With the largest youth population, India is currently known as the “youngest” country in the world. As per UNFPA projections, India will continue to have one of the youngest populations in the world until 2030. The young population can contribute significantly to bridging the socio-economic gap and development of the country. Discussions have been going around the demographic dividend the country has and reaping its benefits through education and developing skills to gainfully participate in the labor sector or become an entrepreneur.
In last five years or so, National and States Governments have focused on skill development and providing jobs to the youth. The governments had set ambitious targets for themselves, however, despite their best efforts most states failed to achieve their targets. Indian youth today face tough labor markets and job shortages all over the country. A significant percentage of youth (15- to 24-year-olds) in India are neither at work nor in school. One of the major reasons for non-achievement of the job targets is “unemployability”. With India’s current growth potential, it is pertinent to mention that there will be jobs not only in industries but also in the corporate sector. The challenges for both sectors are different. However, there is one thing in common for success in both the sectors and that is “quality basic education”.
The job market is more demanding and changing rapidly than ever before. This entails supply-side to be agile and responsive to the market needs to keep up the pace. How well India manages with the demand for changing job skills depends on how quickly the supply of skills shifts. A significant part of the readjustment in the supply of skills has to happen inside school education system. Early childhood education, tertiary education, and adult learning and education sought outside the workplace are increasingly important in meeting the skills that will be sought by future labour markets. For example, the demand for skills linked to home appliance repair is shrinking swiftly because technology is hammering down the price of appliances and enhancing reliability.
As we are aware that a large number of new job entrants enter the informal sector and undergo traditional (informal) apprenticeship. These traditional apprenticeships have generation gap and the quality is questionable. The apprenticeship does not include any theoretical learning, only basic skills are learnt resulting in low-skills worker. While it is difficult for government to directly intervene in the informal sector apprenticeship/training, it is important to provide support to informal sector through providing soft-skills and upgrading the technical and management skills to the masters. Also, it goes without saying that regular skill-gap analysis, robust monitoring and evaluation systems, quality of training, training of trainers, industry engagement and involvement, efficient LMIS and strengthening of SSDMs needs to be focused consistently over the years by the government.
India’s GDP Rates
According to the government statistics, India’s youth literacy rate (15-24 years) and adult literacy rate (15 years and above) in 2011 were 86.1 percent and 69.3 percent, respectively. It has set a target to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education to 25.2 per cent in 2017-18 and further to 30 per cent in 2020-21.While India’s GDP continues to grow at one of the highest rates worldwide, the rate of job creation lags far behind economic requirements. Every year, over 20 million young Indians join the workforce. While a predominantly young population fuels the demand side of the country’s employment equation, factors like the democratization of technology are significantly impacting the supply side.
On the one hand, while the system is struggling to provide jobs to candidates with skill-development courses, generally, in the industry for NSQF level 5/6/7, there exist an opportunity to enter the corporate world at level 8 and above. At this level too, where post-graduates enter into the job market with corporates, there exist a huge gap between the expectations from the employers and the skillsets the candidates have. The skillsets and attributes sought by corporate or top private employers have kept increasing over the decades; these are over and above knowledge of core subject. While in the late 20th Century, the skillsets sought included: Excellent Character, Willingness to learn, Proficient in English, Good health, Live close to the location etc. to now in 21st Century changed to attributes like: Good communication skills, collaboration, general awareness, approach to lifelong learning, adaptability, agility, critical thinking, self-discipline and time management, sense of initiative, sharing and teamwork, stress management and much more.
Innovation is creating new types of jobs; many people are employed in jobs that did not exist two decades ago, today has more than 4 million app developers and data analytics. A large portion of children entering primary school these days will work in occupations that do not exist today. Emerging, tending and unpredicted jobs today inter-alia include robotic process automation (RPA), big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, blockchain, augmented reality and UI/UX design.
Identifying jobs of the future
While it is agreed that the new technology may eliminate many “low-skill” jobs, at the same time, technology is creating opportunities, paving the way for new and altered jobs. Several countries, besides giving industrial training, are now focusing in development of 21st century skills. Therefore, investing in human capital development is the priority to make the most of this evolving economic opportunity. In this regard, natural strategy will be to align existing curriculum with 21st century skills right from the early stages of schooling.
India’s fastest growing economy needs a workforce which is innovative, adaptable to emerging areas and quickly re-trainable, whether for white-collar or rust-collar, and linking them to suitable job opportunities and markets. It is of utmost importance that schools, and colleges educate children and youngsters about these attributes that are key to not just securing a well-paid job but also sustainable quality life. While government is currently struggling to achieve its targets of providing jobs, it would be prudent to keep the equity agenda in mind in whatever they do. This will help government in bridging the current gap within the gender, social categories and person with disability (PWD) in labour force participation. In order to achieve holistic development, it is inevitable that conscious efforts are made to strengthen the socio-economic fabric.
Having said this, the most important task is to focus at school level. The phrase “unemployable” used by several employers is due to the fact that the candidates even after graduating from senior secondary school have very low learning levels and lack 21st century skills. It is important to note that, the composition of labour force is rapidly changing with increasing diversity in students completing education. Major diversity is noted in terms of increasing participation of students from socially disadvantaged background. The changing demographic composition of school attainment is producing new population pyramid with high number of unemployable at the base and very limited number characterized as employable at the top of the pyramid. While the government is taking several steps to improve the quality of education, several reports, time and again have hinted towards depreciating learning levels. To ensure youths who are likely to be part of labour force are equipped with skills that are valued in the labour market, Government may emphasise on improving quality and linking secondary and senior secondary schools with vocational education various levels of learning through a credible certification system.
Governments need to focus on preparing youth for the corporate jobs which would entail designing specific programmes. It is difficult to imagine candidates having soft-skills without the conscious efforts at the school and higher education level. This soft-skills development should become part of the curriculum and not taught in isolation. India cannot afford to miss the bus to reap the demographic advantage and employment in national and international job-market.