TODAY -

Skilling India, a must to encash demographic dividend

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *



Unemployment in India is an issue that is holding back the creative urges of the youth of the country, and even has the potential to turn our demographic dividend into a demographic disaster. Yes, our economy was the second-fastest growing economy in the world for few the past few years till a relative slowdown two years ago got accentuated into a sharp fall caused by the ongoing Covid pandemic.

But it must be remembered that the unemployment scenario only worsened with the outbreak of Covid but the truth of the matter is that unemployment had raised its ugly head even before the economy began to tank and it came to a grinding halt after the lockdowns during the first wave of last year. Already high, joblessness only increased many folds with thousands of people losing jobs across India, adding to the problem.

Besides, there is a significant chunk of disguised unemployment as well that becomes difficult to trap in data. Besides, our growth pattern, driven by capital intensive automated manufacturing processes increase growth, but do not result in corresponding growth in jobs.

Even mega investments in plants and projects fail to provide employment as similar investments in the past used to, leaving many seeking employment high and dry. Now this brings us to two questions: if jobless growth is something that we as a country must follow and whether there was a need to relook at this phenomenon, and give a greater thrust to labour, and give a policy push to this factor of production so that their interests are well looked after.

Now, this is the kind of solutions that we can come up with unless we take a fresh look with an open mind and a new approach-basically thinking out of the box. Firstly, we should treat our unemployed youth as a labour force that gave the country a distinctive advantage over many countries that have greying societies. They desperately need human resources to run their cities and utilities, without which life would become difficult.

The trick is to make our labour force, skilled and competitive, able to take up assignments across the globe. It is here that the Union Government can pitch in, with aggressive marketing of the services that our youth can take up. Of course, the Government and its embassies across the globe must be keeping tabs on this aspect-shortages of personnel to run the various services in those countries, and send inputs for preparation of a comprehensive livelihoods plan.

In the areas of IT and IT-enabled services, our professionals are already on a strong wicket and are much in demand across the globe. Perhaps, they can help in making an assessment of the needs in the respective countries where they are located at present.

If the migrant labour in India can travel across the country for livelihood, if the conditions are right, they can find useful engagement in foreign locales as well. If only they were sufficiently skilled and aware of the conditions there-physical, climatic, and way of life. Perhaps a little training and improvement of their skills is what is required to make them ready for an assignment abroad.

Already, few people are doing this at their individual level and are trying to find employment or livelihood options out of the usually popular areas-of academics, IT, Engineering, and management. Now, this is a thought worth considering: how to systematically prepare our youth for international level services sector.

The Modi Government has the right idea-Skill India-and was witnessing good implementation when it all began. But of late, the movement has slowed down a bit, perhaps owing to the problem caused by the Covid pandemic which has hit every sector very badly. There is a limit to online skill training, as skill attainment and sharpening need physical presence to conduct experiments and practice to perfect the skills. But training and skilling is expensive and difficult exercise.

And perhaps there is some lacuna in our education system that churns out educated youth, whom the companies find 'unemployable'. And this goes for graduates from the Engineering streams as well, what to speak of graduates from other streams. What a paradox that in a country with a majority of its population young, companies often find it tough to find the right fits for different jobs. Clearly, there is a mismatch between the educational process and the needs of the industry.

And this poses a big problem given the fact that India's working-age population has grown larger than the dependent population. This size advantage of the youthful population can turn into a massive problem, indications of which already exist, unless our training and skilling processes close the ever-widening skills gap.

Adding to our woes is the fact that by the time one masters the skills, the requirements change. To cite an example, the pandemic resulted in an overdrive towards skills suitable for digitalization and which in other words mean some of the older skills have become obsolete.

This only goes to show that, whether for the domestic market or foreign, the skilling environment must be flexible and efficient enough to respond to market requirements-and this requires a massive change in the mindset of the systems that run the skilling programmes.

Often run by the Government departments, which by practice are rigid and slow to change, the skilling programmes too run the risk of getting sucked into the bureaucratic maze and lose their sense of direction and purpose.

Of course, there is a need to make this programme flexible, agile and dynamic, and sensitive to the ever-changing demands and requirements of the market. But equally, there is a need for the private enterprise to participate in this gigantic task of skilling and re-skilling, by absorbing apprentices and paying wage premiums, to prepare the workers ready to take the new challenges. It is in the overall interests of the industry, in the long run, but unfortunately, the industry is wary of getting involved, save for tokenism here and there.

This clearly won't do, and once again India would have missed the bus. There is a livelihood potential that exists, in different countries that have ageing populations. Automation and artificial intelligence may help them to an extent, but they would be needing human beings to run several utilities and services.

If India does not participate in this, other countries surely will fill in with skilled and competitive manpower. Moreover, a skilling gap will adversely affect the domestic industry as well. Experts are hoping that the New Education Policy would make some difference by focusing on training and skills development as well.


* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country.
He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times.
He can be reached on kvlakshman(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 24 2021.



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