Published: 05th May 2020
India is on stronger ground compared to other countries: Skill Minister Mahendra Nath Pandey on the impact of COVID on the job market
Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship of India and MP, in a chat with Edex, gives us his insights into a post-COVID world and how they are gearing up for it
From no matter which angle we look at it, the future looks dismal. The economy is struggling and unemployment has left lakhs distraught. The COVID pandemic has changed our lives as we know it. But Union Minister of Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) Mahendra Nath Pandey assures us that the government, all ministries, state governments, districts, sub-divisions, municipalities and so on are all working hard and asks us to trust the resilient spirit of the nation. “I just want to add, that while this may be an unprecedented crisis, there is no need to panic. We will all get through it together and we will be stronger for it. Our priority at this time is safety and health. I urge people to stay safe and not let this stop us from moving forward in every aspect of our lives,” implores the minister.
While the MSDE is doing its bit to help combat COVID-19, it hasn’t forgotten it’s primary objective — to bolster the nation's skill development. Through its various portals and collaborations, it continues to impart young India the skills it needs. And because e-learning is the norm these days, they have new collaborations and courses in their kitty. But what about those with 2G servers, will these courses remain accessible to them as well? And how can these portals compete with the plethora of free online courses available out there? The Minister answers all these questions and many more. Excerpts from an insightful interview.
MSDE recently trained health workers, what other initiatives have been taken by the ministry that are specific to the pandemic?
The outbreak and spread of COVID-19 has brought with it unprecedented challenges. The government has taken crucial measures to tackle these challenges. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has aligned its efforts with the Centre and has extended support to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare providing them with a list of around 1.75 lakh personnel trained in healthcare skills through various Skill India Mission programmes. Additionally, a list of more than 2,000 healthcare trainers and 500 healthcare assessors has been shared. Apart from providing workers, MSDE has taken several steps to help with the fight against COVID-19.
Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey at an inauguration | (Pic: MSDE)
How is the eSkillIndia portal gearing up to skill more and more people, especially since traffic must have increased during the ongoing lockdown?
Amidst the lockdown, Skill India is encouraging skill seekers to acquire new skills and utilise their time effectively. NSDC’s eLearning aggregator portal — eSkill India offers more than 400 courses curated from various knowledge providers including EnglishScore, SAS India, Saylor Academy (USA) and UpGrad, Amrita University, Salesforce, Wadhwani Foundation, TCS iON, BetterU, Apollo MedVarsity, iPrimed, Liqvid’s English Edge, Fair & Lovely Foundation, IBM Skills thereby, providing skill seekers with varied online skilling opportunities.
The eSkill India portal pivots the online skilling initiatives in collaboration with global leaders in the eLearning domain, enabling access to a wide range of skill courses for users. With strategic knowledge partnerships, the portal leverages technology in continuing the skilling momentum and enables skill seekers to accelerate their learning through methods like virtual learning and remote classrooms. Apart from students, employees working from home can also use the time to enroll and access the wide catalogue of professional courses and certifications.
Likewise, MSDE has also taken a number of initiatives to ensure that students of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), Instructor Training Institutes as well as trainers and faculty of ITIs can continue to learn. The ministry has made available extensive online digital learning resources through the Directorate General of Training (DGT).
Mahendra Nath Pandey | (Pic: MSDE)
Since accessing online courses requires data and most of India is on 2G or 3G and there is no one offering unlimited data anymore, is it possible then that the courses can be made more accessible?
Apart from continuously working with various partners to increase and improve upon whatever is already available, Skill India is also working to improve on accessibility. The course material can be downloaded and kept for ready reference. The students need not revisit it online every time. The data is also mostly in a compressed form and not too heavy. We are also parallelly exploring opportunities of mutual collaboration with industry associations and telecom operators to see how best we can make online courses more affordable and accessible.
Pandey has also been elected to the Lok Sabha from the constituency of Chandauli since 2014
The economy is slowing, and COVID-19 is making matters worse, several jobs are on the line. What measures is the ministry looking at so that youngsters can survive in a post-Coronavirus world?
Once the nation-wide lockdown ends and the COVID-19 crisis is behind us, we expect the country will be at a distinct advantage when it comes to economic recovery.
Needless to say, that on one hand, while a few sectors will be impacted like travel and tourism, hospitality, automobiles, real estate and entertainment, on the other hand there will be a few which will see likely growth – like pharma, FMCG, healthcare, logistics and e-commerce.
The sections of population that are likely to be most impacted are workers from these affected sector, daily wage earners, migrant workers and those working in the formal economy. There must be quick and continuous assessment of demand and blended models for learning which are scalable and have a quick turnaround time. There will be heavy focus on re-skilling and up-skilling. With lesser dependency on China, India will see several opportunities come its way. We will have to uplift and enhance our manufacturing and industrial output to reduce external dependency, while also catering to international demands as well.
This recovery will not only be driven by the above factors, but also by the entrepreneurial spirit that we have been inculcating in our students over the years and the focus we have laid on new-age skills that will become increasingly important in the post-Coronavirus world. We expect these new-age skills to become highly in demand.
Also, through our e-skilling initiatives, we have enabled possibilities for many to upgrade their existing skills. The lockdown has given many people time to catch up on their skilling requirements and upskill wherever necessary.
MSDE also launched National Entrepreneurship Awards (NEA) to honor first-generation entrepreneurs
Since upskilling is generally expensive and a lot of MOOC platforms are offering many courses for free during the lockdown, how does the government look at all these players?
Skilling is a definite necessity and so is upskilling. India has a huge untapped resource in its working population and the government has taken it upon itself to ensure that the youth of the country are adequately skilled towards earning a steady income and contributing to the economy. Skill India works with scores of partners in the private space towards putting together the right curriculum and training as many youths as possible using the various platforms available to us.
In the current times of lockdown, online courses have become the go-to resource when it comes to skilling, the e-skillindia platform of NSDC, which works under the aegis of MSDE, has over 20 knowledge partners which are providing more than 450 best-in-class e-learning courses. We welcome MOOC providers and encourage them to get to provide standardised, certified courses through us. It is imperative that certain quality and standards are maintained and we are happy to help with the necessary infrastructure wherever possible.
The Central Apprenticeship Council meets under the chairmanship of Mahendra Nath Pandey | (Pic: MSDE)
What changes do you think people need to bring about when it comes to their mental approaches?
The critical need when it comes to online courses is discipline. Whilst in a classroom, students are encouraged to focus on their training and can keep up in a structured format. The key difficulty in skilling from home or distance learning is the ability to stay focused and disciplined enough to continue the training as it has been designed. We are working with experts and experienced trainers from across domains to ensure that the courses being provided are not only engaging, but ensure that the candidates can focus on them and can complete the course to the best of their abilities.
Candidates too must train in their abilities and practice focusing on their learning even when they are away from their classrooms. A different kind of approach is needed and the whole world is attuning itself to this new normal. The Government of India has also encouraged online education and training during these trying times. Candidates and young people may initially find it difficult to maintain concentration but with practice they will soon adapt to it. The idea that there will be light at the end of the tunnel and the skills they acquire will then become extremely important to get ahead in life is a very compelling thought and should motivate them.
Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey, handing over appointment letter to students shortlisted in Varanasi Rozgar Mela during Kaushal Mahotsav on February 12, 2020 | (Pic: MSDE)
What are the ministry's future plans?
As detailed earlier, COVID-19 has impacted everyone in some form or the other. No one imagined such a state of affairs. We are all working together to overcome the challenges and continue our work in this environment where there is a new normal in place. The ministry is currently in the midst of planning the next phase of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, the umbrella scheme under the Prime Minister’s Skill India Mission.
We are also working on various ways of increasing accessibility to our courses at this time of lockdown while also making sure we can carry out our annual programmes like IndiaSkills, Rozgar Melas, and so on unabated.
We need to ensure continuity for these programmes to be successful and while on-ground activities are not likely to happen soon, we are training all our efforts in strengthening the backend. That way when the situation normalises, we will be ready to hit the ground running and all our activities will automatically pick up with speed and agility.
Pandey was born in 1957 and has a PhD from Banaras Hindu University
How does the job market of 2021 look?
The pandemic will have a far-reaching impact on the economy of all countries and India is no exception. Globally, most economies have taken a huge hit and jobs are being lost to this unforeseen calamity. Even the EU and the US have seen job losses by the thousands. Experts also believe that no sector will remain unaffected and the first to get hit will be employment.
While it may take anywhere between six months to a year to recover fully from the crisis, we expect that most organisations will start working in different ways and will work on cutting costs as much as possible. The extent of the overall impact is difficult to quantify right now as we are currently focused on saving lives.
However, we expect this to be a short-term fall and we expect a significant rise in the job market once the recovery starts in the country. Compared to most countries, India seems to be on stronger ground. The International Monetary Fund has also predicted positive growth for India. With our strong fundamentals and a young demographic dividend, we will bounce back faster than most nations.
MSDE was set up in November 2014
MSDE's efforts towards helping with COVID-19
- MSDE and its affiliates have together contributed over Rs 3.2 crore to the PM-CARES Fund including portions of the individual officer’s salaries.
- National Skill Training Institutes (NSTIs), ITIs and their hostels across the country have either been converted into quarantine/isolation facilities or shelters for the needy.
- MSDE has notified all establishments to pay the full stipend to apprentices engaged with them. Currently, 24,884 establishments are engaging 2.42 lakh apprentices in both designated and optional trade. The government will reimburse stipends to these establishments.
- MSDE made available extensive online resources through the Directorate General of Training for around two million students enrolled in industrial training institutes who are unable to attend classes. The complete curriculum is available through video lessons, question banks, mock tests and e-learning content through the Bharat Skills portal and mobile-friendly application.
- Skill India through its eLearning aggregator portal — eSkill India, is offering more than 400 courses from various knowledge providers, online. In recent weeks, eSkillIndia has partnered with EnglishScore, SAS India, Saylor Academy (USA) and UpGrad, thereby providing skill seekers with varied online skilling opportunities.
- MSDE has also issued instructions to Training Partners and Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSSs) to manufacture and produce face masks and sanitisers for distribution by District Collector/Magistrates and District Healthcare Authorities. Close to seven to eight lakh masks have been created and supplied by organisations under MSDE, as on date.
Mahendra Nath Pandey | (Pic: MSDE)
MSDE and their initiatives that are free and students can earn a digital badge upon completing a course:
- For Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) students and trainers, the complete curriculum is available through video lessons, question bank, mock test and e-learning contents through the website www.bharatskills.gov.in. It is a mobile-friendly application and is also available on Google Play Store as Bharat Skills.
- National Instructional Media Institute (NIMI) under DGT: MSDE has made exhaustive arrangements for live online classes by skilled trainers which could be connected through www.nimionlineadmission.in/zoom.
- The students/trainees can use our facility of mock tests on www.nimionlinetesting.in. This has been designed keeping in mind the need to help students get accustomed to ‘computer-based online exam-process’ as well as a tool for self-evaluation.
- As part of the ministry’s initiatives to skill for future job roles, Bharat Skills, in partnership with CISCO, have launched next-generation courses in the areas of Networking, Cyber Security among others. These are accessible on www.bharatskills.gov.in/Home/DGTCisco. Similarly, a mobile application Quest App is available on Google Play Store with 250 plus hours of interactive digital content, online digital content is across six thematic areas for 21st century skills available at www.eskills.bharatskills.org.in.
- The SkillsBuild platform of DGT-IBM includes advanced topics of Data Science, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and so on, and professional skills like communication skills and more can be accessed through www.skills.yourlearning.ibm.com and www.ibm.com/skills.