A significant change is happening in the country's Industrial Training Institutes. Two years after the government proposed upgrading 1,397 ITIs into Centres of Excellence in specific trades and skills under private-public partnership, Corporate India is warming to the idea.
Last year, over 200 companies adopted 300 ITIs in the country and the involvement is gaining pace.
Officials in the Confederation of Indian Industry said what was working in the scheme's favour was the academic and financial autonomy given to the new ITI managements.
Under the proposed scheme, the state government as the owner of the ITI continues to regulate admissions and fees, except in 20 per cent of the cases that are determined by Institute Management Committees. The central government provides an interest free loan of up to Rs 2.5 crore (Rs 25 million) per ITI.
"Companies earlier confused this as corporate social responsibility and did the exercise out of sheer obligation.
"Once they realised that this can be a win-win situation in terms of bridging the skill gap, they have begun volunteering to adopt ITIs. The autonomy, which enables them to change the curriculum to the skill industry actually wants, is a big draw," a CII official said.
Japanese auto major Toyota, for example, has partnered with 15 ITIs so far, training over 500 students. The institute says it will expose students to the latest in automotive technology and will have on-the-job training at Toyota Dealerships as part of the curriculum.
"These partnerships will enable us to create skilled technicians. We wish to expose the students to latest service techniques used in the automotive industry, which will go a long way in creating industry-ready manpower," said Sekhar Vishwanathan, deputy managing director, commercial division, Toyota Kirloskar Motor.
Toyota dealerships provide on-the-job training every week, spread over six months, so that the students can get a first-hand feel of technology and service systems. As a part of the curriculum, Toyota will train the instructors of the institutes in the latest technology it uses.
Some of the other prominent companies which have taken the adoption route are Videocon, Suzlon, Taj Group, Hindustan Unilever, Tata Chemicals, Hindalco, Educomp Solutions, Hyundai Motors, India Cements and Ispat Industries.
ACC has adopted seven ITIs across the country. At Kymore in Madhya Pradesh, ACC inducts qualified ITI students and grooms them for technical and supervisory positions in electrical, instrumentation, diesel and fitting trades in the cement manufacturing sector.
JSW Steel has adopted an ITI at Mettur and through its Shramsadhana Vocational Training Centre is holding classes in fabric painting, flower making, zardosi work, glass painting, solawood work and baking, in which women are taught the craft.
However, problems remain in adoptions. Most of the ITIs have been used to the government way of working for over 20 years. That's difficult to undo in just two years, industry representatives say. Some ITIs have not even maintained basic infrastructure and hygiene.
"But we try and convince companies to look at ITIs in the same way as they would look at sick industrial units and adopt them," said an official who works as a liaison between India Inc and the government for this.
Industry bodies also said that lack of awareness amongst the ITI staff also added to the woes, as adoption by a company is seen in many cases as privatisation of these institutes.
The government is also not open to the idea of international agencies volunteering to adopt ITIs.
"There are feelers from international quarters that they want to help us with revival of the ITIs. But we would rather seek help from our own companies than international agencies," said the official.