Did you know that India’s average workforce is just 28 years old? In contrast to comparable economies like China and the USA (where the average age is 37), India has the youngest and fastest-growing workforce in the world. However, the India Skill Report 2020 states that the ‘employability’ of India’s youth has remained stagnant for the last three years. This data doesn’t account for the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 on employment opportunities in India.
Due to the unprecedented impact of the pandemic, the gap between the employer and potential employee, which was already huge, has now become worse.
As the world adapts to the ‘new normal’, the pandemic has forced most organisations, whether big or small, to re-examine the capability and skill set of their workforce. More importantly, it has made every employer and potential employee raise pertinent questions:
“What are the skills required for the new world economy?”
“How do we equip our workforce with the relevant skills?”
“What is the Future of Skills going to look like?”
While multiple individuals and organisations attempt to answer the above-mentioned questions, as an entrepreneur, I often find some aspects amiss from these discussions and suggested solutions. In my opinion, there are some critical factors that we must focus on when examining and solving the issue of ‘skills’ in India.
Accessibility: Just like we all transitioned to work-from-home practically overnight, India is now rapidly moving towards an education and skilling model that relies heavily on online resources. While it was widely acknowledged that the future of learning would be tech-focused, no one expected that the future would be now. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 2 Indians still don’t have access to the internet, which exposes our country’s pervasive Digital Divide. This divide, of course, is deeper in rural areas and impacts women more adversely than men.For any skilling initiative to be effective, it must take into account the issue of internet access in India, particularly in rural areas. Solutions like offline digital learning resources and using familiar technology platforms can make digital skilling more accessible.
Employability: A report in 2016 examined the ‘employability’ quotient of 150,000 engineering students from 650+ engineering colleges across the country. Less than 7% of these students were deemed suitable for core engineering jobs. This, of course, challenges the long-held belief that ‘technical degrees’ or ‘hard skills’ guarantee you a job. It can be safely inferred that in a pandemic-stricken world, most employers are looking for candidates who demonstrate key abilities such as communication, English, digital literacy, arithmetic, financial literacy and problem-solving. These are increasingly being recognised as the new ‘life skills’ or ‘core employability skills’. Equipping youth with skills does not guarantee employment. Employability will increase when the youth is equipped with ‘core’ skills which are universally applicable and easily transferable to different roles.
Aspirations: A study conducted by NSDC found that even though the construction sector in Punjab had significant jobs to offer, there weren’t many takers for these jobs. Most of these jobs were filled by migrant population from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In another oft-heard scenario, young people who migrate from small towns and villages to cities in search of jobs, are often caught off-guard by the basic requirements for the roles they wish to apply for. While they dream of becoming doctors, engineers, bureaucrats or entrepreneurs – they are ill-informed about the education and skills that these jobs require. This leads to a stark mismatch between the aspirations and reality of India’s youth. When creating solutions to skill India, the skills must match the youth’s aspirations, not just their competencies or industry requirements.
Language: In the next 3 years, 9 out of 10 internet users in India are supposed to be Indian language users. Most information and courses that are readily available online are in English and do not address the language-specific needs of Indian users. As we build an online infrastructure for skill development which is accessible for all, we must create multilingual solutions which offer valid and reliable information for Indian language users. There is a need to inculcate diverse, multilingual solutions in the skilling ecosystem which can be accessed by the vast multilingual majority of India.
Affordability: The concept of ‘upskilling’ oneself has certainly become a trend, particularly post lockdown. An increasing number of young individuals and job seekers are choosing to invest in opportunities to increase their ‘employability’ quotient. But how many of them can actually afford these courses? Currently, some of the top e-learning platforms in India offer courses at steep prices which are distant from the realities of real India. The unaffordability of such courses can often become a roadblock for many in their journey of skill development. Solutions to skill India must take into account the financial realities of ‘real’ India. The opportunity to ‘upskill’ oneself should not be a privilege for a few but an option available for all.