cultural shift in youth for entrepreneurship, we have also instituted the National Entrepreneurship Awards (NEA) to recognize and applaud outstanding young first-generation entrepreneurs and their ecosystem builders for their exceptional contribution to entrepreneurship development.

Education and jobs have been clouded by massive increases in reservations of all shapes and sizes. With the focus now on skills development do you think it is time to let our reservation policy go for an overhaul?

The debate about reservations for jobs and in schools and colleges is quite old and does need to be discussed in view of the economic journey we are on. Reservation is important for those who the society has sidelined on account of baseless reasons that have no bearing in today’s world. It is important that we recognize the special needs of such people so they are not deprived of their share in the future. It is a course correction made for wrongs done in the past and will take time for the full extent of it to show in terms of tangible results. Until then, we will need to have a special treatment for the underprivileged and neglected. The Government knows and understands this and we will do everything in our capacity possible to ensure everyone gets a shot at growth and opportunity and that no one is left behind.

To what extent will new technologies find a way into the domain of skill development? I ask this question because we are still a nation where even basic infrastructure development is at a nascent stage… and, therefore, how can we expect big data analytics, AI, or even software development to remain relevant for a population that knows nothing beyond the traditional methods of agriculture, to quote an example.

It would be presumptive to call India a land where most of the population do not know much beyond the traditional methods of agriculture. Our Government has laid great emphasis on developing infrastructure and technology in the country. ‘Digital India’, ‘Skill India’ and ‘Start-Up India’ are major pillars of this strategy and will be game changers in giving India its direction for growth as the country gears up for new professions and job roles with the advent of new technology.

The coming of 5G technology will play a major role in the way both business and governance are done in the world. With Industry 4.0, disruptive business models and technology advances with transformative changes will have important implications across the world and will massively influence skill development in the near future. As a leading economy and an emerging superpower, we are not insulated from this change. Rural or urban, India is adapting to this fast-changing world. In fact, Indians are among the fastest adopters of new technology anywhere in the world.

In line with this, we are aligning the learning methodologies as per new emerging skills and job requirements. The Skill Development Ministry and National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) are continually facilitating the development of cross-functional Qualification Packs and National Occupational Standards in association with IT-ITeS Sector Skill Council (NASSCOM) across nine emerging technologies influencing the future of work in India. These include Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, Block Chain, Robotic Process Automation, Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, and Social and Mobile Applications.

With the introduction of advanced technologies, new modules of delivery in education and training will play an indispensable role in the success of skill development across the nation aligned to this tectonic shift in communication. There are multi-media enabled technology solutions now for skilling and they are now being integrated in online/in-class education through digital/video using blended learning, in industry driven curriculum, pedagogy and in direct industry partnerships. These job oriented e-learning courses can reach thousands of students simultaneously through integrated platforms. IT also helps in managing the huge database of the skilled workforce we have in the country and helps align the demand and supply in the market across sectors.

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