Reports say that India can potentially create about 3.4 million jobs (short and long term) by installing 238 GW solar and 101 GW new wind capacity to achieve the 500 GW non-fossil electricity generation capacity by 2030 goal.

9 years after launch, India’s solar skill training scheme yet to find its place in the sun

As the issue of unemployment looms large this election season while the country aspires to ensure a just transition, CarbonCopy looks into the Centre’s Suryamitra scheme—launched in 2015—to skill India’s youth to work in the solar industry. A closer look shows that while the national initiative has made progress, it is uneven

A solar skill training session is underway in Mumbai. “This is the right time to be here. The solar industry is going to be big. Bohot saare logo ki avashakta hai yaha (a lot of people are needed here),” trainer Santosh Pisat tells his students at a session being held under the Suryamitra Skill Development Programme (SSDP)

Launched in 2015, SSDP is the Centre’s scheme to develop the skills of youth in the solar industry to install, commission, operate and maintain solar energy equipment in the country and abroad. It is free of cost and aims to prepare candidates to become entrepreneurs in the solar industry. The nodal agency for this programme is the National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), an autonomous institute of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

In the classroom, 30 students, many of whom are fresh out of college, are intently listening to Pisat as he maps out seemingly innumerable career opportunities in the solar market. From technical jobs such as designing, installing and maintenance to avenues like marketing, content writing, sales, business development, entrepreneurship, and so on. 

Santosh Pisat interacting with a student during the SSDP training session at K. J. Somaiya Polytechnic College, Mumbai. Photo: Vandita Sariya/ CarbonCopy

Previously an electrical engineer, Pisat took an early retirement and then upskilled to train solar aspirants. Pisat weaves in the Paris Agreement, the Dollar vs Rupee debate, Atmanirbhar Bharat, coal and air pollution, government incentives— all in one thread, eliciting a unified response from the class — “Yes, we want to work in the solar industry.”

Pisat’s presentation promises these budding entrepreneurs the one thing that they all dream of having—a steady income. The grip of unemployment has tightened over India’s youth. The India Employment Report 2024 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Institute of Human Development (IHD) says that unemployment in India has predominantly been a problem among the country’s young, especially those with a secondary level of education or higher, and it has intensified over time.

In 2022, the share of unemployed youths in the total unemployed population was a worrying 82.9%. The share of educated youths among all unemployed people also increased, from 54.2% in 2000 to 65.7% in 2022. 

India’s unemployment rate increased from 7.14% in January 2023 to 7.45% in February 2023, with the total number of jobless people in the country reaching 33 million from 31.5 million in January. The share of unemployed youth, therefore, stood roughly at 27 million and that of educated unemployed at 21 million. 

These are extraordinary numbers, but hope shines through the solar sector. Reports say that India can potentially create about 3.4 million jobs (short and long term) by installing 238 GW solar and 101 GW new wind capacity to achieve the 500 GW non-fossil electricity generation capacity by 2030 goal. As per International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2023 report, India had 2,01,400 jobs in grid-connected solar PV in 2022, up 47% from 2021. About 80,600 people work in off-grid solar space.

At a time when India could lean on the solar industry to battle the unemployment crisis, initiatives like SSDP become even more important. As per IRENA, India was ranked number two after China in the number of employment by the solar photovoltaic power segment in 2022. Initiatives like the PM Surya Ghar Yojana—a scheme launched in 2024, which aims to provide free electricity to households who opt to install rooftop solar electricity units— are paving the way for an increased demand of workers skilled in the solar industry. 

The Suryamitra scheme, therefore, has got just the right recipe for a just transition—building a solid foundation for India’s clean energy job market, encouraging solar entrepreneurship, promoting gender equality and keeping the underprivileged in focus.

But a closer look at the programme, nine years after its launch, reveals the programme is yet to realise its full potential, much like the youth it aims to uplift.

Building a bright future 

The training session CarbonCopy witnessed was part of a CSR initiative run by kWatt Solutions Pvt Ltd—one of the empanelled training partners—in Mumbai. This allows students from varied backgrounds—not just ITI diploma holders—to enrol in the training session. Along with some were fresh graduates with an ITI diploma, some were from marketing, hoping to work with solar firms as content providers. Some had previously worked in the oil and gas industry and were looking to move on to “greener” pastures, while others had already worked in the industry and had joined the programme to brush up their theoretical knowledge to start their own ventures.

One of the students, Rohit Tenkale, has a marketing background. When his friend, a solar vendor, approached him to market his products, Tenkale had to pass. “It was a very good opportunity for me, but because of no knowledge of the field, I missed it. He even tried explaining the basics to me, but it was difficult to understand. So, I thought doing this course will acquaint me with all the basics I need to be able to get a marketing job in this sector.”

Arun Tekha, another student is following his dream of being a PV designer. “I have an MBA in finance. My brother has a solar engineering, procurement, and construction company (Solar EPC). I have been working with him for the past two years and have learnt system designing. I can already design small systems of up to, say, 100KW. I know the potential of the solar sector and that we have a target till 2030. I believe there’ll be a big boom in the industry.” PV design involves figuring out how many panels will be needed to cater to the requirement, how will they be placed given the space, how many arrays will be needed, etc. 

But how are these participants selected? 

“We [training institutes] reach out to ITI colleges and universities to get access to students enrolled in technical courses to counsel them. Our primary focus remains figuring out which candidate is sincerely looking to explore the solar industry and would be keen to take up a job as we have to ensure placement according to the government requirements. Preference is given to candidates from rural areas,” said Kunal Solanki, training & operation head, kWatt Solutions Pvt Ltd.

Training institutes also advertise in newspapers and social media, inviting candidates to sign up for the course. 

Fuelling entrepreneurship and atmanirbharta 

After receiving the Suryamitra certification, Sohan Singh, 31, worked a job at a solar EPC for 16 months before venturing out on his own in 2023. In his words, his “expectations were 100% met”. The course and the job that followed taught him how to interact with customers to better understand their needs and the basics of professional dressing, along with the importance of doing a site survey—which he never did before. 

Most importantly, his earnings almost doubled. Where he was making about ₹15,000 a month doing electrical and technical jobs, he now makes an average of ₹30,000 a month. “As my income increased, I got my house renovated and bought two bikes. People around me often ask me how I achieved that, they inquire about the Suryamitra course, fees, placement, what all it entailed, etc.,” explained Singh.

Singh’s is not an isolated case.

In July 2022, in the middle of kharif season, a transformer in the village in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, went bust. Ashish Pandey’s field—spread over five acres— where he had sown paddy, needed water. Pandey, 30, who had received his Suryamitra certification in 2018, took a leave of absence from work in Indore and went to his hometown. 

Pandey bought a 3KW solar pump equipment and installed it by himself in his field, saving his crop. Currently, Pandey supervises training centres at kWatt Solutions Pvt Ltd.

SSDP, therefore, has certainly been changing lives, but not for everyone. 

Feeling out of place 

After receiving certification, candidates are eligible for placements. According to the policy, it is the training partner’s responsibility to get at least 70% of the candidates placed. According to an empanelment invitation released by NISE, the remaining funds to the training partners are released only after verifying that this placement percentage is reached. 

The mandate looks good on paper, but not in reality. The renewable energy sector can potentially create a total of 3.5 million jobs by 2030 as per IRENA. Suryamitra has made a decidedly modest start. It has created just 56,087 graduates. Further, as per NISE’s records, the overall placement since the programme started in 2015 till the end of financial year 2023 stands at 48% i.e only 26,967 candidates have been placed out of the total 56,087 trained over the past nine years. It is important to note that this is the record for government-funded training only. 

“Some training partners are content with just receiving the enrollment and certification money because they know they can’t achieve a good rate of placement. So they operate without receiving the placement money,” said Byomkesh Mishra, co-founder, Medha, a non-profit organisation working to enhance youth employability and employment opportunities by supporting students in colleges, ITIs, and polytechnics for more than 10 years. 

According to Mishra, there are some indicators to look at while assessing such skilling initiatives. They are: enrollment rate— how many were actually enrolled out of the total mobilised candidates; certification rate—how many actually received certification at the end of the program or if there were drop outs; placement rate— how many got a documented job opportunity; and retention rate— where is the candidate after 1 year? Still at a job? In the same industry? “That’s where a lot of wisdom actually lies,” added Mishra while talking about the retention rate. 

Based on these parameters, Suryamitra is not delivering on its promises. After almost a decade, why has this scheme only certified 56,087 candidates? And why have only half of them found job placements? The answer to the first question, as the numbers indicate, is seemingly poor implementation, and an inability to attract minority demographics such as women and rural youth, especially in coal-rich states such as Jharkhand. The answer to the second question on poor placements, some say, is impractical training, where theoretical knowledge takes precedence over real-world experience. 

Gauging the recruiter sentiment

Multiple sources confirmed that for freshly certified “Suryamitras”, as the certified candidates are called, a typical starting salary ranges between ₹13,000-₹15,000 a month. After six months, this can go up to ₹18,000. 

But are solar companies seeking them out? 

“Almost all the vendors we work with are graduates from the Suryamitra programme. These certified candidates are theoretically well-acquainted with the subject matter and within 20-30 days on site, they usually become efficient on the practical aspects, including documentation, billing, etc. as well. Within a couple of months, or even sooner, they become independent vendors. These candidates are about twice or thrice as proficient than candidates we directly hire from ITI or Polytechnic colleges,” said Vishal Chaudhary, director, Solars4U, a solar engineering, procurement, and construction company (Solar EPC ) in Ajmer, Rajasthan. 

Not all recruiters, however, share the same sentiment. Others think the programme ought to do more to impart practical know-how and application. 

“Suryamitra is a theory-heavy course, not very practical. The number of sessions dedicated to practical learnings are less. The curriculum can benefit from more site visits and interaction with potential customers. Since a lot of candidates come from remote and rural areas and lack a certain kind of exposure, they lack presentation skills. But again, it depends on the candidate. We have one Suryamitra graduate working with us and he earns about ₹28,000 per month, which is more than what 60% of my employees make,” said Sumit Agarwal, founder and CEO, Solruf, a Maharashtra-based Solar EPC. 

However, what seems to be the norm is that freshly certified candidates join as trainees to gain on-site practical experience. Most of the recruiters and certificate holders CarbonCopy spoke to said that within a year or so, the candidates either venture into starting their own solar business or switch companies to move higher up the ladder.

Missing from the solar scene: Women  

Almost everyone that CarbonCopy spoke to said that female participation in SSDP, at best, stood at 10%. 

In Pisat’s classroom, Archana Bapu Shelar, 21, and Pranali Ramchandra Bandhane, 22, are the only two women participants.

Archana Bapu Shelar (left) and Pranali Ramchandra Bandhane(right) attending the training session at K J Somaiya Polytechnic college, Mumbai. Photo: Vandita Sariya/CarbonCopy

But even they were told about the programme by the men in their lives.

Bandhane had previously worked with her mama (maternal uncle), who runs his own enterprise as a solar energy vendor, and was recommended to do this course by him to refine her skills and knowledge. She wants to set up her own shop. 

Shelar aims to secure a stable job, which she thinks can be found in the booming solar field, or at least that is what her professor, a man, at her ITI college told her when he suggested she enrol in this training program.

The gender problem is not limited to merely enrollment, but extends to recruitment.

“The installation job often requires travelling to remote parts, lifting heavy equipment like inverters and panels, using machinery for drilling, etc. which is more suitable for males. That’s why females are not preferred on the job side. We are encouraged to get more women in the classroom, but during placement it becomes difficult to convince recruiters to accommodate one woman in the team of, say, 20 men. This will mean additional safety regulations. Even women themselves are less interested in these jobs, knowing what is in store for them,” Solanki from kWatt Solutions Pvt Ltd. said.   

Sometimes, it is the other way round. The norms for recruitment feed into the enrollment process. In some cases, training partners are recruiters themselves and prefer male candidates during enrollment. 

“In addition to the fact that it is a strenuous on-field job, there aren’t many women with ITI diploma holders. Second, it is a residential programme. In order to accommodate merely one or two women, the cost goes up to ensure separate hostels. So we prefer males mostly,” said Rakesh Kumar Choudhary, director, Bugalia International Private Limited. The solar EPC firm operates in Rajasthan and runs the certification programmes in Jaipur and Jodhpur. 

Have they trained any women so far? None, he added. However, Choudhary had recently received inquiries from potential employers looking for women with Suryamitra certification for solar panel packaging. This work, according to Choudhary, doesn’t involve any heavy lifting and the workers just need to operate a machine in an air-conditioned room. Such employers are now training women themselves, he said. 

Solruf’s Agarwal, however, mentioned that there are about 30% women employees in his company, none of them with SSDP certification though. They mostly work in operations and as account managers and in business development roles where they onboard vendors and work on documentations. 

With her diploma degree in Electrical Engineering, Kajal Pagare, completed the SSDP in May 2022. After the training, she was placed as an apprentice with the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) in Mumbai. She worked there for about a year. Now, since the past five months, she has been working as a technical approver at Vashi Integrated Solutions, a company dealing in industrial and commercial supplies. 

“Most of the companies take women for PV designing roles. I’ve worked in the field before with BEST and I would say, it’s a tough job. So, now I’ve shifted to a desk job and I’m looking to explore PV designing.”

CarbonCopy couldn’t find any female vendor to speak with who holds a SSDP certification.

Despite encouraging female participation in SSDP,  the government data does not provide gender-based details on the number of candidates enrolled and placed under the programme over the past nine years. Gender is not even a lens of bifurcation in the government data. 

Is merely mentioning that women candidates are encouraged to apply enough?

“There’s no incentive for these training partners to enrol more women, right? They have to show enrollment numbers and get their work done. This is the norm across such skilling programmes unless the job role is gender defined, like the care industry, hospitality or medical industry where you would find a good number of female candidates. So, this is stereotypically reinforced,” explained Mishra. 

The disparity is not limited to women. It extends over states, especially, in the North East India.

Solar ambitions going south in the east

The momentum further drops as we move towards East India. CarbonCopy looked into Jharkhand— the state at the heart of just transition in the country— and found that a mere 876 candidates have been trained since the inception of the programme, according to government data. Out of which only 466 were placed in the coal producing state.

CarbonCopy also spoke to the only training partner in the state and found they are running their second batch so far. So overall, 30 candidates have been certified in 2022-2023 and a batch of 30 is underway. Government data says that there were no candidates trained or placed in 2022-2023, but also that 876 candidates have been trained so far.

Moving on towards the eight states in Northeast(NE) India—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim— the data reveals SSDP had found little success there, with the exception of Assam. 

On condition of anonymity, a source involved in the operations team running Suryamitra programmes in one of the NE states spoke to CarbonCopy.  According to the source, the state of Suryamitra programmes in most NE states is abysmal. 

StateEstimated Solar Potential (MW)Installed solar capacity(MW)Suryamitras trained
Suryamitras placed
Arunachal Pradesh8,65011.23600
Data for solar potential and utilisation, Data for candidates in Suryamitra programme

Due to the abundance of forest and fire wood in the region, there’s not much awareness on the use of solar energy. Consequently, even the people in administration i.e. the government officials themselves are not aware of the course and the legitimacy of the SCGJ certification. 

“We had trained people but even the state government didn’t want to hire those people, not even as interns. Neither were they accepted by private organisations. No one recognises the certification by SCGJ, even people within the government organisations. See, we can create a batch, it is not an issue, people are eager to learn, but do we have avenues to place them? We are helpless,” said the source.

As a result, many of the certificate holders were placed in shopping malls, hotels and local restaurants. Even those who wanted to become vendors themselves found no support from local banks to start the enterprise, again due to the prevailing general lack of awareness of solar energy. Even if there are some odd solar jobs here and there, it is outsourced to professionals in Delhi or Kolkata and locals are not hired.

The current list of 139 registered centres on the NISE website has no centre or training partner to show for Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim. This has been updated from a previous list which had 181 centres, with training partners in these states as well.

Did the poor performance of the programme in eastern states resulted in training centres dropping off here? 

Training partners a major factor for success

According to Mishra, training partners play a crucial role in running these initiatives and schemes. In his words, “everything depends on the quality of the training partners”—some have deep pockets and some don’t.

So is the success of such schemes solely dependent on training partners? 

“The state governments equally implement these schemes because they come from direct ministries. Most of the time, any scheme is as good as the quality of the implementing agency or the training partners. Secondly, it depends on how good the industry interface is with these training partners. So how many employers are connected to them and how many industry partners they have and so on,” answered Mishra.

So, for example, in the eastern states, the mobilisation numbers are very high in such schemes. But the placement rates are dismal because of the lack of industry connect and high dropout numbers. The NGOs from the region have deep connections and they mobilise tribals, but when they come to the city they don’t find it as per their expectation and they go back.

If the destiny of such initiatives depends largely on training partners, shouldn’t policy be made stronger?

Mishra pointed out that taking such courses to the ITIs or polytechnic colleges instead of creating an inefficient value chain could be one way to do it. “Why create a parallel structure outside to run these programs? The government has a huge ITI network and the students there are the right fit for this programme. So, why not have a MOU with these campuses themselves? It is because the ministries work in silos,” he added. 

The COVID-setback 

The programme has taken a hit after COVID-19 pandemic and seems to be recovering rather poorly from it. CarbonCopy reached out to Amitabh Kant for his comments on the scheme’s progress so far. The copy will be updated when a response is received. 

So what is the overall report card for the Suryamitra scheme? “It’s been a short period so I can’t say much. All states are performing okay,” said Dr. Siva Reddy V, Director (Technical) at NISE. In January 2024, he was made the officer for the programme. Turns out, the main officers for programmes at NISE are changed every two years or so. Therefore, the current officer did not have much context about the programme. 

As the world marches towards tripling its renewable energy capacity,  SSDP needs to plug its loopholes. It has all the elements to succeed. Plugging its loopholes, therefore, will only work to help more such skilling programmes coming up in the clean energy sector to achieve success. 

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