Skilling India: Mine the young workforce
Prosperous countries with high GDP and per capita income tend to have high skill capital. This also translates to better quality of life and growth in the Human Development Index. As economies evolve from being commodity centric to knowledge centric, growth is increasingly dependent on availability of skills.
Our country has a great opportunity in terms of its demographic dividend. While we are growing to be the most populous country, expected to overtake China between 2022 and 2028, the opportunity lies in the fact that we will also be the youngest country with the median age of population at 32. Almost 64 per cent of our population will be in the working age group by 2021.
India is expected to have a workforce surplus of 47 million people against the workforce deficit in most large economies. In addition to being the youngest country, India is also expected to be the fastest growing economy. This year, we expect our economic growth rate to overtake that of China.
India, therefore, is sitting on a huge opportunity of a large and young workforce surplus complemented by a fast growing economy. It is critical that India focuses on skill development both for economic growth as well as social development.
A sure way to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth is to provide a mechanism to acquire skills, empowering the disadvantaged sections with skill development opportunities and developing a skill growth programme for continuous education and productivity enhancements. A skilled workforce aligned to industry needs will maintain the growth trajectory and competitiveness of various sectors of the Indian economy.
However, the challenge ahead of us is equally huge. The enrolment in educational institutes drops by almost half at each stage of critical development of children and youth between age groups of 5-14 years and 15-19 years.
Most of these drop-outs join the workforce, which results in its illiterate to semi-literate profile. Almost 64 per cent of our workforce is primary level educated or illiterate, leaving only 36 per cent with middle or higher level education.
Even as our Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is rising over the years, the current GER suggests that almost 80 per cent of our youth never go to college. While the number of universities and educational institutes are rising, our teacher-student ratio is one of the lowest in the world.
Additionally, in the working population of 15 to 29 years, only about 2 per cent receive any formal vocational training and 8 per cent receive non-formal vocational training. This is dismal when compared to other countries like Korea (96 per cent), Germany (75), Japan (80) and United Kingdom (68 per cent) where a large part of the working population receive formal vocational training.
Lack of skills
The big challenge is that even if we push and create workforce that has formal education, will they be employable? A recent survey found that almost half our youth were not sure if their post-secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job.
On the flip-side, in another survey of the industry, almost 40 per cent of employers say lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies. Employability of graduates of our current education system is a major concern.
To overcome these challenges, it is imperative that skill training be mainstreamed into school and higher education system. As the government aims to impart skill training to 500 million people by 2022, it has launched many schemes that are focused towards building a strong base of skill training with mainstream education.
The vocationalisation of school education, community college and B Voc schemes, Kaushal Kendras to encourage skill courses in colleges are some steps in the right direction. In addition, NSDC funded vocational training providers have been set up in the last few years to support this endeavour.
For effective implementation of policies, on-ground programme management support is crucial to enable linkages between the stakeholders and ensure that the big picture is kept in mind. The use of technology should be used to enable scale, quality and consistency of training for high-demand entry and middle-level jobs.
This training should primarily be developed with industry inputs since they are the main recipients of the workforce. Industry driven, technology enabled solution that is integrated into mainstream education will go a long way in preparing us to leverage the skilling-led opportunity ahead of us.
(The writer is Executive Vice President-Skills Development Network, Wadhwani Foundation)