Unemployment has been a pressing concern in India even prior to the onset of the pandemic. In 2019, while the country's overall unemployment rate stood at 5.27 per cent, the rate among youth aged 15 to 24 reached 22.74 per cent. Although there was some improvement by 2021, with the unemployment rate decreasing to 5.98 per cent from 8 per cent in 2020, the situation remained challenging for job-seekers in India.
During the same year, amidst the devastating impact of the virus outbreak, the youth unemployment rate surged to 28.26 per cent, marking a significant increase from 24.90 per cent during the initial wave.
Furthermore, with the rapid advancements in technology over the past decade exacerbating widespread job displacement, skill gaps, and the increasing role of artificial intelligence in replacing human capabilities, the future of work necessitates employers to devise strategies to unlock the fullest potential of their workforce. So, what can be done to address this challenge? To find out solutions, we reached out to industry leaders, and here is what we discovered:
1. Empowering rural youth through STEM education
Upskilling is crucial for rural youth as it plays a vital role in imparting digital and security literacy. Encouraging STEM education, especially among rural women, enables them to embrace white-collar jobs while leveraging their acquired knowledge to revolutionise farming and agriculture - their very livelihood.
Jhilmil Kochar, Managing Director, CrowdStrike India, revealed how her organisation partnered with “India Stem Foundation (ISF) and is supporting the World Robot Olympiad Association (WRO) India, an initiative that fosters innovation in technology and entrepreneurship among students. Events like WRO empower students to tackle real-world challenges, fostering innovation from an early age.”
2. Expanding work from anywhere
With work from anywhere, more and more Indian companies are now expanding to rural regions as well, which can ignite local industries and inspire more individuals to aspire for learning and innovation.
“Rural India has a rich culture of 'jugaad' technology solutions. Jugaad, the Indian approach to innovation, embodies the ability to overcome limitations and create valuable products through innovative thinking by utilising available resources. With the right support and little push, we can witness the spark of innovation translating into sustainable revenue streams,” emphasised the Managing Director, CrowdStrike India.
3. Invest in skill development ecosystems
To tap into the talent pool of rural youth and bridge the skills gap, it is crucial to invest in skill development ecosystems within Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. By establishing vocational training centres, skill development institutes, and technology hubs, “we can provide access to quality education, technical training, and mentorship programs for the youth in these areas,” said Prakash Balasubramanian, Executive Vice President and Global Head, Engineering Practices and Delivery, Ascendion.
“Collaboration between government, educational institutions, and industry stakeholders is essential in creating these ecosystems. It empowers the individuals from smaller cities and towns with the necessary skills required by various industries. In addition, organisations must embrace the work from anywhere model as a core aspect of their operations. By offering remote work opportunities, companies can leverage the skills and potential of rural youth without geographical limitations,” he added.
4. Promote digital literacy and connectivity
In today's digital age, promoting digital literacy and connectivity is crucial in unlocking the potential of rural youth. Employers need to focus on providing affordable internet connectivity, digital devices, and relevant training to these areas.
“By equipping rural youth with digital skills, we enable them to participate in online learning platforms, remote work opportunities, and entrepreneurship ventures. Moreover, emphasising digital literacy empowers youth to leverage technology for learning, networking, and accessing information. This approach not only bridges the skills gap but also fosters inclusivity, enabling rural youth to compete in a globalised workforce,” stated Prakash Balasubramanian.
5. Embrace skill development programs
Skill development programs are essential for personal growth, economic development, and social progress. They equip individuals with the necessary skills, promote innovation and productivity, and create pathways to better opportunities. By investing in skill development programs, societies can build a skilled workforce that is ready to tackle the challenges of the future, suggested Ms Pooja Thakran, Senior Director - Corporate Communications and CSR, Honeywell India.
“To tap into the potential of Indian rural youth, organisations should actively participate in and support skill development programs. By partnering with educational institutions, vocational training centres, and government initiatives, we can provide young individuals in rural areas with the necessary training and skills to meet industry demands. Investing in these programs not only bridges the talent gap but also creates opportunities for economic growth and social empowerment in rural communities. Honeywell, through its Student Empowerment Program in collaboration with ICT Academy, has established Centres of Excellence, offering advanced technical and soft skills training to over 23,150 students in various courses relevant to Industry 4.0,” she added.
6. Engage employers in the skilling process
Actively involving employers throughout the skilling process is crucial for effective outcomes. By including them in curriculum development and training delivery, employers gain insights into the skills being taught and can shape the skilling programs to meet their specific needs and industry demands. This collaboration also establishes direct communication channels between skilling organisations and potential employers, leading to seamless placement opportunities, suggested Pooja Thakran.
“At Honeywell, our flagship Student Empowerment Program has trained nearly 25000 youth from tier 2 and tier 3 cities in addition to tier 1 cities and achieved a commendable placement rate of more than 60% and more than 70% of these beneficiaries are women students. Through this program, talented individuals secured promising careers. We have created an impact in across various geographies, including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Gurgaon, and Haryana,” she revealed.