OPINION

The challenge of skills and jobs

The scale of the skilling challenge that India faces, and the urgency involved, have been palpable for some time, but new official data put into cold numbers the extent of the problem. Fewer than one in 10 adult Indians has had any form of vocational training, and even among those who have, the type of training is not the sort of formal skilling that employers seek – the majority had either acquired a hereditary skill or learned on the job. Just 2.2 per cent in all had received formal vocational training. In comparison, 75 per cent of the workforce in Germany and 80 per cent in Japan has received formal skills training. Even among the BRICS countries, India lags behind – nearly half the Chinese workforce, for example, is skilled. Very few Indians get a technical education in medicine, engineering or agriculture; fewer than one in ten Indians is a graduate, and among those who are graduates, the majority get undergraduate degrees in arts, science or commerce. The problem is more acute in rural areas and for women. Without access to affordable and appropriate skills training, young people, particularly those leaving rural areas and small towns for big cities, will be stuck in low-wage, insecure jobs that will leave them in want or poverty.

The Narendra Modi government has made skills and jobs one of its focus areas from the beginning of its term. In July, the Prime Minister launched an ambitious mission to impart skills training to 40 crore people by 2022, and the new government has a dedicated Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. The problem is that the previous government talked the same talk on skills but was able to achieve precious little; the proportion of young adults who had received vocational training was virtually unchanged between 2004-05 and 2011-12. There isn’t any clear evidence yet that the new government is charting out a radically new path on skills. There remain multiple decision-making authorities on skills and little clarity about who exactly will do the work. Promises of corporate and foreign partnerships on skilling are pouring in, but how these mass skilling programmes will take off is unclear. Employers complain that job-seekers do not have the skills they look for; there is little evidence yet that curricula with these objectives in mind have been designed, or that new and affordable training institutes have been set up on a mass scale. Job creation has not kept pace with India’s demographic momentum, and that will in the coming days pose a problem for a skilled workforce. But let’s not put the cart before the horse – a poorly trained young workforce can neither bring workers out of poverty nor help a country grow quickly.