Can skilled youth empower India’s next growth phase?

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Published: July 20, 2015 12:08:00 AM

Only if the government, without delay, reforms the existing labour laws and does away with archaic regulations

Can India win the skill development challenge? Can the country train its burgeoning youth workforce? Can the skill and training keep up with our accelerating economic growth?

The answers to these important questions lie in how quickly and effectively India takes up the gauntlet and empowers the youth with the necessary skill training and knowledge—the key driving force behind economic expansion and social development.

Today, India is sitting on a goldmine of raw talent waiting to be nurtured and developed and added to the growing human resource pool. At last count, India had a staggering 600 million people, or more than 50% of its population, below the age of 25—a historic number that will seek out employment for the next one decade. According to Census 2011 and the National Sample Survey Office, an estimated 105 million fresh entrants to the workforce will require skill training by 2022, which is around 15 million every year. Not only that, some 300 million of the current working population will need additional training over the next seven years. A World Bank report says that India is one of the few countries where the working-age population will continue to grow at least until 2040, propelling the country from a ‘developing nation’ to a ‘developed nation’ and better economic prospects and livelihood for its people.

This is a huge challenge, not only for the government but also for the private sector and educational institutions. Both the public and private sector have risen to the task of equipping the youth with specialised training, making them employable in the job market, and ensuring there is no mismatch between demand and supply in the coming years. Already, Indian employers across major sectors have forecast an overall increase of 23% in hiring outlook for next year. While the numbers are heartening, are the new recruits suitable for skilled jobs?

The government has introduced two path-breaking initiatives—Make-in-India and Skill India—aimed at creating employment opportunities and encouraging entrepreneurship with the help of key stakeholders.

The government has already set the ball rolling. It has relaxed FDI norms to encourage both domestic and foreign companies to manufacture in India and sell their products abroad. Make-in-India is expected to increase manufacturing activity across various sectors as well as enhance its contribution to GDP. The increasing use of modern technology in the workplace or assembly line under Make-in-India would mean that existing and future employees and workers will necessarily require highly-skilled training. Imparting technical skills, especially to the youth at an early age, will bring out their latent talent and prepare them for high-tech jobs.

Likewise, the Skill India initiative is well on track with the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently approving the country’s first integrated National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship 2015. The policy recognises the need for an effective and a balanced roadmap to promote entrepreneurship as the key to a successful skills strategy. It envisions “the creation of an ecosystem of empowerment by skilling on a large scale at speed with high standards and to promote a culture of innovation-based entrepreneurship which can generate wealth and employment so as to ensure sustainable livelihoods for all citizens in the country.” The government has formulated over 73 skill development schemes and programmes focusing on various sectors and these will be implemented through more than 20 ministries and departments. It will also emphasise on placement, post-training.

The government has drawn up a concrete plan under its skill development policy. It involves delivery of modular employable schemes, upgrading of existing institutions with World Bank and Indian government funding, improvement of training institutes under public-private partnership, the National Skill Development Corporation, and establishing 50,000 skill development centres across the country. Availing of these measures and facilities will be young entrepreneurs who will be encouraged to set up business ventures and create skilled jobs. However, such entrepreneurship can be successful only if the government, without delay, reforms the existing labour laws and does away with archaic regulations. It also needs to develop sound infrastructure in a way that the demand for talent does not exceed supply, as is the case now.

Underscoring the importance of skilling the youth, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on eve of the first World Youth Skills Day on July 15, asserted that young people can create a better future when they have “decent jobs, political weight, negotiating muscle and real influence in the world.” He continued, “The world now has the largest generation of young people in history. I place great hopes in their power to shape our future. They are part of the first generation that can end poverty and the last that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

A young person’s transition from education to employment is never an easy one and Skill India can make that transformation smooth. The government has shown that it has the will to pursue skill development. Forward-looking companies and large corporates must now work along with the government to make this dream of the nation into a reality.

The author is director, HR, Randstad India

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