How tailored skilling programmes for rural youth will decrease global skills gap

Considered amongst the fastest growing economies in the world, India is in the midst of a demographic transition that presents an opportune period for the country to progress towards faster economic growth. A rising median age (from 24 years in 2011 to 29 years in 2021) coupled with a falling dependency ratio implies that the […]

Considered amongst the fastest growing economies in the world, India is in the midst of a demographic transition that presents an opportune period for the country to progress towards faster economic growth. A rising median age (from 24 years in 2011 to 29 years in 2021) coupled with a falling dependency ratio implies that the working age population in the country will witness expansion from 35% to 46% by the end of the current decade. For India to benefit from this favourable condition, it is important to develop a highly skilled workforce that can partake in nation building and act as the bedrock of the Indian economy. However, despite being home to one-fifth of the world’s youth population, only 2% of India’s workforce is skilled; this is a far cry from that of advanced economies like Germany (74%), U.S.A (~55%) and China (45%). This is rather perplexing because the Indian education sector has witnessed rapid expansion, from just 750 colleges in 1950-51 to over 35,000 colleges in 2014-15 and brings to focus the need to enhance the Employability Quotient of our youth and develop them into a skilled workforce through skilling initiatives. With roughly 68% of the country’s total youth population residing in rural hinterlands, the task then is to have policies and initiatives aimed at supplementing them with skilling programmes that are attuned to local requirements.

Globally, higher education has proved insufficient in creating an employable workforce and resulted in a lack of the necessary Skill Quotient (SQ) that is necessary to remain competitive in today’s globalisation era. Countries like South Korea have demonstrated how a key focus on skilling can reap rich dividends; it is important for our country to rework the education ecosystem and include pertinent skill training initiatives right from the grass-root levels. For a country that counts amongst the youngest in the world, with more than 54% of the total population below 25 years of age, this mammoth task will require an innovative approach that is successful at equipping India’s working population with a future-ready skillset. Employers seek attributes such as good communication skills, self-discipline and time management, core functional knowledge and practical experience amongst other skills when selecting candidates for white-collared jobs. Even for the blue-collared workforce, it is important to demonstrate a positive attitude towards challenges, display a sense of initiative and have a dedicated stance towards continuous learning. Despite these requirements, a huge percentage of today’s youth come from lower income groups that not only suffer from poor access to any form of formal education, but are also left disadvantaged due to low sociological development. Thus, it is important to supplement formal education with regular and focused trainings on developing these skill sets, right from the level of primary education.

The entire global landscape has changed significantly post the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. What first began as a dearth of job opportunities owing to the lockdowns needed to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, has now led to a shortage of employable youth especially in sectors such as healthcare, delivery services and e-commerce that have been flourishing ever since. Despite traditional industries having recovered to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity, there has been an increasing focus on digitalization and there is a subsequent need for employees who are adept at performing tasks in challenging post-Covid world.

It is, therefore, important to introduce courses and skilling programmes that can bridge this knowledge gap and empower students/working professionals to take up skilled jobs likeweb designing, financial accounting, graphics designing, warehouse inventory management, HVAC diagnosingamongst many others. Besides this, the amalgamation of 21st century skills in education, relevant skill sets, and the right kind of attitude is crucial, both in the rural and urban domains. Industry participants will have to play a key role in facilitating the country’s large workforce with on-job learning opportunities and offer moreinternship opportunities for those completing, or in the midst of their formal education. The IT sector has been increasing hiring to record levels and the large-scale deployment of new technologies such as AI, Blockchain and Machine Learning (ML) warrants that India’s youth skill themselves at a much faster pace to keep up with rising automation.

The Government on its part has taken a slew of initiatives that have undoubtedly made a positive impact on skilling the country’s vibrant and diverse workforce. With the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Skills (MSDE) being formed exclusively to co-ordinate all skill development activities, India is aiming at creating a formidable workforce comprising of 400 million skilled Indians by 2022. Initiatives like Skill India Mission, and the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana have played a crucial role in mobilizing a large number of Indian youths to undergo outcome-based skill training and augment their EQ. Additionally, the NSDC has been formed as the nodal agency under MSDE to build a network of training partners that will fortify our country’s skill training capability right from the rural hinterlands. As a result,a large percentage of the rural youth population have taken up vocational skill-based training and are taking Indian handcrafted goods to international markets.

It is becoming increasingly clear that rural India will have to be at the epicenter of all efforts, if India is to meet its true potential and emerge as a global economic powerhouse in the future. Tailored skilling programmes that equip students with hands-on skills, along with functional knowledge, will need to be driven across even the remotest districts in our country. Collaboration with industry participants will need to be enhanced in order to offer skill trainings specific to job roles that are currently facing a manpower shortage and develop a formidable skilled sector that will boast of having comprehensive specialization in subjects of great industrial importance.

The writer is Secretary General, SOS Children’s Villages of India