75 years of independence: Is India’s youth skilled enough?

August 04, 2021 3:02 PM

Today, when we are at the helm of 75 years of Independence, it seems the right time to evaluate and measure the growth and re-imagine where we need to be and what is the path that can take us there.

skilled workforceThe employment landscape has been rapidly changing, Industry 4.0 is redefining the workforce landscape of India and demanding newer skills. (Illustration: Rohnit Phore)

By Neeti Sharma,

Jawaharlal Nehru in his speech Tryst with Destiny said “The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future? Today, when we are at the helm of 75 years of Independence, it seems the right time to evaluate and measure the growth and re-imagine where we need to be and what is the path that can take us there.

India is one of the youngest nations in the world with 62% of the Population in the working age group and about 54% of the population below 25 years of age. With millions of youth joining the labour workforce year on year, and industry is looking for a productive and skilled workforce.

Unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment; 90% of what we learn at our academic institutes is knowledge, whereas 90% of what employers ask for is skills. 58% of India’s youth suffer from some skill deprivation and the ones that get employed don’t get the right wage. Traditionally, our Education system has been the ones offering degrees and thereby a promise of decent wage employment, however as industries evolved their requirement for a skilled workforce started increasing. A parallel skills development ecosystem was created where students would go to college to get a degree and parallely to skilling institutes to learn skills and make them employable.

The employment landscape has been rapidly changing, Industry 4.0 is redefining the workforce landscape of India and demanding newer skills. Many jobs give importance to cognitive skills and system skills over other abilities. However, upskilling and reskilling of their workforce had not been an important area of focus for employers, thus leaving the skill development and funding for skilling to the employees themselves. The biggest question that we continuously ask ourselves is who pays for the learning? Job seekers are willing to pay for jobs but not learning, employers are willing to pay for skilled workforce but not for skilling them and the Government has been the one who has been focussing on funding for skilling programs. We had over 19 ministries with skills budgets, however not all was spent on upskilling & reskilling our workforce, NSDC (National Skills Development Corporation) was incorporated in 2008 and an independent Ministry of Skills & Entrepreneurship by the government with an aim to bring adequate focus on Skills Development .

One of the biggest steps towards the direction of developing a highly skilled and productive workforce is the announcement of the New Education Policy (NEP), which aims to universalize education. Obviously we need to think about bringing the implementation cycle from the proposed 15 years to 5 years. There are many ways that can be done to improve the skills of our youth and few of them are:

· Upward mobility and Degree Connectivity: Offering degree connectivity to students having 10+2 from any higher secondary board of education as well as to candidates having 10+2 year ITI in relevant trade. Students should have the option to enrol for regular University programmes, Work Based Learning (hybrid) programmes or Part Time programmes (for working professionals).

The four qualification corridors can be Certificate, Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Degree in one or more vocational skills educational space. Keeping the learner at the centre of our Education System, a degree should be earned anywhere and anytime. Building in flexibility with the Education System to recognise work based learning, OnJobTraining, Online learning along with OnCampus and OnSite learning, provide credits leading to degrees on vocational skilling to multiple forms of learning and have skilled and knowledgeable workforce join the labour market.

· Integrated Apprenticeship Program: Apprentices, while learning on the job, should also be provided OnSite / OnLine learning leading them towards credits and certifications. Work Based Learning will create a higher productive workforce, thereby reducing the attrition and cost of hiring for employers. An Apprentice scheme will serve the purpose of both the Government, by providing sustainable jobs and the industry, by providing skilled and productive workforce.

· Continuous Learning for Working Professionals: In order to ensure continuous learning, Education institutes should assess learner performance continuously over the duration of each semester. The examination system should be designed to assess the learner’s progress systematically across all the classrooms. Both the Industry and Government should focus on upskilling existing skill sets and reskilling for newer job roles. The industry should identify the upskilling / reskilling needs, provide the necessary resources and the Government should either subsidize or reimburse some form of learning and certification. By creating a productive workforce, it will improve the overall health of the industry, sector and their economy.

· Digital Infrastructure: The Covid pandemic advanced technology adoption by at least 2 decades in India, however many students do not have access to internet connectivity, laptops / phones and thereby have lost on learning over the last year. The Government has to make investments in setting a digital infrastructure and help learners get access to remote learning and upskilling to ensure there is limited or no delay in learning and making our youth employable.

With its young population, India can and should become the skill capital of the world, however we will need to shift gears and focus on preparing and repairing skills of our youth and making them productive and employable.

(The author is Co-Founder and President, TeamLease EdTech. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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