CNBC TV18 Column : Fixing India’s jobs problem: Why a holistic approach is imperative to bridge skills gap

I write for CNBC TV18 on the skills gap

As Narendra Modi begins his second term as Prime Minister, there are many challenges his government faces. But, none more pressing than the issue of unemployment. Data shows that unemployment is at 6.1%, a 45-year high, and there seems to be few new jobs created.  Associated with the rising employment is the slowing down of growth. Economic growth has slowed down to 5.4%, the lowest in 17 quarters.

At the core of this slowdown is the twin body blows that the SME’s suffered in the first tenure of the NDA government. The first was the systemic shock of demonetization, and the second was the ineptly implemented GST. As SME’s struggle back to recover, the role of the government has to be to nurture them back to life and ensure that this term carries no further shocks – so that they can go about their business, create jobs, and drive growth. While this sounds simple, it is not.

For too long three key aspects of the economy have not really been talking to one another These are jobs creation, education, and skills training. For too long departments have been working in relative silos. Job creation cannot take place without planning for the jobs that need to be created. For example, if you want to create 100,000 nursing jobs – you will have to make sure there are institutes that can produce 100,000 nurses, and hospitals that can employ 100,000 nurses. Without this match what are you going to end up with imbalance – either too many graduates, or too many jobs. And, this is precisely what India is facing today.

A mushrooming of colleges run by politicians, with no focus in quality has caused an epidemic of unemployable graduates. A recent report seems to indicate that over 80% of the engineers, and 52% of all other graduates,  produced by the education system can’t be hired. Speak to any hiring manager, who have been interviewing candidates produced by the Indian educational system, and they will vouch for the difficulty in finding people who combine basic comprehension, cognition, and communication skills. 

If you read policy reports from countries as diverse as China, United Kingdom, South Korea – they have a clear vision on the jobs to be created for the future, and the gearing of the educational system today, to create the employees of tomorrow. It is this forward planning that gives them the edge. And, it is this lack of planning that loses us the advantage that was given to us by the first few governments of India, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, that envisioned an India of the future, and the institutes that would produce the trained professionals to handle that future.

At the very basic for the Government of India, there  needs to be a focus on the kinds of jobs it needs to create in the near and distant future. And, for that there has to be a firm envisioning of the kind of India two decades from now and putting in place the education system that is required to create that India. For too long, this government’s focus has been history, and languages And, while both are fine in their place, they are not going to provide large numbers of people with large numbers of jobs. So, the main question that the government has to answer is what the jobs of tomorrow are, and how do we gear up to create those jobs, with people who are trained from now.

And, in tandem with this, there needs to be a focus on skilling, reskilling, and training. India’s skills journey is way behind that of the countries we want to compete with. China, for example, is a manufacturing powerhouse, in part because of its vocational education and training (VET) that starts at the school level.  India’s Industrial Training Institute (ITI’s), on the other hand, have been sorely neglected by the government, and funders. With the setting up of the  National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET), born out of the merger of the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) and the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), it is hoped that this would change for the better.

For the government to address the unemployment crisis, it is important that it breaks down the walls of the silos that various departments have boxed themselves into, and empower them to work together to not just create the jobs, but also create the employees of tomorrow.

News Reporter

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