Some 17 ministries and departments are involved in the provision and financing of vocational education and training in India with total annual training capacity of about 28 lakh (2,800,000) students. But as with many matters managed by our governments, the vocational training system is full of superlatives and potential on the one hand, and inefficiency on the other. But first, a look at how vocational training is setup in the country.

What is vocational training?

Vocational training refers to the imparting of specialised skills and knowledge, and instilling social and political attitudes and behaviour patterns essential for successful economic activities by people engaged in dependent employment, self-employment or subsistence work. (See: A Guide to Curriculum Revision and Development, in the references.)

Vocational training can be of various types depending on the way it has been acquired. 'Formal training' refers to all training courses held in state or private (but state-certified) institutions and regulated by state guidelines. 'Non-formal training' covers all forms of training which takes place without being subject to state guidelines. In-company apprenticeships, both in formal or informal sector enterprises, is one of the most common forms of non-formal training. This kind of training also includes all programmes and projects offering skills-upgrading for those already active on the labour market, but who wish to extend their competencies by attending evening or weekend courses.

Separate from formal and non-formal training is 'Informal training', which denotes practical learning in the family, or traditional, largely unsystematic learning in small and micro enterprises in the informal sector (unsystematic in the sense of no deliberately devised curricula).

There are no prerequisites for anyone to acquire vocational training. Both men and women can get trained at any time during their life. Studies have already proven that formal education is not a prerequisite for acquiring practical skills for income-generation, especially in the context of the informal sector. (However, as will be highlighted in a later section, India's formal vocational training system often creates minimum educational prerequisites leading to exclusion of those with lower levels of education.)

The system

The terms 'vocational education' and 'vocational training' are often used interchangeably, but do not mean the same. In India, vocational education falls under the charge of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD). The Ministry oversees vocational courses being offered in school Grades 11 and 12 under a Centrally Sponsored Scheme called 'Vocationalisation of Secondary Education' since 1988. Only the schools affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) offer the courses in accordance with the Board's Scheme of Studies and the course structure. The courses are of two-years duration and span 6 major disciplines.

Some examples of vocational education courses: dairying, farm machinery & equipment (Agriculture), accounting and auditing (Business and Commerce), electrical technology, air conditioning and refrigeration (Engineering and Technology), X-Ray technician, health care and beauty culture (Health and Para Medical), and preservation of fruits and vegetables, food services and management (Home Sciences and Humanities).

Vocational training on the other hand broadly refers to certificate level crafts training (in India) and is open to students who leave school after completing anywhere from grades 8-12. Programmes administered under the Craftsmen Training Scheme (CTS) are operated by Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Industrial Training Centres (ITCs). This scheme falls within the purview of the Directorate General of Employment and Training (DGET), under the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE).

At a higher level, the technical education and vocational training system in India produces a labour force through a three-tier system:

  • Graduate and post-graduate level specialists (e.g. Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and engineering colleges) trained as engineers and technologists.
  • Diploma-level graduates who are trained in polytechnics as technicians and supervisors.
  • Certificate-level craft people trained in ITIs as well as through formal apprenticeships as semi-skilled and skilled workers.

According to the Constitution of India, the central government and the state governments share responsibility for vocational training. The DGET is the nodal department for formulating policies, laying down standards and other technical requirements for vocational training. It also governs a number of specialised training-related institutions. The ITIs, both public and private, operate under the general guidance of the DGET. The office of the DGET is at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Shram Shakti Bhawan, New Delhi. It's website is

Two bodies – the Central Apprenticeship Council (CAC), a statutory body and the National Council of Vocational Training (NCVT), a non-statutory body – operate as advisory institutions. The most important NCVT functions involve: establishing and awarding National Trade Certificates in engineering and non-engineering trades, prescribing standards for syllabi, equipment, space, duration of courses and methods of training; arranging trade tests and laying down standards of proficiency required for the National Trade Certificate; recognition of training institutions for the purposes of issuing National Trade Certificates and laying down conditions for such recognition. The State Councils for Vocational Training (SCVTs), as well as Trade Committees have been established to assist the NCVT. They advise the state government on training policy matters and are supposed to co-ordinate vocational training in each state.

Coming to curriculum, vocational training devotes 70 per cent of time to practical instruction while the rest is theory. The Central Staff Training and Research Institute (CSTARI) at Kolkata is responsible for preparation of draft curricula and their revision from time to time. The DGET's Curriculum Development Section coordinates this work. It scrutinises draft curricula and obtains approval of the NCVT. The periodicity of revisions depends on the technological changes taking place in industry in each trade. Generally, the introduction or revision of curriculum is based on recommendations made by NCVT. This should be done in consultation with relevant trade committees whose members are drawn from industry, technical institutions and DGET institutes.

The reality

However, all of the above is how things should be. In reality, most curricula 'followed' at institutes imparting vocational training have little relevance for wage or self-employment of the trainees. Plumbing courses which have been running for the past five decades continue to be taught irrespective of the market demand for plumbers in the region.

For instance, when you drive down from Delhi to Nainital, the region surrounding Haldwani at the foothills of Nainital is extremely fertile and agriculture dominates the rural economy. You will find hundreds of tractors in the area but not a single local ITI or any other VT institute offers a course for tractor-machinery repair. This highlights a typical problem of the country's VT system in general - there is no provision of flexibility to tailor the courses around local vocational training demands.

According to Satish Kumar, Training Officer, DGET, MoLE, "even in the cases when the courses offered do not meet the market demands, the Principals of the ITIs have the mandate and the duty to counsel the students accordingly and encourage them to obtain company apprenticeships under the Apprenticeship Training Scheme, for instance". This scheme is developed to ensure hands-on training experience among students which significantly increases their employability. The students typically train with the industry for anywhere from 6 months – 4 years coupled with 30% theoretical classes. "In fact we are now concentrating on spreading this message even at the Panchayat levels. There is only a certain amount of influence that we can exercise in our decentralised structure," says Kumar.

Often, the ITIs and other institutes are enmeshed in such an impenetrable web of bureaucratic functioning that by the time any recommendations from the industry find their way into practice, they become irrelevant. Additionally, both the HRD and Labour Ministries have been reviewing their respective systems of vocational education and training to make it market driven. According to the Planning Commission's 2003-2004 document, the Vocationalisation of Secondary Education scheme has been evaluated by a number of expert groups including the Working Group on Vocational Education that was set up for the Tenth Five Year Plan. On the recommendations of this group, the scheme was recast for the Tenth Plan as Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). But the scheme has not also gone down well with the stakeholders due to logistic and academic constraints that require streamlining of the courses and establishment of strong industry – institution linkages.

There have been other signs of malaise. As against the target laid down in the revised policy of diverting 25% of senior secondary students to the vocational stream by year 2000, only 10% of students opted for the vocational stream. Put this finding together with the low levels of wage and/or self-employment among ITI graduates and the cause and affect become obvious. The present set of skills being taught at various vocational training institutes are not fetching gainful employment which is why few students wish to opt for the vocational stream. The skills being offered do not reflect the demands of the market which is why the market cannot and does not absorb the students with those skills.

One of the main reasons for the lack of market responsiveness among vocational training courses is the limited or no participation of the industry in contributing to curricula development. It is the industry which has to finally employ the training graduates. Hence, their mandate in determining what their future employees need to be taught can hardly be overemphasized. There are some rare cases of industry participation as members of Institute Management Committees (IMCs) for ITIs. But even such participation has been found to namesake, at best.

There are still other challenges. Often, the ITIs and other institutes are enmeshed in such an impenetrable web of bureaucratic functioning that by the time any recommendations from the industry find their way into practice, they become irrelevant. Most crucially, industrial associations that integrate small and micro-enterprises of the unorganised economy are not invited to be partners of the state training systems. All this, in an economy in which 92% of the labour force is engaged in the informal or unorganised sector producing close to 60%of the GDP!

Vocational training and the unorganised sector

The unorganised sector has seven times greater labour intensity per unit as compared to the organised sector and is some five times less capital intensive. Thus, the unorganised sector is not just the hub for employment creation but also for manual skills. The need for skills development here can hardly be overstated.

Studies have only reinforced the fact that the majority of workers in the unorganised economy of India have never been to vocational training institutions and/or school. On the other hand, the formal skills training system, because of its educational entry requirements and long duration of courses, is designed to exclude the underprivileged informal sector workers.

Yet, given the vast size of India's informal workforce, the need to address the skills of informal sector workers is more pressing than any other. The next article will look at the unique situation, the challenges and the immense potential surrounding the vocational training needs of the informal economy in India.