It is no great secret that the States of the Northeast are very poor in skilled manpower. This is inevitable in a region that has long been treated as a hinterland for tural resources that can feed industries in mainland India. Over the years, there has been a pronounced disinclition on the part of the Centre for any kind of industrial development of the Northeast. The standard excuse for this has been that the region lacks skilled workers required for industrial development. What the Centre has consistently overlooked is that there is some equipoise about the role of skilled workers in promoting an industrialized society and an industrial culture giving rise to more and more people with the skills required for diverse industries. In other words, just as the easy availability of skilled workers facilitates the growth of an industrial culture, likewise, the very existence of industries promotes the skills required to feed such industries. But the Centre has also overlooked (along with the States of the Northeast) that the almost total lack of industrial development has led to an atrophy of existing skills. There was a time when States like Assam had excellent masons and carpenters. But over the years, since nothing was done to encourage indigenous skilled workers, and government agencies supported the idea of indenting workers from outside the region for all kinds of jobs requiring skills, the number of indigenous skilled workers dwindled until people with manual skills became almost extinct. The State governments of the region must plead guilty to not having done anything during the last five or six decades to develop skills that were either dying out or non-existent. There was total lack of vision about what was bound to happen as a result of not doing anything to promote and develop skills that would be needed for livelihood and development.
And now, the truth is slowly beginning to dawn on our political bosses and bureaucrats that the Northeast will continue to be deprived of industrial development for years to come on the plea that the region does not have skilled workers. And having failed to do anything about developing skills in about half a century, there is now great concern in all the States of the region about developing skills. Iugurating a two-day tiol Skill Conference held in Guwahati this week, Assam’s Additiol Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar Bora lamented that school and college dropouts were getting caught in the “vicious circle” of militancy because of lack of skill development. He said: “Those who dropped out of school or college education do not get any job in today’s competitive job market. Falling prey to unemployment, the units ultimately join the militant groups. If they were equipped with skills, they would have pursued their own careers.” Unfortutely, this realization did not dawn on our rulers at a time when militancy and eventual terrorism began to claim a sizeable number of our youths who created law-and-order situations in a quite a few of the north-eastern States so that militancy and terrorism began to be held out as additiol reasons for industrialists not wanting to invest in this region. Even at that stage, there was no evidence of any political will for any worthwhile investment in skill development for creating an industrial culture in the region. However, a familiar characteristic of our political culture seems to have taken over now. This is getting carried away by fashioble jargon without a full understanding of implications. “Skill development” is a slogan that has been used in fashioble circles for quite some time and has filly influenced politicians as well, although about half-a-century too late. And since our rulers do not know how to go about developing skills, there is this wonderful overkill of proposing that the Northeast should have a skill university. Most of us have not heard of any such educatiol undertaking as creating a skill university. There are skills of diverse kinds, both manual and cerebral. Educatiol institutions provide access to some of these skills while other skills are acquired from people who have them and are willing to impart them. In the case of some skills, like the ones that musicians have for instance, even the UGC has stipulated that people with a high level of skill are fit to be professors of universities, even if they do not have formal education of any kind. This is a way of according recognition to high levels of skills rather than the educatiol system that has been partially responsible for imparting such skills. Perhaps the greatest disincentive to developing skills comes unintentiolly from our teachers in schools and colleges who give their students the impression that educated people do not soil their hands with manual work. The most important task in ensuring skill development is to identify people with high levels of skill and to induct them in institutes and summer courses where such skills can be imparted. Since our concern at this juncture is with the needs of thousands of jobless school and college dropouts, the focus of all skill development initiatives in the region must be mainly on manual skills. Since identifying people with high levels of skills within the region will be an almost impossible task now, such skilled individuals will have to be inducted from other States. The young people who will be trained in different skills, will have to be motivated to accept the rigours of such a regimen and be adequately inspired to pursue their chosen skills because such skills will be their sole means of livelihood and income generation. One does not need universities for this kind of a task. It is our misconception that educatiol institutions alone can fulfil these requirements even without the right people to impart the required skills. Such an attitude has led to the creation of a whole lot of ITIs in Assam that have failed to impart any skills. People who imagine that a “skill university” will change matters for the better, live in a fools’ paradise.