How TeamLease Skills University is skilling youth

TeamLease Skills University is offering job-oriented inclusive education through its stepped graduate programme and new apprenticeship model

TeamLease Services is a leading player in the Indian staffing sector. Over the last 10 years, it has placed more than 15 lakh people, hiring at the rate of one person every 5 minutes. TeamLease’s biggest challenge has been the lack of employment-ready people. Roughly 95% of those who approach Teamlease for a job do not have the skills demanded by employers or lack job experience. What compounds this problem is the structure of the Apprenticeship Act, which mandates every employer to appoint apprentices. 

The 5WH in brief

Who: Vikrant Pande, Provost, TeamLease Skills University

What: Is driving the implementation of TeamLease Skills University’s mandate—to offer job oriented inclusive education in India.

When: Starting August 2014

Why: Because of the severe skill gap facing industry and growing problem of youth unemployability.

Where: Vadodara, Gujarat

How: By introducing a stepped graduate programme, a new apprenticeship model and working towards the US concept of community colleges.  

According to Manish Sabharwal, Chairman of TeamLease Services and a promoter of TeamLease Skills University, “The Act is unattractive for employers because it micro-specifies duration, location, trade, etc. and suffers low awareness and trust. It requires employers to construct theoretical training facilities within their premises. It even prescribes jail for CEOs whose companies do not comply; so we should have either 5000 CEOs in jail or 15 million apprentices. India has neither.”

India has only 25,000 employers appointing apprentices vis-à-vis UKs 200,000 employers. India has only 300,000 apprentices vis-à-vis Germany’s 3 million, Japan’s 10 million and China’s 20 million.

Unskilled graduates

TeamLease has succeeded because of the “repair job” it does on prospective employees to bring their skills up to speed. To impart soft skills and other employment-oriented vocational skills to youth, it acquired the Indian Institute of Job Training.  But even this limited the numbers of freshers whose skills it could repair. In time, TeamLease also grew increasingly aware that repair jobs waste time and resources, in the sense that youth first undergo regular courses that don’t prepare them for jobs, and then a patch-up effort to equip them for the job market. 

Vocational university

In 2010, Manish Sabharwal and other TeamLease founders decided to focus their attention on preparing prospective employees instead of repairing candidates. To do so, they would ‘formalise’ vocational skill learning by establishing a university to impart skills.

“Vocational universities,” explains Sabharwal, “differ from normal universities in three ways; a) they pray to one god; employers, b) they have a qualification corridor with mobility between three month certificates, one year diplomas, two year associate degrees, and  three year degrees, c) they have three different classrooms with equal academic credit; online, physical and on-the-job.”

It is high time for this initiative. “One million youth will join the labour force every month for the next 20 years,” says Sabharwal. Who will skill them? “Only eight percent youth get a formal education, the rest either study in the informal sector or don’t study at all,” adds Vikrant Pande, Provost, TeamLease Skills University. Who will prepare dropouts for the job market?

Here’s how TeamLease Services has gone about establishing TeamLease Skills University (TLSU): 

ALLOCATE FUNDS FOR THE PROJECT: After taking the decision to establish a university dedicated to job-oriented education, TeamLease Services committed an outlay of Rs 50 crore for TLSU. It drew up a detailed budget and revenue plan for the next ten years.

SET UP BASE NEAR DEMAND: To kick off the ambitious plans, Sabharwal approached the Government of Gujarat, to which he was an advisor on Education and Labour and proposed establishing a university offering education in vocational skills. In February 2012, TeamLease Education Foundation formally submitted a letter of such intent to the Government of Gujarat. The State Assembly passed the Gujarat Private University Act (amendment) on April 1, 2013, approving the establishment of TLSU.

Setting up base in Gujarat makes sense because the state accounts for 16% of the nation’s industrial investment and production. Gujarat’s GDP is growing faster than the national average. Demand for skilled workers in Gujarat is ever-growing from the manufacturing as well as the service sectors. The Government of Gujarat has welcomed TLSUs support for its vocational education and training initiatives aiming at capacity building. TLSU has worked out the modalities for its programmes to vertically link with Vocational Higher Secondary Schools as well as ITI courses. “We expect such linkages to boost enrolments in the lower institutions as well as at TLSU,” says Pande.

SELECT APPROPRIATE SUBJECTS: Initiatives to impart skills must focus on areas where a significant skill gap exists. To identify such areas, Teamlease conducts an extensive annual labour survey. Based on the results of such surveys, TLSU has started with three specialisations—mechatronics and allied multi-skill manufacturing disciplines; information technology hardware; and finance, accounting services and business operations. In future, the university will expand its offering to sectors like retail, hospitality and tourism.

PRICE IT RIGHT: TLSU’s courses cost approximately Rs.35000 per year. According to Pande, “Course prices are in line with other self-financed institutions. Some of the courses are cheaper than other colleges.”

CREATE EASY ADMISSION NORMS: In its first year of operations, TLSU has accepted every applicant meeting the basic educational qualification for its graduate programme, a higher secondary or equivalent certificate. It has also ensured that the student is genuinely interested in the course. Pande explains—“Essentially, we want candidates who understand what they are getting into. A job oriented course offers fewer holidays and free time than regular graduate programmes. Study at TLSU is serious business; it isn’t fun and games like other colleges. Becoming industry ready entails a lot of hard work.” In future, if the number of applicants exceeds the capacity, he says the university may introduce an entrance exam or minimum marks criteria.

ALLOW SUFFICIENT EXIT POINTS: TLSU’s Bachelor’s degree is spread over six semesters or three years. Inbuilt modularity makes it a flexible programme. Students completing two years will get an Associate degree and those completing one year will get a Diploma certificate. Pande explains this rationale: “Students can opt out of studying at the end of either the first or second year, if their circumstances necessitate so. They might need to take up employment. And they can return to studies whenever and pick up from where they left off. Creating sufficient exit points keeps the dropout rate very low.” Students can expect to get successively high profile jobs for every year of the particular programme they complete. For instance, a B.Com student could join a MSME or a SME as an Accounts Assistant or a Billing Clerk after completing the first year. After two years, the student could get a job as an Assistant Accounts Officer or a Floor Supervisor.

INCLUDE ON THE JOB TRAINING: The fourth semester of the TLSU Bachelor’s programme is exclusively dedicated to on the job training. Prospective employers get a chance to evaluate the student for a full six months. “We will ensure that employers absorb students or at least make them offers after the training is over. Its how TLSU will create placement opportunities,” says Pande.

DESIGN AN APPRENTICESHIP MODEL: National Employability Through Apprenticeship Programme (NETAP) is a Public Private Partnership of TeamLease Skills University, CII, and NSDC under the National Employability Enhancement Mission of the Ministry of Human Resource & Development (AICTE). NETAP aims at helping unemployed youth to acquire skills on the job. Youth learn by doing and earn while learning. NETAP is targeting appointing 200,000 apprentices every year for the next 10 years. All NETAP apprentices get automatic admission to TLSUs cloud campus. Youth successfully completing a NETAP apprenticeship earn credits towards TLSUs courses offered online. According to Pande, “Marrying apprenticeships with distance education will help students youth find gainful employment as well as bring dropouts into the mainstream.” 

Employers benefit too. Through NETAP, they can hire apprentices for a period of 3 months to 24 months and then decide whether they want to give them permanent employment.

US COMMUNITY COLLEGE CONCEPT: TLSU is modelled on the US community college concept, wherein community colleges act as an extension of a university to reach out to people closer to their doorsteps. Pande explains this complementary working thus: “Whereas the university serves as an anchor campus, providing labs and infrastructure for various course activities, the community colleges offer instruction through various modes to suit the needs of students. Students can learn on the physical campus, through multimedia or on the cloud campus, through industry interaction, through hands-on training, and through apprenticeships.” TLSU will set up 22 community colleges across Gujarat—either on ownership basis or long leases. To start with, the community colleges will teach the first two years of each course, and eventually they will offer the entire degree course.

A beacon for industry

TLSU started operations with 4,000 NETAP trainees, 22 on campus students and 20 faculty members in August 2014. Over the next two years, it aims at growing the number of NETAP trainees to 100,000 and on campus students to 400.

As India’s first vocational university, TLSU is gradually refining the model of a skill imparting university. It may replicate the initiative in other states in future—“to help India meet its 30% gross enrolment ratio target,” says Pande. TLSU also plans to offer consultancy, skill up-gradation and continuing education services to micro, small and medium enterprises.

“We see TLSU as a light-house of vocational education in Gujarat/India,” adds Pande. No doubt it is a good sign of the times.

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