Covid-19: Why it is the time to reskill India

July 22, 2020 4:30 AM

We could target at least 25% of the at-risk workforce, which is seeking redeployment and can be made relatively productive through reskilling

A huge section of informal and a small section of formal workforce shall seek redeployment into relatively resilient sectors of the economy. A huge section of informal and a small section of formal workforce shall seek redeployment into relatively resilient sectors of the economy. (Representative image)

By Sunita Sanghi & Sidharth Sonawat

Preliminary estimates by various industry bodies indicate that a large number of workers both in the informal and formal sectors will either lose their jobs or encounter a significant change in how jobs are done post-Covid-19. Adversely impacted sectors are tourism & hospitality, restaurants, organised retail, media & entertainment, logistics and real estate, among others. Workers in these sectors could seek redeployment into other sectors or alternative livelihood opportunities.

The travel & tourism sector accounted for 12.2% of employment opportunities generated in the country in 2017. As per initial estimates by the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH), losses could be in the range of Rs 5 lakh crore. Given that 80% of travel & tourism industry is composed of SMEs, it is possible to have 25-75% employment churn in the short to medium term. The quantum of economic loss IT/ITeS and textiles/apparel, both labour-intensive and dependent on the global economy, is not clear yet.

Reskilling: A huge section of informal and a small section of formal workforce shall seek redeployment into relatively resilient sectors of the economy. Reskilling of such workers can make the churn smoother and less disruptive for these vulnerable categories. Reskilling can be taken up in a phased manner by initially targeting a section of migrant workers who have returned to their source states and also those who were in sectors where jobs are not likely to come back soon due to social distancing.

We could target at least 25% of the at-risk workforce, which is seeking redeployment and can be made relatively productive through reskilling. This vocational education and training (VET) intervention could be a seen as a livelihood continuity plan for a period not extending beyond a year since most of this workforce would hopefully get back to their first occupation/location once the situation improves in the medium term. This is assuming we do not have a seasonal recurrence of Covid-19 beyond a year.

Which sectors can take up more jobs?
As in the supply equation, the demand situation can be divided into three areas. First, domestic consumption-facing sectors including those in the gig economy could temporarily support lost livelihoods in the most impacted sectors. As healthcare resources are under stress in the management of Covid-19, there is a huge demand for not only related healthcare personnel, but also workers in general patient care, diagnostics, health-tech and counsellors. Also, e-commerce, telecom, financial services, etc, are relatively resilient sectors that can absorb manpower.

Second, for reverse migrants who will not return in the short term, training can be provided for entrepreneurship, self-employment and for opportunities likely to come up due to economic revival and focused on rural economy (rural roads, houses and light manufacturing). Since agriculture remains the mainstay for rural India, a section of migrant labourers could be reskilled in high-value agriculture (horticulture, livestock, sericulture, aquaculture and plantations).

Finally, for more advanced VET, courses relevant to Industry 4.0, automation and additive manufacturing may form a significant part of the reskilling exercise.

Modalities of digital skilling: The entire skill value chain would require remodelling. Candidates have to be motivated to undergo remote counselling and a predominant digital delivery of learning. Since vocational training is more hands-on, technologies like AR/VR-powered simulating training has to be integrated with video-based teaching.

Also, learning tools for feedback, self-monitoring, self-explanation have to be integrated in online training. Assessment has to transition from one event to a series of regular process-oriented measures after conceptual training. Trainer capacity has to be enhanced to provide more online training. Importantly, a mindset change at all levels of skill delivery, administration and governance has to be enabled.

Even with the best of delivery mechanisms, teaching aspects of teamwork, workspace camaraderie and sharing of ideas and motivation in a digital-first environment will be a challenge. But this digital infrastructure for a time-bound reskilling effort can be seamlessly integrated into the long-term plan of ‘digital-first skilling’. This shall ensure continued progress towards blended learning and bringing the digital agenda forward by many years.

A reskilling programme run in a mission mode will not only strengthen the vocational education ecosystem, but also improve its aspiration value and linkages with employment and livelihood. Basis its success, VET shall be seen as a gateway to securing livelihood in the Indian economy, a goal for which tireless efforts under Skill India have been channelised over the years.

Sanghi is senior adviser and Sonawat is senior consultant, MSDE. Views are personal

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