Education, Employability, And Employment – Bridging The Gap
Since providing meaningful employment and livelihood opportunities to youth is an absolute necessity to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth, given the favourable demographics, the critical next step is to provide skills and livelihood training to people across the learning spectrum from different social groups, improving income and standard of living, not only for the individuals, but their families and communities.
Many of us would remember the limited career prospects that were available post-schooling a decade or so back; vocational training was practically unheard of. Back then, what was taught was considered useful, or so one would like to believe, but hardly in cognizance with what the professional world expected; learning on the job was the ‘practical lab’ of all theory learned, and the hardest, therefore. Then and now have seen bridges being built to cover the gaps between what is delivered under the name of education, and what is required to be delivered under the name of professional services. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done, and understandably so, because of the persistently constant dynamics that job markets boast of, domestically, and globally, each impacting the other.
India’s human resource potential is expected to play a crucial role in the development of the country, mainly because it is young, with almost 65% of the population being under 35 years of age (HBL, 2017). With an increasing populace, India’s potential workforce is envisaged to increase from 761 million to 869 million from 2011 to 2020, before swelling to 1.08 billion by 2050 (IE, 2017).
Given the fact that a large majority of our working population is unskilled, there is a danger of this huge but untrained workforce becoming a ‘demographic drag’. While about 13 million youngsters join the workforce in India every year (ET, 2015), the labour ministry reports that less than one out of four MBAs, one out of five engineers and one out of ten graduates are employable. The disconnect between industry and academia continues to spin out less than trained employees for jobs. Since India had not focussed on Skill Development before the 11th Five Year Plan, the deficit of skilled learners is evident. Skills of learners at each level are not in sync with existing vacancies creating a significant mismatch and leading to a low employability quotient. At the same time, India’s vast unorganized sector continues to employ unskilled labour, costing companies heavily. The skill gap is unmistakable.
Merely filling the number of people trained in different trades is not the key to reap the benefits of the country’s demographic dividend – the trained personnel should be able to find a decent productive job. Therefore, job creation should be considered as a parallel process, along with skill development. A two-pronged approach emerges to unleash the force of this much-touted demographic dividend. One, skilling youth in both the farm and non-farm sectors in order to provide requisite skills to learners at each level of education and experience, and two, accelerating entrepreneurship and self-employment in pace with GDP growth, sufficing to absorb the new workforce each year.
The farm sector, which employs about 124.7 million people as cultivators and 106.8 million as agricultural labor, accounts for about 15.7 % of the country’s GDP (ASCI, 2018). There had been an absolute decline in total employment in agriculture and allied activities namely horticulture, animal husbandry, forestry and fisheries. Most of the people moving from agriculture are being ‘consumed’ by the construction sector as unskilled labour rather than the sustainable manufacturing or service sectors. To enhance the productivity of over half of our labour force employed in the agriculture sector, the endeavor of the nation should focus on building capacity and bridging the gap between laboratories and farms. There is an immediate need to upgrade the skills of cultivators, agricultural labours, direct and indirect labour engaged in organized and unorganized agriculture and allied industries.
Against the backdrop of a high dropout ratio in schools, it has been observed that 80 million children are not completing the full cycle of elementary education and eight million are out of school over a period of years (Unesco, 2014). Training organizations are increasingly enabling poverty alleviation by creating employment opportunities for school dropouts through employment linked skill training and upgradation, where the training cycle begins with a provisional offer letter and the curriculum is mapped to industry requirements. A major criticism of India’s existing skill development system has been its inability to provide adequate jobs to trained people due to poor placement linkages. Majority of the current government schemes such as Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), Roshini and Himayat target 75% assured placement above minimum wages; however, a significant number of trainees are still not able to get jobs and are dropping out because of inadequate wages, poor working conditions, lack jobs in proximity to their homes, and even low status of available jobs. There is a significant need to implement a placement-linked framework, coupled with a strict quality control mechanism, for all skill development programs in India. Establishing robust connections with private players and institutions, leveraging their existing means and infrastructure, mapping demand with industry requirements and linking training with relevant jobs is the recommended way forward.
Another segment is the 12th pass, graduates or post-graduates, who are looking for skills training. This segment commonly known as the educated unemployed, lacks the industry aligned skill sets to secure the right job. This is large because the skills training provided by institutions is not job oriented, and more often, courses are selected by learners based on the availability of seats rather than their competencies. There is also a lack of awareness about certain trades, with only a few trades attracting the majority of the learners. Moreover, standardization of vocational education is a major lacuna in the current skilling curriculum. National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) developed by NSDA is responsible for regularizing the skill development agenda on a pan India basis. It not only facilitates multiple entry/exit points for students, enabling seamless migration between formal education and vocational education channels but also develops certification and competency assessment frameworks to enable informally trained workers to either continue working or pursue vocational education to upgrade skills.
The second part of the strategy to leverage the demographic dividend in India is the creation of an adequate number of good jobs in the country by incubating an enabling environment. Job creation has not kept pace with the GDP growth during the last decade. GDP growth increased from approximately 6% during 2000-2005 to 8.6% during 2005-2010; however, net jobs created remained almost flat at approximately 27 million (BS, 2017). The annual average job creation during 2005-2010 was approximately 5 million, which is less than half of the number of people that join the workforce every year. Skill development programmes focusing on specific needs and challenges faced by budding entrepreneurs is the key to promote self-employment among the Indian youth. There is a lack of dedicated training or skill development programs for entrepreneurs in the country. Developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem requires a collaborative effort involving numerous stakeholders such as government agencies, education and training institutes, private sector enterprises and financial institutions.
A concentrated effort by the government towards building a flexible, deregulated policy regime and decentralized delivery approach can lead to a significantly better outcome within a short span. Other stakeholders could then build on this foundation. While the government and big businesses have a part to play, the individuals, small businesses, entrepreneurs who make up a majority of India’s 93% unorganized economy must ultimately become the heroes for India to succeed.
Numerous corporates, education institutes, and social entrepreneurs have shown keen interest to align with NSDC for setting up-skilling projects or hiring skilled workers at all levels. Over the years, many NSDC partners have launched large-scale training programmes, with a mandate to train a hundred thousand youth in 10 years. Since the set-up costs are high, new forms of working and partnerships can be identified. Organizations can team up with existing ITIs or other institutions to use their spare infrastructure in order to cut costs. In other areas, schools and other public infrastructure can be used.
It is expected that the aging economy phenomenon will globally create a skilled manpower shortage of approximately 56.5 million by 2020 and if we can get our skill development act right, we could have a skilled manpower surplus of approximately 47 million. The Skill India Mission with the Prime Minister at the Apex, coupled with a framework to deliver training programmes in the nonformal sector, and a system that will boost entrepreneurship and self-employment can lead India to become the Human Skills Factory of the world!