Prime Minister Narendra Modi has consistently emphasised the pivotal role of youth power in driving India's developmental trajectory, acknowledging their instrumental contribution in transforming the nation into one of the world's fastest-growing economies. In line with this vision, the Union Budget 2023 provided a significant impetus to youth empowerment across the country.
The government implemented key initiatives such as the National Education Policy (NEP), which prioritises upskilling, as well as adopted economic policies aimed at fostering widespread job creation and supporting entrepreneurial opportunities. These measures are geared towards empowering the youth of the nation and enabling the 'Amrit Peedhi' (generation of youth) to realise their aspirations and ambitions.
But, is it sufficient? In a recent incident in Mumbai, the financial hub of India, a crowd of young men surged forward as police officers attempted to maintain order, brandishing their batons. These were candidates who had journeyed from different parts of Maharashtra with the aspiration of obtaining a position in the police force. The competition was fierce, with an astounding 650,000 applicants vying for a mere 8,000 positions.
This specific incident highlights a multitude of challenges, but above all, it underscores the urgent need for upskilling the youth in India. Consequently, the question arises: what measures can be taken to address this situation? To gain insights, we turned to Dhuwarakha Sriram, Chief of Generation Unlimited (YuWaah), Adolescent/Youth Development and Partnerships at UNICEF India. In an exclusive interview, she talked about the importance of collaboration between UNICEF and HR professionals to empower the youth.
Excerpts from the interview:
What do you believe are the most important skills that youngsters should possess in today's transforming society and workplaces?
In today's rapidly changing business and societal landscape, youngsters must possess a range of skills to succeed.
- First, adaptability comes into play. As trends and technology continue to evolve, being adaptable to the circumstances allows the younger generation to stay relevant and acquire new skills as needed.
- Second, the skill to communicate effectively holds great relevance in a globalised society for successful teamwork and the clear transmission of ideas.
- Third, the ability to think critically and solve problems is necessary to overcome complex obstacles and make wise judgments. Fourth, digital literacy, including knowledge of technology and data analysis, is essential to thrive in this digital era. Lastly, emotional intelligence and empathy help young individuals relate to others, foster positive relationships, and successfully navigate diverse environments.
The Passport to Earning (P2E) India is an e-learning solution designed to address these needs and empower India's young people with relevant 21st-century skills. P2E provides skilling and learning opportunities through online training, blended learning models, and offline engagement. Through P2E, young learners can develop adaptability by staying updated with the latest trends and acquiring new skills as per the demands of the industry. Apart from this we are also coming up with a single-window platform for connecting young people to opportunities known as Youth Hub.
Continuous learning and upskilling are essential for career growth. What strategies can be employed by the government and business leaders to encourage young people to embrace lifelong learning?
To encourage lifelong learning among youngsters, government and business leaders can implement diverse strategies. These include raising awareness about the importance of continuous learning, providing accessible and affordable education, fostering partnerships with educational institutions and businesses, supporting mentorship and apprenticeship programs, recognising learning achievements, offering incentives, leveraging technology, and promoting a culture of learning.
Initiatives like YuWaah, a youth development partnership with UNICEF, have been working towards equipping young individuals with problem-solving skills and creating a supportive ecosystem for learning, skilling, and generating employment.
Universities can also play a significant role in promoting learning and upskilling by adopting a system of ongoing monitoring and assessments. By implementing regular assessments, universities can gather valuable data on the effectiveness of different strategies and processes implemented by them.
Establishing a baseline is crucial to understand the value of our educational institutions. We should strive to develop skills at different stages and cycles of education, but this objective can only be achieved through regular assessments. Moreover, it is essential to customise learning and skilling programs for young individuals to adapt to the evolving technologies. By identifying skill gaps, we can address them effectively.
Are there any specific Human Resources (HR) programs, initiatives, or policies that you believe would be effective in helping young people acquire and develop the necessary skills for the future?
There are several mentorship and career guidance programs, that can help youngsters acquire and develop the necessary skills for the future. Offering apprenticeships, providing robust training and creating new opportunities within Human Resources (HR) can make them future ready.
Additionally, creating targeted internships or rotational programs can provide hands-on experience and exposure to different HR functions. Emphasising on continuous learning and upskilling through workshops, webinars, and access to online resources can further support the growth and development of young professionals in HR.
YuWaah at UNICEF, has launched various programs to empower young people in their skill development journey. These include:
- The Young People’s Action Team (YPAT), providing young people representation at all levels of governance within YuWaah.
- Passport2Earning, an initiative offering continuous access to skilling, re-skilling, and upskilling opportunities through online and blended learning.
- YuWaah also collaborates with government and partner organisations to provide career guidance to millions of young people. Their efforts extend to shaping national youth policies, developing 21st-century skills frameworks, spearheading a partnership with the World Economic Forum and engaging closely with the ministries for system strengthening in alignment with the needs of young people.
India grapples with a significant dropout rate in colleges and schools, reaching levels of 10%-12%. How can counselling and career guidance programs be strengthened to provide better support to students and help them make informed decisions regarding their education?
To provide better support to students and help them make informed choices regarding their education, counselling and career guidance programs can be strengthened. This can be achieved through early intervention, comprehensive assessments, qualified counsellors, accurate information dissemination, mentoring programs, parents' involvement, tailored support, and continuous monitoring. Implementing these measures can play a vital role in reducing the significant dropout rate in colleges and schools in India, ensuring students pursue successful career paths.
In addition, the importance of youth employment cannot be understated, as it contributes to the social and economic stability and growth of any economy. With the rise of market volatility and uncertainty, compounded by the impacts of COVID-19, addressing issues such as the digital divide and gender and urban-rural inequalities becomes crucial. As the world becomes increasingly digital, it is essential to expand academic curricula to include life, employability skills and social skill, necessary to survive.
A significant proportion of young people drop out of the education system to enter the labour market and support the financial needs of their families. This can be addressed through enabling earning opportunities for students through remote work opportunities, part-time jobs and apprenticeship programs that allow them to earn while continuing their education.
In what ways do you think UNICEF and HR professionals can collaborate to address the needs and challenges of youth effectively?
UNICEF and HR professionals can collaborate in numerous ways to effectively address the needs and challenges of youth. This includes designing inclusive policies, sharing HR expertise, providing industry insights, implementing mentoring and internship programs, and advocating for youth rights. By combining their resources and knowledge, UNICEF and HR professionals can create a comprehensive ecosystem for youth development, ensuring equal opportunities, quality education, and successful transitions into the workforce.
UNICEF can also act as a platform to bring HR professionals and young people together to help understand both demand and supply side challenges and opportunities. HR professionals can be a great resource to guide young people, particularly the ones coming from underprivileged backgrounds and aspiring for bright and sustainable careers. They can help them fulfil their aspirations, share best practices, knowledge, tools and platforms to achieve the same.