Are Apprenticeships the Future of Employability in India?

With its burgeoning youth population, India faces the critical challenge of bridging the chasm between demand and supply. We need to match the skills emerging from educational institutions to the practical demands of the ever-evolving job market. Traditional academic models often prioritise theoretical understanding, leaving graduates unprepared for real-world scenarios in their chosen professions. This disconnect results in a concerning paradox – a surplus of graduates grappling with unemployment. Here’s where apprenticeships emerge as a potential game-changer, offering a dynamic blend of classroom learning and on-the-job training with the potential to reshape the landscape of employability in India.

India is one of the top five nations contributing to 13% of the global labour force. India is estimated to have the highest incremental share in the global working-age population at 20-23% by 2030. This will create an opportunity for India to capture foreign investments and businesses that look for countries with a large and skilled workforce. However, having a trained workforce is essential to seize this opportunity for economic growth. The talent landscape is undergoing unprecedented transformations, spurred by the emergence of Gen AI, heightened return-to-office requirements, macroeconomic instability, and intensified competition for skilled professionals in high-demand sectors. As employer requirements change, talent acquisition strategies must adapt to new skills, innovative tools, and flexibility to attract, recruit, and retain top talent.

Bridging the Skills Gap: The Promise of Apprenticeships

India’s higher education sector is witnessing phenomenal growth, with enrollment figures rising steadily. However, a glaring disconnect exists between the university curriculum and the skill sets sought by employers. The deficit in practical skills, with only 5% of graduates having formal training with a focus on theoretical learning, leaves graduates with a knowledge deficit that translates into a situation where many graduates are unemployable. The rapid pace of technological advancements further exacerbates this issue as jobs morph and evolve, demanding adaptable skill sets that traditional education often fails to provide.

Apprenticeships offer a structured approach to bridge this burgeoning skills gap. They provide individuals with an invaluable opportunity to gain practical experience while pursuing academic qualifications. Apprentices are placed alongside seasoned professionals in their chosen field, gaining hands-on exposure to the intricacies of a specific trade or industry. This immersive experience equips them with the necessary practical skills and industry-specific knowledge, allowing them to integrate into the workforce seamlessly upon graduation.

The advantages of a well-designed apprenticeship program extend beyond simply bridging the skill gap. Employers benefit tremendously by gaining access to a pool of pre-trained talent to meet their specific needs. This translates into reduced recruitment costs and training time and allows them to identify and nurture potential long-term employees. On the other hand, apprentices experience a smoother transition into the professional world. They gain valuable industry experience, build professional networks with established professionals, and potentially secure full-time positions within the companies they train under.

The recent introduction of degree apprenticeships in India marks a significant development. These programs can revolutionise the traditional model by seamlessly integrating academic learning with on-the-job training. This allows individuals to pursue a degree while gaining practical work experience, equipping them with a holistic skill set relevant to their chosen field. Moreover, degree apprenticeships often come with the added benefit of a stipend, easing the financial burden of higher education and making it more accessible to a broader range of students.

The World Economic Forum reports that of the 13 million people entering India’s workforce annually, only a tiny fraction are employable: one in four management professionals, one in five engineers, and one in ten graduates​​. Formal vocational training is accessed by only 2% of the workforce, and non-formal training by just 9%​​. This underutilisation of vocational training underscores the need for a more robust apprenticeship framework. In contrast, developed economies have higher apprenticeship participation rates, with up to 20 million apprentices engaged. India, however, has only 40,000 employers offering apprenticeships, compared to 200,000 in the UK​​. This stark difference calls for strategic intervention to boost apprenticeship programs in India.

Overcoming Challenges and Paving the Way Forward

Despite the promise that apprenticeships hold, several challenges must be addressed to unlock their full potential. A lack of awareness about apprenticeship programs among students and employers remains a significant hurdle. Additionally, concerns regarding the adequacy of stipends offered and the quality of training companies provide require careful consideration. Streamlining the registration process and ensuring standardised training modules across industries will enhance the program’s effectiveness.

The tripartite model, involving collaboration between academia, industry, and apprentices, is essential for a successful apprenticeship framework. For academic institutions, aligning curricula with industry demands ensures that education remains relevant and impactful. For industries, apprenticeships provide a direct channel to cultivate future employees, reducing recruitment costs and addressing skill shortages. Gaining practical skills and industry-specific knowledge enhances employability and career prospects ​​for apprentices.

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 marks a significant shift towards integrating vocational training with academic education. This policy emphasises the importance of practical, hands-on experience in complementing theoretical knowledge. By advocating for the fluid integration of vocational and academic streams, the NEP aims to prepare a workforce that meets the evolving needs of the economy​​.

Several measures need to be implemented to realise the potential of degree apprenticeships. Firstly, universities should be incorporated as pivotal third parties within the Apprenticeship Act. Establishing industry bodies aligned with the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines for Apprenticeship Embedded Degree Programmes (AEDP) will enhance cooperation between academia and industry. Additionally, developing an Apprenticeship Credit Framework similar to the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) will facilitate the integration of apprenticeship experiences with higher education​​.

The Indian government has actively strived to promote apprenticeships through initiatives like the National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) and the Skill India Mission. These programs aim to incentivize companies to offer apprenticeship programs by providing financial and regulatory support. Fostering collaboration between educational institutions, industry bodies, and government agencies is crucial to ensuring quality training and bridging the gap between theoretical education and practical skills demanded in the job market​​.

While the trajectory of apprenticeships in India appears positive with growing awareness, continual government initiatives, and increasing participation from industry leaders, apprenticeships have the potential to become a mainstream pathway to skilled employment.
Degree apprenticeships hold particular promise. They offer a holistic approach to education and career development, preparing graduates with theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and industry-specific nuances required to thrive in the dynamic world of work.

Furthermore, apprenticeships can play a pivotal role in empowering India’s youth by equipping them with the necessary skills to navigate the complexities of the job market. It allows them to gain practical experience while pursuing academic qualifications, fostering a sense of self-confidence and a deeper understanding of their chosen field. This enhances their employability and cultivates a generation of skilled professionals ready to contribute meaningfully to the nation’s economic growth. Embracing these measures will bridge the gap between education and employability, preparing a versatile, skilled workforce ready to tackle future challenges.

By overcoming existing challenges and fostering collaboration, India can leverage the transformative power of apprenticeships to create a workforce equipped for the demanding job market of the 21st century. The time to act is now. By prioritising apprenticeships, India can pave the way for a more prosperous and sustainable future, ensuring that its youth are ready to meet the challenges of the modern workplace.


  • Bridging India’s education-employability gap: The rise of degree apprenticeships | Financial Express

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