Varanasi: Kamlesh Chauhan 28, doesn’t remember his mother’s death very clearly. He thinks he must have been seven or eight years old at the time. The death of his father, during the second Covid wave earlier this year is, however, etched clearly in his mind.
The Gorakhpur resident recalls not being able to find a single hospital bed for his father, after the latter started showing symptoms of Covid. He eventually died without receiving proper treatment and that adds to Chauhan’s pain.
When he came across an advertisement by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) soon after, inviting applications for a crash course for ‘Covid Warriors’, he immediately made up his mind to join. A BSc graduate in agriculture, Chauhan had been subsisting on odd jobs for the past few years.
The course is part of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), which aims to train candidates in skills ranging from mobile repair to retail sales, to help them find employment.
The Covid Warrior crash course was introduced this year, and aims to create resources both for the healthcare sector and logistical support.
“After remaining unemployed for months, I thought this is a suitable course for me, as I will be able to get a job and serve people during Covid times,” he said, when ThePrint caught up with him at the Sunaina Samridhi Foundation, an NGO functioning as a Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra (PMKK, training centres for the PMKVY) in Gorakhpur.
With him waited about 20 other aspirants, most of them in their twenties, eager to find some means of gainful employment, after subsequent Covid lockdowns in the country left their families — mostly from lower income groups — struggling to make ends meet.
The Covid Warriors course, which involves 21 days of theory, followed by about 90 days of on-job training, is being aggressively pushed by the ministry.
The Gorakhpur-based Sunaina Samridhi Foundation has been given a target of training 100 candidates in the course this year by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), that functions under the MSDE to implement the PMKVY scheme.
Training started on 24 June and 40 candidates have already completed the theoretical training. The remaining 60 will complete their theory classes by 10 September. According to the centre manager, they have not received targets for any other course under PMKVY this year.
The MSDE in a statement to ThePrint said that more than 80 per cent of candidates enrolled under the PMKVY across the country have been certified and in UP 78 per cent of those enrolled since 2016 have been certified.
On its travel across three UP districts, Chitrakoot, Prayagraj and Gorakhpur, ThePrint was told of some of those who are still awaiting their certificates for various courses under the PMKVY. A number of these candidates had completed their courses as far back as 2019, but are yet to get either certificates or jobs. Many PMKKs were also closed in these districts, which according to officials was because they had not received targets from the Centre.
The PMKVY was launched in 2015 under the Skill India Mission, which aims to make India the global skills capital and train over 40 crore people in different skills by 2022.
Three types of training courses are offered under the scheme — short-term training, for those picking up a new skill, the PMKVY recognition of prior learning, which offers candidates an opportunity to upgrade an existing skill, and special projects. Training centres receive targets for the number of candidates they are supposed to train over a certain period and funds from the Centre for the courses, which are free for candidates.
The scheme is currently in its third phase. While in its first phase, a target to certify 24 lakh students with approximate total cost of Rs. 1,500 Crore, the second phase, launched in 2016, aimed to benefit 10 million youths and had an allocated budget of Rs 12,000 crores.
PMKVY 2.0 or the second phase of the programme, which was to have ended in the 2019-20 financial year, was extended till the end of the 2020 calendar year, owing to the Covid outbreak.
As the national Covid lockdown last year led to migrant workers losing livelihoods and desperately trying to return to their villages in April-May, the NSDC, under the Ministry of Skill Development, launched the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan in June 2020, with the aim of providing 125 days of employment to 6,70,000 migrant workers during the 2020 calendar year. A budget of Rs 50,000 crore was allocated for the project.
The NSDC prepared a plan to impart short-term training to the migrants under the PMKV Yojana (such as mobile repair and sewing machine operation) to equip them for jobs. The scheme covered 116 districts in states like Bihar, UP, MP, Rajasthan, Odisha and Jharkhand, where the migrant duress was felt to be the worst.
PMKVY 3.0 was launched on 15 January this year, with a central budget of Rs 948.9 crore and a target of training 8 lakh candidates between 2021 and 2026. While 88,913 targets have been allocated to 707 PMKKs across 622 districts in the country in the first phase (2021-22), another 1,11,087 targets will be distributed to private partners, who will be selected by the District Skills Committees (DSC).
The Crash Course for Covid Warriors, which provides training for home care support, basic care support, sample collection support and emergency care support, among others, is the highlight of this phase.
According to figures shared by the MSDE, more than 1.37 crore candidates have enrolled under the PMKVY since its launch in 2015.
In a statement to ThePrint, the ministry said, “Out of [the] totally trained, more than 80 per cent of students (50 lakh) in short-term training have been certified under PMKVY scheme till 10 July 2021, while more than 81 per cent (52 lakh) of those who were being upskilled have received their certification”.
It added: “The pandemic brought the overall skill ecosystem to a halt between March 2020 and September 2020, since the training centres were shut aligning to the lockdown guidelines of the government. The remaining percentage in assessments comprises of failed cases, candidates who could not appear for examination due to various personal/family reasons, assessments not lined up due to Covid or some technical/operational level challenges, candidates joined at the workplace before assessment schedule etc.”
The ministry claimed that, in Uttar Pradesh, “out of the total 2.62 lakh enrolled in PMKKs, only seven per cent remain to be assessed”; 78 per cent of those enrolled during PMKVY 2.0 and 3.0 have been certified.
The ministry did not comment on placements.
‘Had thought the course will help me find a job’
Varanasi resident Utkarsha Aggrawal, a 25-year-old B.Com graduate, enrolled in the mobile repair course under the PMKVY in mid-2019. By November, she had completed the three-month course. But when ThePrint met her earlier this month, she was still awaiting her certification for the training.
Students trained under PMKVY, are assessed after the completion of the course and the results and certificate of completion are given by the NSDC.
“I have enquired about the result of the assessment thrice, but every time I am told that the result is pending,” she said. “I had thought I will get a job once I finish the course.”
Aggrawal is not the only one here awaiting certification for a course finished more than a year back. According to data shared by the Varanasi centre of Orien Edutech — an NGO with 50 PMKKs across India (Aggrawal had enrolled at the NGO’s Varanasi centre) — 820 candidates had enrolled in 2018-19 at the Varanasi centre, across courses under PMKVY, of which 185 are awaiting their certificates.
The placement figures are also low, the Centre told ThePrint. For example, 150 candidates enrolled in the sewing machine operator course, of which only 114 were certified and only 66 could get placed, data from the NGO, accessed by ThePrint, shows. Similarly, in the retail sales associate course, 140 enrolled, of which 120 were certified and only 72 could be placed. In the general duty assistant course, 180 enrolled, of which 155 were certified and only 89 were placed.
Their data for 2019-20 follows a similar pattern. Twenty-nine of 330 candidates enrolled for the general duty assistant course that year were placed in jobs, 17 of 180 candidates enrolled in the mobile repair technician course got placements, and in the retail sales associate course, 49 of 240 candidates enrolled could be placed.
The Covid outbreak last year, which forced businesses to close down for months during lockdowns, also impacted certifications and placements, said centres.
The manager of Sunaina Samridhi Foundation in Gorakhpur, which has received a target to train 100 candidates in the Covid Warrior course this year, said the centre had not received any target during 2020-21. “In 2019-20 we got a target to train 300 candidates across five job profiles. The training and assessment were completed before the Covid lockdown was announced in March 2020, but placements dragged as everything was closed. So far only 60 per cent of those enrolled that year have been placed in jobs.”
A centre in Chitrakoot, AISECT too told ThePrint that it did not get targets in 2020-21, while only 70 per cent of the 2019-20 batch could be placed owing to Covid disruptions and lockdowns. This year, the centre has received a target to train 120 candidates (for IT and healthcare jobs under the Covid Warrior crash course), but has managed to train only 60 in the past seven months. Even for this 60, the centre is awaiting the assessment results and certificates from the NSDC.
“What was supposed to have been a three-month course, has dragged because of the second Covid wave and resulting lockdowns. While 60 candidates are still waiting to be trained, the other 60 are waiting for certification,” said the centre manager.
Other centres in UP painted a similar picture of despair. Speaking on condition of anonymity, some of the centre managers told ThePrint that, owing to industries being impacted by Covid, many students who had managed to find a job in the past years lost them during the pandemic.
Abhishek Singh, MIS (management information system) manager, in-charge of the PMKVY in Varanasi told ThePrint, that in the third phase of the scheme, only PMKK centres that have received targets for the Covid Warrior crash course are currently functioning, while the others are closed. The same information was given by K.P. Singh, MIS manager, Gorakhpur.
ThePrint in its travels across Gorakhpur, Chitrakoot and Varanasi, also saw many PMKKs that were then closed and reached the authorities of some of these centres on phone, to be told the same thing.
A source in the MSDE, while confirming that many PMKKs in UP are currently closed, told ThePrint that “top officials in the ministry have told district administrations to not give fresh targets to closed centres because new things are being planned. That is why a large chunk of skill centres are dysfunctional as of now.”
Meanwhile, Utkarsha Aggrawal’s name continues to pop up on the dashboard of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra website, as one of the millions enrolled under the scheme across India.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)