On Monday this week, I was invited to the inauguration of a center for technician training in Kanpur. Though I have heard a great deal about the importance of skills training, vocational education, and other such keywords in various conferences, I must confess that I know very little about that category of education. My knowledge about ITIs for example, is limited to discussion on IITians for ITIs in various Pan-IIT events. So I was naturally curious and decided to go and check it out.
The center was being inaugurated by Mr. Yadupati Singhania (Chancellor of Sir Padampat Singhania University, Udaipur), whose vision it is to provide low-cost, high-quality technical training to a large number of youths across the country, without provisioning a large amount of subsidy every year.
The center has been operational for about 6 months in temporary space, and has now become fully functional in its own swanky building. It provides training similar to ITIs in three disciplines - electrician, mechanical fitter, and modern carpentry. But there is a difference. The training period is only 3 months, as opposed to 2-year period of an ITI course, and that is where the low cost kicks in. Just imagine the cost of lost wages for 2 years, while doing the training from an ITI.
The team has studied ITI program in great detail, and have also visited technical training centers in different parts of the world. They realized that there are too many holidays in an ITI, and in fact, one hardly attends the course on 180 days a year. Even on those 180 days, the incidents of something going wrong are also high - sometimes faculty is on leave, sometimes the machine is not working, sometimes there is no electricity. On top of all this, there is a lot of repetition, a lot of old technology being taught, and so on. And they realized that it would be possible to provide a similar skillset to a young, motivated person in about 3 months only. He has to come to the center every day, six days a week. No time to waste - you are either in a lecture, or you are in the workshop. No canteen breaks.
Batch size is kept small, a maximum of 30 students in each trade, so that the trainers can give personal attention to everyone. The workshop was amazing. Can you imagine a CNC Lathe machine in a center to train technicians. I was proudly shown all the latest equipment that the industry works with and is available for training there. The lecture room had a projector and a screen, along with Internet connection so that guest lectures are possible through skype. And the quality. There were many industry leaders from local industry there, who vouched for the quality. The first two batches have graduated, and the placement has been good.
Of course, it would be difficult to sustain this with a single batch, and as I said, they have no intentions of this being a charitable activity of JK group. The idea is to soon expand into multiple batches. When one batch is having lectures, the other will be in workshop, and vice versa. Also, the center will eventually operate 14-16 hours a day so that there can be morning batches and evening batches - make as much use of the wonderful infrastructure that they have, and reduce costs as well.
The students who were graduating on Monday had confidence written all over them. They could even speak a few sentences of English. They have been exposed to a bit of computers - can check their emails, for example. They were smartly dressed - ready for the real world. Each one was given a bag which had a tool box in it - their most prized possession.
The comparison with the ITI could not be more stark. The center is situated in one corner of the ITI campus, using only 5% as much space as the ITI, and will be producing many times more technicians than the ITI, and the chances are that they will be equally well trained, if not better, than ITIs, at zero cost to the promoters (as opposed to huge budgetary support that ITIs get).
I was told that the goal is to replicate this model through the franchisee route all over the country. They themselves are setting up a second center, this too in Kanpur city, which shows their confidence in their own model for technical training.
What I found very interesting is that the team behind this dream has a significant IIT Kanpur presence. The three member Project Management Council - Mr. Yadupati Singhania, Mr. Manoj Pant, and my batchmate, Dr. Rajnish Karki, all are IITK alumni. There were at least 20 industry leaders at the function who were IITK alumni, some of them have recruited the graduates, many had offered advice and other forms of support.
I am confident that with IITians getting into the area of skills development, India will be able to exploit the demographic window of opportunity that it has over the next couple of decades. The era of private sector ITIs has arrived.
Here is the link to JK Center for Technician Training.