Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jul 03, 2020
Urgent need to increase skilling initiatives to hold onto India’s ‘demographic dividend’

The Indian population is over 135 crore people. That’s around 17% of world population. Over 62% of India’s population is between productive ages of 15-59 years. The median age of our population is less than 30 years of age and for next 20 years, we will hold onto the claim of being one of the younger demographics in the world. This is what we have celebrated as “demographic dividend” and made countless pitches to the world to come to invest in our (consumption-led) markets.

Technology & industrial disruptions are a given; history has demonstrated that large disruptions impact societal values and influence behavioural changes. While humans have adapted themselves to newer normal with every disruption, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4th IR) is a bigger disruption. It has enormous potential to do positive for the humankind. And have a trail of downside risks including disruption in conventional methods of employment, thereby drastically reducing the number of jobs available in the eco-system and increasing the urgency to re-skilling people globally.

Since the 4th IR impacts the way humans interact and engage with one another, conventional business models are rapidly under threat.

India Challenge 2035

On the economic front, over the past many years, India has seen the savings interest rates taper down to as low as 3%, while the inflation has hovered around 5-6%. As a global economic power aspirant, we have to work with constraints of severe competition for our financing needs and the challenges of fiscal pressures of our country.

Covid-19 has accelerated this hypothesis with economic stress and shoot-up of unemployment rate from last fiscal’s 7% to over 20%. While this might ease out in next few months, it’s a wake-up call about the challenges ahead.

The risk we face over next few decades is this: Ability of a millennial or 21st century Indian, potentially forced to retire from full-time income generating activity by age 45-50 (as gig economy sets in the Indian job markets), to sustain on her / his accumulated savings, in a low-savings-interest-rate era with increasing "services-inflation", “food inflation” & "healthcare costs", and negatively impacting their emotional / mental well being. Also, the case in point being that human longevity is increasing by the year.

Cost Vs knowledge arbitrage

The constantly widening gap between the aspirations of India’s vast millennial generation and the employment & entrepreneurship opportunities available currently, is rightfully a cause of sleepless nights to our polity & policy leaders.

In the past few decades, India has been a labour-cost-arbitrage economy rather than value-add-one. We know that much of our workforce has outdated and/or irrelevant skills; be it in blue-collared job, white-collared job or the informal labour market.

The Indian government has been vocal & active about the ‘Skilling India’ program and has been working overtime to develop a skills-ecosystem to empower 40 crore youth by 2022. With Covid-19 impact on the economy and jobs looming, the need for skilling & re-skilling would increase, as we might see increased unemployment and also return of NRIs as many nations might be forced to reduce immigrant workforce in their perilous economies.

Each of the Indian states have their specific issues around creating employment and entrepreneurship opportunities across its territory, basis the natural resources they possess and the traditional markets they cater to.

Skilling to twin with education

We cannot achieve the skilling mission without parallel policies improving our primary & secondary education system. The current education system just cannot cope with the needs of employability. Vast majority of our graduates have no understanding of reality of the industries. We are not far away from the truth when we say our education has no relevance to today’s jobs.

We should revamp our education pedagogy with aim to inculcate multiple skills to each individual, as part of the mainstream education system. For this to be successful, we also need to upgrade our teachers development program, which is woefully outdated. With both of these initiatives, education framework will give respectability that skilling is a formal part of it and not an alternate to mainstream education.

Overall, corporate India has done less than what it can in the skilling initiatives, with just a few outliers. It’s time that the corporate world along with academia and policy makers accept that it’s in best interests of all stakeholders to build a robust skilling framework that befits the paper it is written on. After all, respectability & opportunity to gainfully make a living is the core to successful skilling initiatives.

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