Bhubaneswar: Four years ago, as the clamour for skill development in India was growing, Odisha was nowhere on the map.
The previous year, 2015, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre had launched the Skill India mission to train over 40 crore people by 2022. But in the eastern state, the skilling sector was utterly neglected — young people steered away from the government-run Industrial Training Institutes or ITIs because of the uninspiring atmosphere and obsolete curriculum.
Cut to 2020, and the difference is stark. Not only are the 49 government-run ITIs in Odisha chock full of enthusiastic young men and women, 11 of them have even managed to be ranked in the top 100 ITIs’ list drawn up by the Union Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, which evaluated over 10,600 government and private ITIs on 27 parameters.
Odisha’s ITI campuses now sport a new look, carry a host of new ideas, and see high enrolment, with students using the moniker ‘ITIian’ as a badge of honour.
“Rankings are incidental. What matters most is the transformations the ITIs have undergone in just about four years,” said Subroto Bagchi, co-founder of the multinational IT firm Mindtree, who now drives the skill development mission in Odisha.
However, Bagchi also pointed to the positive impact of rankings, saying they would help at many levels.
“It will build reputational capital for our state. Better ranking means better quality employers, better engagements and salary. Talent is a significant input and the stakeholders believe that this would be a big differentiating factor and give Odisha the edge,” he said.
Sanjay Singh, principal secretary of Odisha’s Skill Development and Technical Education Department agreed. “Brand Odisha has changed the perceptions of the industries, who are making a beeline to hire our students. Many ITIs have achieved 100 per cent placements this year,” he said.
This is the story of how the state government’s ‘Skilled in Odisha’ programme achieved so much in four years.
How the transformation occurred
In 2015-16, when talking about future skills, people never mentioned Odisha. The skill development sector remained rudderless with no attempts to prepare the youth for the present and future. Facilities available at ITIs were outdated, and a majority of the faculty was stuck in the past in terms of knowledge.
So, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal government set up the Odisha Skill Development Authority (OSDA), and Bagchi stepped in as its chairman, with a mandate to change the state’s skill landscape through a vision document, and by harmonising different agencies.
Since a complete course correction was needed, a four-year target was set in order to produce a sizeable and talented skill force. Thus, drastic measures were taken to revamp infrastructure, change the curriculum, introduce training on new and location specific-trades, replace archaic machines, refurbish laboratories and constantly enhance the knowledge of the faculty and trainers, Sanjay Singh said.
The target was to bridge the demand-supply gap by creating a large, employable, skilled force, he added.
On Bagchi’s initiative, 215 teacher-leaders drawn from 49 ITIs were sent to ITEEs in Singapore for two weeks of training to equip themselves with knowledge, skills, innovations and best practices. Temasek Foundation International supported this training programme.
“This exposure radically changed the outlook of the leaders who were able to promote excellence in the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) administration and delivery,” said Bagchi.
Singh added: “Steps were simultaneously taken for complete migration to digital platform for everything from setting up of smart class rooms to assessments of students, besides introduction of courses on life skills to enhance the employability of the students.”
Tata Strive, a Mumbai-based Trust, came in handy to impart training on communication and other life skill lessons through 88 of its ‘Change Leaders’ currently deployed in Odisha ITIs.
“We have a unique partnership with Odisha through which we selected candidates from the state, trained and then deployed them in the ITIs, where they hone the life skills of the youth to prepare them for better employability,” Tata Strive CEO Anita Rajan told ThePrint.
“At the same time, workshops are being conducted with the principals and staff for complete integration of technical and soft skills,” Rajan said.
Other initiatives of the ‘Skilled in Odisha’ mission included one-third reservations for girls in enrolment, introduction of strong student welfare schemes ranging from scholarships to the meritorious to heavily subsidised training to students belonging to weaker sections, along with vigorous career counselling.
As a result, the enrolment of girls has increased from a meagre four percent in 2015-16 to 25 per cent in 2019-20. The girls have excelled in different fields within and outside the state. An exclusive ITI has been opened for differently abled youth too.
Bagchi and teamwork get credit
Dr Rajat Panigrahi, principal of the Government Industrial Institute, Berhampur, is excited that his ITI is ranked 11th in the country.
“Skill development has emerged as a movement in Odisha and there is so much enthusiasm all around this sector. The students today bubble with self-esteem and proudly call themselves ITIans,” he said.
Panigrahi credited Bagchi with the “phenomenal transformation”.
But Bagchi, who had quit for a short time to unsuccessfully try and save Mindtree from being taken over by L&T and then rejoined, called it a result of teamwork and the involvement of stakeholders. “The teachers gave their heart and soul to turn around a laggard and written-off system,” he said.
“Odisha was never known for precision engineering, robotics, vertical transportation. But, today, our ITIs make production-grade parts for Indian space research and defence. Isn’t that a huge transition?”