Edit & Opinion

Tough Job Market: Right skills critical

In an age of skyrocketing unemployment, made worse by the pandemic, it is integral to incorporate marketable and real-world skills within the education system. A system that integrates skills and education can go a long way in ensuring that the youth are better equipped to handle a challenging employment market.

Employers need to interact with education providers. Both can benefit from strong reciprocal relations, with employers advising educators what skills they need (and even assisting in designing curricula and extending faculty support) and educators providing students with practical training and hands-on learning. There are compelling economic benefits in rebalancing the labour market; conversely, the human costs of failing to do will be enormous.

By deploying its corporate and social responsibility (CSR) capital on skill development projects, the private sector stands to benefit enormously from the availability of a large skilled and disciplined workforce. This can parlay into better levels of customer service, increased productivity and efficiency, reduced absenteeism and employee turnover, along with lower wages and recruitment costs.

The results of several such programmes have, however, been mixed. Programmes have reported high dropout rates, low employment percentages and continued attrition post-placement, leading to dissatisfied employers as well as frustrated youth. Providing ‘skill-training and certification’ alone cannot be a solution to the problem. There is clearly a case for going back to the drawing board.

The new emphasis on skill training should focus on a lifecycle approach. This approach looks at all aspects of skilling, from the aspirations of people before training to counselling and following up with beneficiaries during their employment. Adopting a lifecycle approach to skilling will make sure the kind of skills imparted to trainees are marketable and linked to the available jobs.

It is also important to ensure that specific skills are not scaled across multiple areas in the same region as it saturates the market with limited opportunities for those who are trained. If everyone is trained in becoming a blacksmith, there will be too many blacksmiths and not enough jobs. Imparting locally relevant skill sets like repairing bicycles or motorised two-wheelers, solar lamps, mobiles and running a poultry unit or small animal husbandry and the like makes families self-sustaining.

There are hundreds of organisations and agencies engaged in honing vocational skills and promoting entrepreneurship. While these successful efforts demonstrate the critical roles that employers and social sector actors play in the development of a healthy workforce, they are not able to achieve system-wide change. Businesses, educators, governments and young people need to adopt a collective approach and synergise their latent strengths. Closing the skills gap requires that educators and employers work together more closely.

The missing link that underlies the growing unemployment is ‘skill development’, which is the key ingredient to robust economic growth. With the dilutions of the old ‘iron bowl’ of employment protection, the idea of lifelong secure employment has now been shattered. 

Technology is advancing faster than we can adapt, upending the job market and delivering unimaginable shocks to both our values and or patterns of thinking Repetition-based jobs are stagnating the world over and will soon disappear. Most children entering school today will do jobs that don’t exist yet.

Many of the children now being educated in the old system will find the norms, institutions and patterns of working and civic life they were trained for scrambled, when they enter the adult world. Tools of the job are in a state of extreme flux. Spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other boardroom documents have all been changed by the cloud — sharing and group editing are the new norm.

Capacities for specialised problem solving and mass communication, until recently controlled by a few elites, are now accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Yet our education system and other institutions remain geared towards the old, siloed, hierarchised, repetitive system leaving young people ill prepared for the cascading changes coming. Young people need to look outward, get out of their zip codes, and experience situations different from the ones they are conditioned to expect. Their success will depend much on how well they can navigate a world of diverse cultures and beliefs.

Skills development holds the key to India’s ability to activate the vast potential of its youth population for inclusive growth and to evolve as the hub of the global economy. It is perhaps most crucial to long-term alleviation of poverty. However, much thought needs to be devoted to evolving the right training method. It should focus on learning by doing rather than in the classroom. A range of entrepreneurs in the fields of construction, textiles, leather, gems and jewellery, and so on will have to be brought in, and candidates will need to work as apprentices.

Several challenges remain for skill development in India. The huge proportion of informally trained workers who form a part of the informal sector have still no formal training avenues, skill training is generally carried out through individual learning, observation, or a transfer of skills from a master craftsperson to an apprentice. These craftsmen can set up small cottage units but cannot be absorbed in factories where basic technical skills are essential. With the influx of cheap machine made products, handicrafts are being driven out by the competition even though they are aesthetically superior. traditional craftsmanship is losing value and the market offers poor compensation to the artisans for their skills and artistry.

The mismatch between academic training skill, and employment has widened, leading to a situation where, on one hand, the youth are unable to find employment that are aspiring for and on the other, employers are unable to find people appropriately trained for jobs they have on offer.

We require a more coordinated and collective impact approach from the various stakeholders if we want to enlarge the network of training programmes and ensure that training is closely aligned with specific demands of the industry. It would require developing a clear common agenda around the entire ecosystem of workforce training.

One of the most demanding needs will be digital fluency. It is a much wider concept than the metaphoric digital literacy. It refers to the ability to leverage the myriad digital tools and resources at our disposal to complete a specific job. Assimilation in digital culture would require learning the nuts and bolts of technology. All these disruptions will eventually have to be addressed through a change making strategy. As US former Education Secretary Arne Duncan had said, “A key factor of success for any society going forward is what percentage of its people are changemakers. It’s the new literacy.”

 

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