( August 12, 2020 )
A consistent and leading narrative today amongst policymakers, civil society organisations and corporations is on the evolving landscape of jobs in the country. There is underlying stress in the system to be innovative and agile in the current situation so that we can equip the roughly 18 to 20 million Indians who will enter the job market over the next two decades with the required skill sets to grow our country.
According to the fifth edition of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Monitor, Covid-19 and the world of work, the recovery in the global labour market for the rest of the year will be uncertain and incomplete. The report further states that if another Covid-19 wave hits in the second half of 2020, there would be a global working-hour loss of 11.9 per cent, equivalent to the loss of 340 million full-time jobs. We have already seen a disruption in the traditional ways we work. Work From Home has become a norm and our ability to have access to online technology and its knowhow a boon.
The statics above, though approximate, give a view of the fast-changing landscape for jobs today. Even before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum (WEF) had released a report that stated that by one popular estimate, 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. Considering that in the last decade itself we have seen innovative disruptors that have changed the way we consume content online (Netflix and Wikipedia), to how we communicate (Skype, etc.), education now needs to encompass more than traditional classroom lessons. But above all, it needs to be digitised. And we need a workforce that is able to work online.
Diversification and digitisation have been at the forefront of schemes for our government. We are already laying the ground. The recent New Education Policy has made vocational lessons a priority. The integration of vocational education with internships for students with carpenters, laundrymen or craftsmen has been mentioned in the document. The policy also has a large focus on digitising the education space from using software to impart lessons, to monitor progress and to make lessons adaptable to students, it looks to Edtech to build the new workforce for the country. The National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) that is to be set up, will be a platform for free exchange of ideas, impart knowledge, share best practices and improve learning, assessment and administration for educational setups.
However, digitisation of school education is not the only rung in the ladder. We need to overcome the challenges that exist in our workforce. For India to play a vital role in the global supply chain, a skilled and knowledgeable workforce is required at every level. Successfully skilling India and ensuring continuity to its labour force is not the responsibility of schools alone. This has to be a multi-stakeholder effort.
Our industries also need to warrant that the skills being taught are relevant to them and can be useful in an increasingly globalised world. The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) — the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE) — was set up in order to support individuals in finding jobs. There are many more such schemes. However, a gap still exists as the employability rate of trained individuals is comparatively low due to the non-availability of jobs in industries.
On another level, the increasing globalisation of the working world and our people also needs to be incorporated in our training. And our government recognises this. The National Skill Development Council (NSDC) is spearheading the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) with the governments of India and Japan. The aim of the program is to empower Indian youth by providing them with skill development and career advancement opportunities. From Japan, the youth will be trained in specialised technical skills gained from interning with Japanese industries. We had similar programs with Australia, UAE and UK.
Another big challenge is the participation of women in the workforce. According to a recent report from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) published by an independent think tank, between March and April 2020 an estimated 17 million women were rendered jobless in both the formal and informal sectors. There are many skilling centres, government schemes for enabling and empowering women. However, we also need structures in place that can support their participation. Though a complex issue, it is nonetheless an important one. To be a global powerhouse, our workforce needs to be skilled and wholesome, irrespective of gender, identity, religion, caste or race.
What Covid-19 has taught us is that our actions need to be adaptable and innovative. The NSDC has already taken a lead on this. Last month, they unveiled a single-window platform for a skilled workforce, including those who have migrated to the rural areas due to Covid-19. The online platform promises to bridge the demand-supply gap of region-specific skilled workers across sectors and match them with local industry needs. States like Goa have offered virtual internships to ensure continuity in learning under NSDC’s Samagra Shiksha scheme.
A large pool of corporates through their CSR partners and networks and NGOs are also taking an innovative route to understand and fill in the gaps. While some are opening skill centres right in the heart of communities ensuring that migration is not an issue, others are repurposing and repositioning their existing programmes to meet the future demands of the industry. Earlier, where a heavy emphasis was given on soft-skills, it has now shifted to digital skills. Students are picking up more courses in digital marketing, data science, and cloud computing across the country.
Pre-empting the situation of the employment market can not only reduce the dependency on existing programmes but can also tailor them to meet industry needs. Though we see there are solutions, and decisions have been made in keeping with the macro-level growth across the nation, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Further understanding of the market demand and anticipating its trajectory will lead to less stress for our workforce. Of all the uncertainty that our realities beget, we have begun. We need to now come together and build. And like the online world, our solutions need to be easily accessible, tailored to audiences and have the ability to reach all. But above all, they need to be innovatively disruptive.