PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS THE KEY
Effectiveness of skilling depends solely on young professionals acquiring and imbibing project management concepts alongside vocational skills
In 2020, India is pipped to become the country with the youngest population. According to Wikipedia, the average age of an Indian in 2020 is expected to be 29 years, vis-à-vis 37 years in China and 48 in Japan. Coupled with the rising unemployment rate, this could be a demographic disaster if not managed well. The government has launched massive vocational training projects through Skill India but even then the problem remains largely unsolved.
So where is the gap? While skills address the technical issues of any profession, the application of these skills must result in tangible outcomes. This is where the basic ideas of project management fit in. Youngsters, especially those in technical streams, often receive skills training without knowing where and how these would be beneficial for employment. In the IT industry, this is conspicuous as young professionals without experience are often considered unemployable.
We have observed that students often do not know how to apply the skills that they have learned to real-life situations. They are often stumped when things do not fall in place in a textbook manner. As practitioners, we know that project management is a way of life rather than a skill. Young professionals today must be exposed to basic ideas like monitoring schedules, evaluating risks, and communicating effectively. Even for initiatives like Make in India, the key to success is in integrating the basic tenets of project management in every curriculum of skill development.
A few years ago, as part of Actionaid International, a non-governmental organization (NGO), we used project management for a skill development initiative. We formulated a detailed project management plan involving the design and deployment of IT training across the rural district of South 24 Paraganas in West Bengal.
We shortlisted potential NGOs working in the area and conducted a review of the educational levels and interest of local youth in learning IT skills. Then we designed and implemented the project in which we partnered with the NGOs to extend basic computer skills to the local youth. Using project management methodology, we conducted regular monitoring of the programs and incorporated feedback to ensure the program was relevant to their needs.
In rural areas, though access to education has improved through government schools and colleges, educational qualification is not sufficient to secure employment, as opportunities are rare. In my continued involvement with IT skills training for rural youth in my current role, I observed that these youth need not just basic skills to operate computers but also skills they can utilize for self-employment as jobs were few in the rural areas.
So how can we make skills training more effective? Can they use these skills to launch their own micro businesses? To manage these entrepreneurial initiatives, project management modules are critical. To match skills to demand, training providers and students need to conduct surveys to explore the kind of services most likely to be used in that region.
For instance, in rural areas weddings and other family events are big affairs. So desktop publishing and photoshop may be good skills for the village youth to learn. Coupled with the technical skills, they must learn about risk evaluation, communications management, and financial planning, which form a part of the overall project management cycle.
One successful enterprise is a printing and photography business by five young women that we helped set up in rural West Bengal. Before setting up the business, these women used project management concepts to find out what services were in demand and then made a business plan. They submitted the business plan to the local panchayat to obtain subsidies to purchase their first desktop computer. They reviewed the possible risks of setting up a shop in a local market run solely by women. Prior to the launch, they also prepared and distributed flyers to advertise their services. The project management skills they utilized helped them set up a small but successful enterprise.
As digital transformation takes place in rural India, digitally skilled professionals will also be in demand to manage projects in village panchayats and other bodies. Skills development curricula must prepare them with basic project management concepts that will prepare them better for these opportunities.
To conclude, in my opinion, the key to the success of Skill India is to integrate every aspect of project management into practice. This way we can reap the dividends of a young population as well as transform our country.