Skilling crisis in India and the way forward

Skilling crisis in India and the way forward

By Arindam Lahiri

Upskilling and reskilling programmes can help the workforce retain relevance against the backdrop of a steady shift towards a digital, AI-enabled employment universe.

Going by the UN’s Development Programme’s Human Development Report (HDR) 2020, barely one in five Indians in the labour force is ‘skilled’. At 21.2%, India ranks 129thamong 162 countries where the data is available. The report defines skilled labour as those who are 15 years or above and possess an “intermediate” or “advanced” level of education as per the UNESCO classification.

While the above statistics are disconcerting, against the backdrop of the pandemic the scenario on the subpar skills quotient of the workforce seems more worrisome. Besides, given the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ mission, it is amply evident that the skilling crisis in India must be addressed on a war-footing.

PIC

More than a third of India’s engineering students lack skills that can make them employable.

~ BridgeLabz

Low employability and other issues

For years, India Inc. has constantly lamented the demand-supply mismatch in the workforce. A 2019 survey by BridgeLabz reveals that more than a third of India’s engineering students lack skills that can make them employable. The survey received responses from more than 1,100 engineers in India. It is no surprise that 20% of engineering job applicants lacked requisite coding skills and about 30% did not qualify in the aptitude test. As a result, 20% have been employed in non-core job functions.

In the emerging era of AI-enabled technologies, another cause for concern is that nearly 4% have been force-fitted in spheres such as machine learning (ML) and data science. The survey also notes that engineers were under-confident when applying for jobs– the biggest barrier in employing them. The low confidence levels are mainly because practical exposure or project-oriented knowledge is missing. Without practical applications, theoretical concepts can’t manifest successfully. The survey highlights that hands-on experience and live projects can help address the employment challenge in engineering.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns triggered a per-day loss of Rs 2,300 crore in India’s automotive industry.

The findings of the above survey are most significant. Viewed holistically, the learning lessons can be extrapolated to other domains with low employability of job aspirants. No doubt, bespoke training programmes are imperative to augment the capacity and talent pool of varied workforces. Customised skilling programmes based on specific industry requirements are the need of the hour, particularly in the post-Covid scenario where the shift towards digital is more pronounced.

Automotive sector’s estimated job losses stood at around 345,000 due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

A recent parliamentary report mentions that the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns triggered a per-day loss of Rs 2,300 crore in India’s automotive industry. Besides, the sector’s estimated job losses stood at around 345,000. The report emphasises the clear mismatch in the education and training imparted to the youth vis-à-vis the demands of the job. The current gap is only slated to increase if structured reforms and allied initiatives are not implemented at the earliest.

Customised academic learning and appropriate skills training are imperative for achieving India’s ambitious mission of a $5 trillion economy.

In achieving the Centre’s ambitious mission of a $5 trillion economy, customised academic learning and appropriate skills training are imperative. Therefore, reskilling and upskilling of the workforce will be pivotal pillars in promoting proper skills for the higher employability of workers. Indeed, upskilling, reskilling, and relearning will need to be a pan-India mantra across diverse domains. This is especially important if the working staff and aspiring students are to be brought up to speed in handling relevant roles in the digital age.

Skilling

Joint skilling programmes

But considering the enormity of the challenge in skilling millions across India, the onus cannot vest solely with the Central and State Governments. Instead, public-private partnerships can play a lead role in driving the transition towards skilling/reskilling programmes that help these job aspirants hit the ground running as and when they begin working.

Of course, in many cases, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, the Government’s present skilling programmes can be upgraded and tailored in sync with present-day industry needs. Yet, if rebooting of the academic and skilling curriculum is required to keep abreast of the changing industry dynamics in the post-pandemic world, public and private institutions should bite the bullet in meeting such goals.

Skilling programmes of the MSDE could be curated in sync with other public and private players in academia and skills training.

For example, skilling programmes of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship could be curated in sync with other public and private players in academia and skills training. The bottom-line in creating a large talent pool of graduates and workers should be a higher employability quotient via skill-sets matching industry needs and standards. The focus should remain on job opportunities in the sunrise sectors and spheres such as IoT, AI, ML, big data analytics, blockchain, cloud computing, cybersecurity, 3D printing, virtual collaboration, and automotive design, among others.

Around 60 million aspirants between 15-30 years of age are slated to enter India’s labour force by 2023.

~ NSDC

The importance of the above becomes apparent when one considers that around 60 million aspirants between 15 and 30 years of age are slated to enter the country’s labour force by 2023, as per the National Skill Development Corporation. The rising tide of new job seekers will need vocational and skills training to ensure they do not trigger a surge in unemployed persons. These programmes should be targeted towards both blue-collar and white-collar workers, which could create relevant openings in the gig economy and not just legacy sectors.

Indeed, the coronavirus crisis has made many companies embrace the gig model. Although India had only three million gig workers in the pre-pandemic era, the scenario is set to change in the post-pandemic phase, primarily due to the rising redundancy of conventional skillsets.

Remote working model has given greater efficiencies and benefits for both employers and employees.

Fortunately, the remote working model has given greater efficiencies and benefits for both employers and employees. The former benefit from not having extra expenses that are mandatory for full-time workers. The latter benefit from working as per their convenience and only signing contracts that suit them. Thereby, affordability and convenience are accelerated in the gig system because services are provided on a real-time basis.

Gig economy and remote working model have increased the threat of cyberattacks.

However, the gig economy and remote working model have increased the threat of cyberattacks. While work from home and remote working has helped companies maintain business continuity plans, digital networks in the home or remote locations are never as secure as in the office environment. In such situations, digital literacy and basic training about cybersecurity tools can help limit the chances of a data breach.

As the world prepares for the new normal, digital training modules could help drive higher efficiencies at lower costs.

As the world prepares for the new normal, digital training modules could help drive higher efficiencies at lower costs. But this is only possible with digitally literate candidates. Once again, this emphasises the crucial role that digital knowledge will play in ensuring the greater employability of candidates across industries.

Finally, in the new evolving world order, continuous learning, relearning, and reskilling will be the main mantra for retaining relevance in the employment market. Employees, as well as employers, should both shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the success of such skilling/reskilling programmes. For employees, it will help resolve the employment issue. For employers, it will ascertain they don’t face an existential crisis and remain future-ready – in 2021 and beyond.

Also Read: Successful mindsets: A witness account

(Arindam Lahiri is the CEO of Automotive Skills Development Council or ASDC.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

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