Executing on Skill Development | Manish Sabharwal

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The next wave of impact in skill development or education and employability lies in building institutions which recognize we have to do the furthest long tail job in India’s geography of work.”

Listen to this podcast interview with one of India’s most outspoken votaries for skill development, the CEO of Teamlease, Manish Sabharwal.

Khemka Forum Podcast Series: Transcript of the podcast with Manish Sabharwal, CEO & Founder, Teamlease
Interviewer: Shivraj Parshad, The PRactice



Shivraj: Manish, thank you so much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Manish: Not at all, pleasure….

Shivraj: Manish, You’ve been a great proponent of putting India to work, now we are at a very crucial inflection point where we do have a demographic dividend but as some studies have shown we still don’t have the infrastructure or capability to match the demand in the job market, from your perspective, what will it take?

Manish: Well it is obvious that a demographic dividend does not mean people it means productive people. And productive people are the three ‘e’ education, employment and employability. And the most important one if all of the three are to be taken together, the employment market, has not grown since 1991. See the four labour market variables which are exactly where they were in 1991 are; 93% employment in the informal sector, 12% manufacturing employment, 50% self employment and 58% agricultural employment. This is sort of India’s unfinished labour transformation because these stay exactly where they were in 1991. So creating jobs, changing the quality of jobs is a very important issue which is linked to the issue of skill development which will be repairing our people, which in turn is linked to preparing our people with education reform. So unlike the way the government is organised where different people look at employment, employability and education actually the three ‘e’s are much more closely connected than policy makers think and effective action meets.

Shivraj: If you deep dive in to the kind of information that we have, that almost 90 percent do not have exposure to or the access to the quality education and training needs. What do private and public sector players do to address this?

Manish: We need I think a lot of biodiversity. I think the current restrictions on the for profit sector working in education legitimately attract investment in higher education in schools and we need to clear up this whole conflict of non profit and government being the only player because the private sector is going to participate. The question is whether the private sector will operate as the private sector in education and in schools. In vocational training the bigger challenge is cost effectiveness and scale. How do we get this done at a cost at the quality that leads to a job and at India scale, I mean you know we have a lot to learn from other countries but most of them are popcorn stands by our standards, their entire output will be a pilot by Indian standards so that does has to form part of our sort of gameplan and calculation and the challenge with skills if you look at it, there is a market failure. Companies are not willing to pay for training of more candidates but they are willing to pay for trained candidates. And candidates are not willing to pay for training they are willing to pay for a job. Banks are not willing to lend to candidates to pay for training unless a job is guaranteed and training companies are unable to fill up their classrooms, so the innovation actually lies at the intersection of employment and employability. So we have to look at converting all our training courses into a job with a fine print, which means, we sort of pray to the one god which is jobs. So we have to have a shared framework between employers and education institutions, what kind of jobs are out there, what are the kind of attributes of people who can get these jobs and also make the system self healing where employers are continuously involved in skill development.

Shivraj: How do you convince the government, NGOs and other players to create those linkages to create successful models which will sustain over a period of time and be really inclusive for this huge rural population?

Manish: Well I don’t think the next wave of impact lies in poetry it lies in the plumbing. I don’t think anyone disagrees. But for the next phase of public policy, does not lie in ideas in my mind, it lies in plumbing it doesn’t lie in strategy it lies in execution. So I think the next wave of impact in skill development or education and employability lies in building these institutions which recognise we have to do the furthest long tail job in India geography of work. We only have 34 cities and a million of people, China has 300, but we have 600,000 villages of which 200,000 villages have less than 200 people. So in the short run we agree we have to take people to jobs we can’t take jobs to people but we can take training to people. If we innovate in using technologies, figuring out para skilling if we productise our curriculum. So the traditional work of academics which was there, custom delivered, has to be standardised in ways it can be delivered across the country with reasonable quality by para skill trainers. From our perspective the reality of applying how the private sector has scaled, to what is really has been traditionally a social sector function, is where the magic lies.

Shivraj: And that brings me to the next question, what are the successful models and you have answered that. Now you do have institutions like the National Skills Development Council, how do the different actors actually leverage that favourable policy environment?

Manish: Policy making like entrepreneurship is a lot of hypothesis testing, you can’t prove anything right then you prove it wrong. So entrepreneurs have to look at whether they can get a lighthouse corporate client, whether they can get a lighthouse domain, whether they can get an anchor, a student base, and I think now we are getting into the realm of business models. I think there are probably a 100 business models, 20 or 30 of them are probably running with success. In my mind for institutions looking to succeed in skills there would be 5 sort of birth characteristics. One is you pray to one god which is you place employers at the heart of everything you do, the second thing is that you use technology in ways it hasn’t been done before and thirdly, if it is currently not as effective and we learn it we have to not get disappointed and keep at it until we achieve the scale. Put yourself in the qualification corridor, you know you have to figure out how to link a certificate diploma to an associate degree, you don’t have to offer all of them but you do have to create linkages to them, the fourth one is you have academic quality, there is a myth in the vocational training business that it is about sales and filling up the classrooms while actually is the distance between what the kid came in and what he came out, so academic conversion. And the fifth one is figuring out a sustainable way for student financing. Now if employers finance it they can finance apprenticeship programs, can the students finance it, can third parties finance it. Any institution which can tackle these five things is probably on its way to success I think we still don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle but at least most of the pieces are now on the table.

Shivraj: And finally why is that not happening and putting on your soothsayers hat do you for see it happening in the current environment?

Manish: I think there is a lot going on which is an improvement of the past, but the reason that a solution has not emerged is because it is quite complex. Everybody is trying to get the other person to bear the risk. Students want banks to bear the risk, banks want employers to bear the risk, employers want the training companies to bear the risk . Everybody is trying to pin it on the other person. Finally the solution will emerge when everybody realise the solution lies at an optimal equilibrium where everybody has skin in the game. I think solutions have started to emerge, whether they will be successful or not I don’t know. I mean people ask is your model going to succeed, I don’t know I am going to die trying. I think that is what entrepreneurship is about so I think people who are waiting for that perfect model to evolve before they jump into it, that is a misunderstanding of the entrepreneurial process.

Shivraj: Ok Manish Sabharwal, thank you so much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

Manish: Great. Good luck for the Forum.


Views expressed here are solely that of the person interviewed and may not represent the views of The Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation.