Manish Sabharwal is one of the foremost evangelists when it comes to skilling in India. The co-founder and chairman of TeamLease Services, India’s largest staffing company, Sabharwal is relentless in his mission to mainstream skilling, with his op-eds a near-constant across India’s leading dailies. 

Unsurprisingly, conversations with Sabharwal, too, are peppered with one-liners related to skilling. One of his favourite tenets is ‘prepare, not repair’. It’s a key spoke in his ideological belief wheel, and it’s this belief that led him to fashion TeamLease Skills University (TLSU), India’s first such privately-owned institute. 

Located in the heart of the industrial cluster in Vadodara, Gujarat, TLSU has had a singular mission since it opened its doors in 2013. Churn out job-ready candidates for the market. “We already have over 200,000 students. It’s India’s fastest-growing university,” says Sabharwal. 

As a university, its existence is almost disruptive to the whole idea of higher education—a banal system that currently shuffles students from schools to colleges to a job market they’re largely unprepared for.

Fizzled out

Skill India was big ticket budget item in 2018. Rs 3400 crore were pumped into the scheme. By mid-2019 though, it had fallen short of its skilling targets by a whopping 64%

TLSU wants to fix that broken link. It’s keen to trim the fat around knowledge creation, focusing on a theory-light but practice-heavy curriculum and pedagogy. TLSU, according to Sabharwal, is a university of the future—an attempt to bridge the huge employability gap between education and employment.

According to the India Skills Report published by the Confederation of Indian Industry and placement company Wheebox, 63% of employers feel no job seekers meet the “required skills”. Worse, the leaked Periodic Labour Force Survey in 2018 showed that four in ten formally trained young Indians are unemployed. And while there are many universities spread across the country—993 as per the All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19—they have a gross enrollment ratio of just 26%. Clearly, while degrees might be popular with Indian youth, university campuses are definitely not.

These abysmal figures spotlight the dire need for an institution like TLSU, where off-campus training forms a larger part of the curriculum than classes on campus.

“We only launch courses that we know have a demand in the industry. There’s no point in offering a degree without a job,” says Dr Avani Umatt, the provost at TLSU.  According to information shared by TeamLease Services, TLSU currently has 400 students enrolled across a variety of courses. The university has a 100% placement rate till date.

As TeamLease co-founder, Sabharwal has enjoyed a ringside view of India’s skills market.


Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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