RPL for the informal sector in India
India has a big challenge ahead of it, with a mere 4.69 per cent of the total workforce in the country estimated as having undergone formal skill training, compared to 68 per cent in the United Kingdom, 75 per cent in Germany, 52 per cent in the United States, 80 per cent in Japan and 96 per cent in the Republic of Korea. In India, an estimated 80 per cent of the workforce is in the informal/unorganized sector, and out of which approximately 85 per cent have acquired skills through informal and non-formal channels. While it is difficult to map existing skills in the unorganized sector and gauge the skilling requirement in the sector, the rate of job growth in the informal sector is estimated at twice that of the formal sector.
The importance of RPL in India cannot be overemphasized. Any of these individuals working in the informal sector could be a candidate for RPL, and depending upon the level of his or her competences, s/he could either be fit for full or partial certification.
RPL is the key instrument that can help to map the existing skills in the unorganized/informal sector and to integrate the informal sector into the formal skilling landscape. The RPL policy is linked to an outcome-based National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) against which prior learning through formal/informal channels is assessed and certified. The RPL process includes a pre-assessment, a skill gap training and a final assessment leading to certification of existing skills for an individual. The RPL certification is on par with certifications following various skill trainings in the country. It provides both horizontal and vertical pathways to an individual for acquiring additional skills for better livelihoods. Adequate resources are earmarked under various government schemes for equitable access to RPL programmes. The government provides detailed guidelines for RPL initiatives to ensure quality and consistent outcomes.
One of the operational strategies of the NSQF recognition policy is to create a national vocational framework of qualifications with an open/flexible system, which would permit individuals to accumulate knowledge and skills over a period of time and later convert these, through testing and certification, into higher competences, recognized in diplomas and degrees. This integrated framework, covering both TVET and general education, is known as the NSQF and is anchored in the National Skills Development Agency (NSDA). The National Skills Qualification Framework Notification dated 27 December 2013 defines the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) as ‘the process of recognizing previous learning, often experiential, towards gaining a qualification.’
Procedures and processes
Diagram 1 below presents the two scenarios that are applicable to potential RPL candidates in the informal sector.
Diagram 1: Non-formal Learning, Competence-based Assessment, Competence Award, Qualification (Competence-based)
Scenario A—Full Qualification: In accordance with the RPL process, where a candidate can establish that s/he has all the competences necessary for a particular qualification at the NSQF level for which s/he is being assessed, s/he shall be awarded a certificate for the full qualification. The assessment shall be competence-based in accordance with the NSQF and Assessable Outcomes as listed under the National Skills Qualifications file.
Scenario B—Part Qualification: Part qualification applies when the competence-based RPL assessment shows that a person has the competences for one or more assessable outcomes for a particular qualification at the NSQF level at which s/he is being assessed, but not all of them. Such a candidate will be awarded with a part qualification that recognizes the competences attained. It must be noted that under this scenario, the part qualification and the process followed will be approved by the National Skills Qualifications Committee (NSQC).
The concept of part qualification does not exist in India, but the country has been advised to introduce this concept, as the majority of potential candidates have been trained through informal and non-formal channels. Most of these candidates are proficient in professional and technical skills but may lack soft skills, hygiene, safety, environmental and other related skills. Hence it is proposed that a bridge training module and reassessment strategy should be developed for the transition from a part qualification to a full qualification.
The RPL policy addresses tracking and analysis of RPL certified candidates. Qualification-specific RPL strategy designed under either scenario will also be included by the certifying bodies in the respective qualification files, which in turn will be incorporated into the National Qualifications Register.
There are two compulsory stages for RPL: Advise and Assess. Candidates participating in the RPL process must complete both stages. The third stage – Audit – shall be applied for randomly selected RPL-certified candidates as a quality checking measure.
The advisory stage supports, informs and guides the candidate on RPL options available. This process is conducted by an advisor and is intended to help the candidate find the most appropriate NSQF-aligned qualification for assessment. Listed below are indicative roles an advisor would take: these can be customized as per the requirements of the NSQF qualification-specific RPL process.
The role of the advisor is to:
- help the candidate to understand the RPL process and its benefits
- observe practical demonstration by the candidate of her/his skills to determine and discuss the most appropriate level and scenario for assessment.
- Assist the RPL candidate to compile evidence in support of a portfolio, if applicable.
- Where appropriate, recommend training courses to the candidate before undertaking the assessment.
This stage involves judging the evidence provided and making an assessment. Such an assessment may result in a full qualification or a part qualification. This assessment process shall be detailed by the certifying body and approved by the NSQC as part of the qualification file.
Assessors approved by the certifying bodies will conduct the assessment and will evaluate the candidate on his/her claim for recognition following the advisory process. The role of the assessor is to:
- brief, advise and instruct the candidate on the assessment process
- undertake the candidate’s assessment
- record assessment results
- make assessment decisions
- recommendation to certifying bodies for certification or
- recommendation for bridge training.
As part of the quality assurance framework, a third stage, ‘Audit’, is applied to a randomly selected sample of the candidates who have been subjected to RPL:
The audit stage is intended to ensure the quality of the overall RPL process, which has to be in line with the Quality Assurance Framework for the technical vocational education and training system in India. In the absence of a specific QA framework, a proposed auditory body will have oversight of all the stakeholders under the RPL process. Once approved, this RPL policy shall become a part of the QA framework.
This audit process will ensure credibility and relevance of the RPL process for all stakeholders, including RPL candidates, advisors, assessors, certifying bodies and employers. The role of the auditor is to:
- conduct the audit in line with the QA Framework
- review the RPL process and obtain feedback from the candidate and other RPL practitioners
- record and report on the RPL process
- make recommendations on the lacunae found through the audits and corrective measures to be taken and present these to the NSQC.
Diagram 2- RPL from the Candidate’s Perspective
In addition to advisors, assessors, certification bodies and auditing agencies, employers are encouraged to build a workforce that is certified as per the NSQF. This is to ensure that the RPL candidates are not disadvantaged vis-à-vis candidates who have acquired formal training, as long as the candidates have the requisite competence. Training providers need to facilitate such individuals to acquire the full qualification through tailor-made bridge courses.
Outcomes and ways forward
The implementation of RPL is a fairly new concept in India. Envisaging a candidate-centric approach for RPL requires the creation of new institutional stakeholders such as advisors and auditors. However, it is important that the advisory role is not only restricted to stand-alone advisors but also integrated into training provisions. Training providers need to be able to advise candidates, to mobilize, counsel and register them, to facilitate assessment, offer skill gap training and to complete the certification process.
Since RPL is the process of awarding formal recognition to competences that already have been acquired, there should not be any distinction between RPL certificates and certificates issued after formal training and education. This implies a rigorous quality-assured process for assessment and certification.
Quality of assessment is critical to the success of the whole RPL process. Quality needs to be assured irrespective of the setting, whether it is in an assessment centre, through a worksite assessment process on the shop floor or in a training centre.
The use of technology-based assessments needs to be considered so that costs and subjectivity can be minimized. Wage loss offsets should be taken into account when determining the RPL assessment fee.
Employers need to link the benefits of RPL assessment and certification to their enterprise. This could be achieved by linking the productivity of an individual to the productivity of the enterprise.
In order to ensure the transition of workers from the informal into the formal sector, standardized assessable outcomes and/or national occupational standards need to be developed for informal sector jobs. New Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) need to be formed to represent informal sector workers.
Training providers and assessment bodies need to integrate awareness-building measures for the benefits of RVA and initiatives for marketing RPL as a stepping-stone for further learning into their training provisions. Incentives like wage-offsets, training participation, a provision for worksite-led RPL, access to skill-gap training and assessment in regional and local languages could encourage informal sector workforces to take part in RPL.
Ministry of Finance, Department of Economic Affairs. 2013. Notification on the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF). Gazette of India: Extraordinary, Part 1, Section 2. New Delhi, Ministry of Finance, Department of Economic Affairs.
Source: UNESCO UIL