As India progresses into the 21st Century, aiming to become a global powerhouse, one of its significant impediments is the triple challenge of Education, Employability and Employment. There are substantial gaps between our education system and employment demands in the private and public sectors. COVID-19 has aggravated this gap which has compulsorily transformed the education system, working environments and employment demands.
To highlight this relationship Center for Work and Welfare (CWW), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, Working People’s Charter, and CounterView organised a special talk on Education, Employability & Employment: Understanding the Intersection as part of the series, The State of Employment and Livelihood, #EmploymentDebate.
The speaker was Mr Sudheesh Venkatesh, Chief People Officer at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. The session was chaired by Prof Sachidanand Sinha, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Of the massive population of 1.3 billion, 45% is below 24, which is the country’s youth. India faces the crucial challenge of providing the young population with proper education and making them employable. An ASER report offers insight into our system’s state, highlighting the low levels of learning, consistent dropouts from primary to secondary and more insufficient enrollment and completion of high school degrees, despite near-universal enrollment at the primary levels.
According to Mr Sudesh Venkant, this is attributable to the exclusion zones throughout the education system, alienating those hailing from marginalised backgrounds. With COVID-19 induced prolonged closure and discontinuance of policy interventions such as the mid-day meal scheme, it is estimated that close to four million underprivileged children will have permanently dropped out of school.
The ASER report also identifies low learning levels, as evident from countless stories of students from higher levels not performing work expected from a lower level student. Additionally, the dropout rates increase as we move from primary, secondary to undergraduate and postgraduate programs. According to estimates, only one of six enrolled in primary school complete high school, and less than two million students can obtain a postgraduate degree.
Employability and employment predicaments are not subject to one entity; both employers and candidates face challenges. In our country, 85% of the jobs are in the unorganised sector and it is characterised by no formal appointment, no social security and temporary positions.
Additionally, in the contemporary industrial world, employment growth stems from small and medium enterprises instead of larger enterprises. The large industries with their capacity to employ large workforces now find themselves automated and can employ far fewer numbers. With its role in formalising the economy, the goods and services tax (GST) has also precipitated migration between sectors.
The emerging workforce faces a crisis of skills. Given our education and skill-building program’s status, a UNICEF report predicts that by 2030, 53% of the youth will not have the necessary employment skills. Mr Venkatesh argues that 80% of Indian engineers are not employable because they lack problem-solving, technical and behavioural skills.
He also highlighted the incompatibility between the job and expectations of the candidates. Around 60% of candidates believe that their jobs do not match their experience and exposure.
All three aspects, the lack of jobs, the crisis of skills and the incompatibility between job and expectations, create the prepare and repair problem. The system is neither able to prepare candidates nor repair them. Employability and employment is, therefore, a complex problem for the nation with no easy solutions in sight.
To better understand the complex challenge, Mr Sudesh Venkatesh put forth three crucial questions about education, employment and employability.
He explains education is fundamental to achieve full human potential, developing an equitable and just society and promoting national development. It has to build character, enable learners to be ethical, rational and compassionate. Developing critical thinking is crucial; however, the present is a generation of rote learners. The problems of tomorrow are not yesterday’s problems.
Even communication skills have assumed priority; however, it creates multiple problems. Communication through new media requires familiarity. Education should include problem-solving, creativity, teamwork and social responsibility to produce outstanding employees and outstanding citizens. This list is extensive, but at the very least, such education should aspire for our future citizens.
In the post-COVID world, our employment has transformed. The rise of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence have replaced unskilled jobs with machines. For example, the number of customer support jobs and manufacturing jobs have been taken over by bots and machines.
Mr Venkatesh argues that the maximum recent employment opportunities consist of creative and multidisciplinary skilled jobs requiring knowledge of mathematics and computer science in conjunction with the social sciences. He further elaborates that organisations are likely to expand their contingent workforces, and gig workers will replace the permanent workforce.
The labour codes by legalising fixed-term employment and removing the need for retrenchment compensation have further pushed for this trend. Thus, the emerging workforce has to be adept at the mantra of learning, unlearn and relearn. He states that the workforce needs critical thinkers, problem solvers, analytical, entrepreneurial ability, numeracy and literacy skills.
He emphasised vocational skills; it’s worth noting that even vocational skills evolve as society’s demands change.
The National Education Policy 2020 focuses on building expertise that society will need over the next 25 years. Mr Venkat says that the policy came at the right time, seeking to address the right problem; however, execution is crucial for its success. Multidisciplinary competencies will prepare people for jobs over a lifetime.
There is also a need to inculcate professionalism in higher education. Much of professional education has emphasised theory but not practice. Additionally, they should recognise their responsibility towards society. Mr Venkatesh argues for the education of practice and social responsibility to resolve the question of employability.
A focus on vocational education, wherein tools like apprenticeships and internships are utilised, can also increase employability.
He argues that the industry has to do its part in resolving the thorny issue; it cannot be a mute bystander. Similarly, the government also has to contribute by bringing innovative solutions and policies for adult education to limit redundancy and ensure continuous learning. To improve employability, institutions also need autonomy, better governance and an industry interface.
Organisations will have to recognise the emerging educated and ambitious workforce. They will have to fine-tune their job rotation policies as straight jacketing jobs will no longer be viable. Research shows that candidates are moving towards socially responsible organisations, thus, paving the way for institutions to be socially conscious.
Furthermore, with new employment nature such as Flexi work, terms of employment will have to evolve along with reward and benefit structures, contract structures and policies for people’s functioning.
Professor Sachidanand Sinha elaborated that with the changing nature of the world and its challenges, the transition cannot be tackled alone by the people and communities; the government has to provide a roadmap. There is a need to revamp our institutions. Post-independence, the institutions were established as experiments, but today, they are essential for teaching capabilities to counter the challenges.
Shedding light on the push for centralisation, he emphasised autonomy at the universities and college level. There is no room for creativity, with one person at the top controlling everything from a bird’s eye’s perspective. While vision is essential for growth, he argued that it has to be complemented with participation and freedom.
The institutional structure and mechanism put in place may eventually defeat the very intent of the education policy. The government’s recent notification placing more significant barriers for organising educational webinars is an example of the same. The red tape and bureaucracy are hampering potential, the system used to have faith in its workers and now it’s eroding.
Professor Sinha states that no system can survive with constant surveillance and without trust.
Our system is also hierarchical; in many cases, opportunities are provided based on social capital. There is a need to allow opportunities of choice for everyone regardless of their social capital. Further, the failure of implemented policies gives us space to improve and ponder upon.
Blended learning is the future, but one should be cautious of its detrimental effects. While it opens avenues of learning and opportunities for experience, it is exclusionary for those who don’t have the resources. Professor Sinha noted that individuals are becoming more automated with technology. However, it is only working in communities that develop character and work ethic.
Mr Venkatesh, on the other hand, advocated an excellent amalgamation of both offline and online learning.
To conclude, our education system has flaws, employability is a challenge and with the nature of employment evolving, both workers and organisations have to change. The government has to fix endemic issues within the existing structures and implement sound policies to adapt to the modern world’s new challenges. The NEP 2020 is only the beginning and not the end.
Acknowledgement: Kashish Babbar is a research intern at IMPRI and is pursuing BA Honours Political Science from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University.
Dr Arjun Kumar, Ritika Gupta, IMPRI