The last census indicated that India is set to experience a ‘demographic dividend’ by 2020, where 65% Indians will be under the age of 35, making us the youngest country in the world. Home to a large employable populace, it is an advantage, for it can fulfil the demand for skilled workers across India and globally. However, we need to leverage this demographic dividend with caution, else it can turn into demographic disadvantage, with a high number of unskilled and semi-skilled youth forming a large base of labour force with low productivity and lower wages.
To put things in perspective, let us look at the recent estimates by the National Sample Survey Office. Of the 470 million people of working age, only 10% receive any kind of training or access to skilled employment opportunities. In other words, there’s a large-scale mismatch of demand and supply when it comes to skilled workforce and employment opportunities. Though initiatives by the government, under the Skill India Mission, aim to train and create an employable skilled talent pool of 500 million people by 2020, there is a long way to go. While educational institutions, skill development bodies and the government continue to provide impetus through policy framework, training and incentives, there is a huge opportunity for corporates to aid the integrated development of the nation through CSR, thereby influencing the scale, quality and sustainability of skill development programmes.
As initial steps are taken by the government in promoting skill development in relation to the larger ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ vision, the role that India Inc can play to enable the same has to be discussed and planned in a coherent fashion.
Enable rural livelihoods: Over 70% of India’s population stays in rural areas that have limited or no access to vocational training. We need to tap that raw talent pool—reach out, educate and empower them. This will help enable livelihoods and create work opportunities in rural areas, which, in turn, will discourage rural migration to urban areas. That said, it is essential to note that skill development doesn’t necessarily guarantee livelihood unless it is aligned with local needs, problems and challenges.
Collaborate and modernise education: For any strategic long-term intervention to work, change needs to happen at the ground. Corporates can partner with educational institutes and ITIs to upgrade the education delivery mechanism with latest technology. They need to invest in research and analysis to be able to set quality standard for training courses. Corporates can help identify the skills gap in current job roles and demand forecast of required job roles, which will help build relevant training modules and syllabi, creating a requisite talent pipeline. Further, every skill-based programme should focus on training in soft skills, such as body language, work ethics, time management, team management, communication skills, etc.
Scale up entrepreneurship ecosystem: While the government has launched programmes, rural youth needs help in identifying the opportunities and accessing these.
Empower women workforce: A recent World Bank report noted that India would pace towards double-digit growth if women participation is encouraged. While the National Programme for Skill Development, provision and extension of maternity benefits, loan subsidies for women entrepreneurs are a few endeavours to push for women empowerment, it is crucial for corporates and allied foundations to provide opportunities to women. Considering that 49% of rural workforce is women, we should focus on their skill enhancement. Formation of women self-help groups spurs entrepreneurship and innovation among women. These women can then undergo training sessions and pick up any skill to generate income.
Enable good governance: Corporates can ensure last-mile connectivity of government schemes by acting as a conduit between the stakeholders—the government, training institutes and local communities. Being the major beneficiary of the eventual skilled workforce that would be created, corporates need to guide, offer expertise and advise the government for shaping curriculum and policies aligned with market needs. This will help make the youth more employable.
Skill India is an opportunity for companies to rethink CSR and their relationship with society. Businesses need to realise that rather than allocating funds through short-term interventions and ensuring financial security, they have to invest in holistic integrated development of communities. Corporates and the government must get together an equitable and tactical partnership document with near-term goals spelt out. Efforts need to be made to develop positive and constructive attitudes in the youth. Developing soft skills and technical skills will have a significant impact in improving productivity.
The author, Ashoke Joshi is chairman, Srinivasan Services Trust, the social arm of TVS Motor Company