A common refrain nowadays, the term ‘demographic dividend’ needs better understanding. The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) defines it as the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a country’s population age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share of the population (14 and younger, and 65 and older).
In other words, this boost in economic productivity can occur when there are growing numbers of people in the workforce relative to the number of dependents.
India is expected to become the most populous country in the world, overtaking China between the years 2022 and 2028 with a median age of 32 years. More than 60% of India’s population is expected to be in this working age category by then.
However, the most important factor for realising India’s demographic dividend is access to quality education and skills. A look at the statistics tells how alarming the situation is – only 2 to 8% of the present working population receive some form of formal/non-formal skill training as compared to 75% in Germany or 96% in South Korea.
Each year, 12 million Indians join the workforce but majority of them are unskilled. It is estimated that more than 94% of the workforce has no technical education and merely 8% in rural and 30% in urban areas have general education of higher secondary and above.
The urgent task at hand is to enhance the current skilling and technical education capacity in the country from 4 million to 15 million (including training requirements of the existing workforce). So, it is safe to assume that unless something is urgently done to address and arrest this situation, the demographic dividend has the potential to turn into a demographic disaster.
Partly, the crisis in Persian Gulf, popularly called the Arab Spring, is reminiscent of a very similar unrest among the youth there. However, it is only fair to say that the present government is aware of this challenge and has taken steps to address the ever-growing skills gap.
Setting up of a Ministry of Skills Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE), National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) and promulgating National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF), the vocationalisation of Secondary Edu-cation Scheme or the revamped Community Colleges scheme are some of the key initiatives that indicate the government’s strong intent on tackling the sk-ills deficit. However, a lot more is still needed to get the initiatives moving on the ground.
Take for instance the case of ITIs. Set up in the early 1950s, ITIs were conceptualised to provide skill training path to those who dropped out from schooling to convert them into skilled manpower for the growing manufacturing sector. Taking a cue from other industrialised nations, skill training and appre-nticeship programmes in different trades were introduced at regular intervals. However, ITIs continue to offer outdated programmes, no longer relevant to today’s complex and advanced manufacturing processes.
Higher education options
The process to modernise these programmes through Industry Mentor Councils needs urgent attention. However, the silver lining is that the government has recently proposed to amend the rules so that these program-mes also start offering mobility to move to higher education options for those who have drop-ped out early from formal educ-ation or have not gone to school.
The ITI pass outs will get an opportunity to give a language exam and get recognised as equivalent to 10th or 12th class which will pave way for them to continue higher studies, if interested, or offer some limited social recognition and parity.
Similarly, the apprenticeship programme, which was revam-ped recently, needs to plug some more gaps. While the government is pushing for the private sector to come forward in large numbers to take on and increase the total number of trainees under this scheme, it needs to provide similar focus to implementation at ministries and PSUs.
Hence, if India needs to reap its demographic dividend, there has to be continuous dialogue and engagement between all the key stakeholders – state, Centre, academia and industry. Commi-tment and consistency in appro-ach are key to prepare us in me-eting this huge skills demand.
Industry-led and technology-driven skill based training are the only solution to this problem and unless time bound definitive action addressing all these areas is taken, India’s skilling aspirations will remain a pipe dream.