Skill India: Salvaging the Demographic Dividends

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India is now one of the world’s quickest growing economies, and is forecasted to grow at 7.7 percent by 2019-20. This has resulted in the demand for labour increasing tenfold. This is good news, but it also underlines the real issue we are faced with in skilling India. It is not a lack of jobs, but a lack of skilled talent that can keep pace with the expanding and changing needs of the industry. This situation is as frustrating for students who cannot find jobs as it is for organisations who are finding it increasingly hard to fill vacancies.

Pallavi Jha

India’s education curriculum has also not kept pace with the new business realities flooding the market. The country’s diversified system of education does not guarantee quality and standards that are recognised internationally; the curriculum content is outdated and not at pace with recent developments in each field. In today’s digital age, employment requirements have changed vastly.

For India to truly leverage its demographic dividend and catch up with other nations in a quickly evolving landscape, we must scale upskill training to meet employers’ demands and fuel our own economic progress. If skilled correctly, this young workforce could fill the upcoming deficit projected in the developed world. The government notes that India faces the dual challenge of a severe dearth of trained, quality labour, coupled with large unemployable sections of the educated workforce, who possess little or no job skills. The situation gets further compounded when we regard the fact that about 93 percent of the workforce is in the informal sector, making it difficult to quantify their skills and import the required training to them. India thus need to equip its workforce with the skills and knowledge they need in order to perform their jobs proficiently and add value to the organisation.

According to the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) India Skills Report 2018, this year’s employability score suggests that five out of ten graduates are employable and ready to assume job roles. This score is reflective of the efforts undertaken by various stakeholders, including the government, to provide more employable resources to the economy. However, for the skill development ecosystem to truly flourish, it becomes increasingly important that corporates and businesses adopt an integrated approach and work in alignment with national skilling goals. By way of CSR initiatives, organisations can make targeted interventions to address gaps in skilling that can prove to be catalytic both for the industry as well as the workforce at large. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has identified over 24 high growth sectors for which people need to be skilled. Of these, manufacturing, textile, construction, automotive, retail, healthcare and transportation are expected to see the maximum movement. Additionally, companies operating within these sectors stand to gain from investing in skill development as they may strategically align to train workers with skills that are needed in their very own sector. To connect the country’s 2020 demographic surplus and move closer to our goal, multiple stakeholders across the network need to make great effort – within which Corporations will have to play the leading part.

However, we can be positive in our outlook. As markets have opened up and technologies – particularly communication and transport – have advanced, the global reach, influence and wealth of businesses have grown, creating a new public awareness and pressure for greater business responsibility. Political liberalisation, a driver for market liberalisation and privatisation, has also prompted the creation of a more politically-aware, more organised and more vocal civil society. Education and skill development are fast emerging as the preferred choice for CSR initiatives in India. All aspects of skilling ought to be considered, from the aspirations of people before training, to counselling and follow-ups with beneficiaries during their professional engagement. Adopting a lifecycle approach to the problem is the only way to ensure a meaningful, long-term impact. Skill development programmes conducted in this manner will ensure that the training received has an impact on livelihoods, and contributes to the economic well-being of smaller communities. This trend suggests that the dialogue on CSR in India is progressively more about the part corporates can play in ushering in positive change in human development and social inclusion. It also recognises that CSR is about working hand in hand with the government, civil society, and the community to improve lives by creating inclusive development.

There is a critical need to bridge the gap between headcount and talent, with efforts seeking to significantly reduce the soft skills deficit. There is a need for CSR initiatives to specifically target skill development and employability training to economically weaker sections. By partnering with educational institutions, NGOs, Sector Skill Councils (SSCs), vocational training providers and Corporates, we can enhance the level of employability for countless aspiring individuals in the Indian workforce.

India has watched CSR come a long way. Corporations have emerged as front runners in demonstrating their capacity to affect change in society and improve the overall quality of life for countless of the nation’s needy. With great partnerships between Foundations, industries, NGOs and the government, India’s social development is poised to fasttrack in the years to come. While these are creditable initial strides by the Corporate sector, suffice it to say a lot more ought to be done.

As CSR initiatives focus on improving the educational output, and deliver on the national skilling priorities, we need to also align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals which in itself is a major task to accomplish. This will require collaboration with various government departments and schemes. Despite all the challenges, the momentum gathered by Indian organisations willingly increasing their CSR spending in skill development and livelihoods is a welcome one.

India is in the unique position of being able to tell a story of inclusive economical growth and verbalise a worldwide narrative on social responsibility by leading with example. Now that we can see a clear framework and set of guidelines, the government and corporate leaders must combine their resources to improve the lives of millions of youth as contributing citizens of India. We also need to work together towards the vision of building the soft infrastructure of our country to support employability and entrepreneurship, thereby unleashing its people potential. Without this, India’s aspiration of becoming an economic superpower cannot materialise.

Pallavi Jha is Chairperson and Managing Director, Dale Carnegie of India and India Futures