It was after the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) declaration in 2014 that the World Youth Skills Day was celebrated every year on July 15. The day marks the “strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship”.
While last year’s theme revolved around re-imagining youth skills post pandemic, this year it is ‘Transforming Youth Skills for the Future’. The World Youth Skills Day this year is all about helping the world toward socio-economic recovery from the pandemic.
This recovery phase is interconnected with the challenges the world is facing such as climate change, persisting poverty, conflict, rising inequality, demographic transition, rapid technological change, etc.
And considering India’s falling youth unemployment rate, never has the day been more important.
RISING YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT IN INDIA
The youth unemployment rate in India has been rising steadily over the years, aggravated due to the Covid-19 impact on recruitment drives.
In the April to June quarter of 2021, the youth unemployment rate stood at 25.5% for the age group of 15 to 29 as per the Periodic Labour Force Survey which covered all 22 states; each of them had a double-digit unemployment rate for the youth of this age group.
The overall unemployment rate in India in the June quarter of 2021-22 had also surged to 12.6% from the previous quarter’s 9.3%.
The employability crisis of graduates in India is a strange conundrum because India is a powerhouse when it comes to the available workforce 50% of the country’s population is below the age of 25.
As per the World Economic Forum, of the 13 million people who join India’s workforce each year, only one in four management professionals, one in five engineers, and one in 10 graduates are employable.
LACK OF EMPLOYABLE SKILLS
One of the main reasons behind the high youth unemployment rate in India is that schools even today are training students from a young age in skills that have no use in the market in the future.
At present, students need future-ready 21st-century skills. They are preparing for jobs that do not exist when they are in school, thanks to the rapidly changing technology-driven job market.
A 2020 World Economic Forum Report also highlighted the need for skills of the future, especially those that involve technology, such as programming, data science, big data, machine learning, AI, web development, etc.
“The penetration of technology, especially after the pandemic, has opened new doors for individuals as well as enterprises,” says Irwin Anand, MD India and APAC, Udemy.
He adds that India’s demographic dividend is an advantage that can transform India into a global skills hub.
“Digitization and upskilling are key tools in not just empowering the country’s workforce but also in keeping up with new booming sectors in the economy,” he says.
The skill gap has been taken into account by the National Education Policy (NEP) released in 2020 which recommends training students in vocational skills right from Class 6. It envisions a process where students are trained in job-ready skills, go through internships and gain employment in the future.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic created a lot of obstacles to the implementation of the policy over the last two years.
Bridging the skill gap would take time and the government needs to join hands with the private sector to create employable citizens.
THE HUNT FOR ‘HONOURABLE’ JOBS AND LOW GER
Yet another problem is that Indian society puts a high value on graduates and white-collar jobs and often ends up neglecting those with adequate vocational skills or those who have completed on-the-job training.
Due to this widespread view in society, Indian youth end up looking for “honourable” jobs. They either drop out of their vocational courses or leave vocational skill-based jobs after just 2-3 years.
Moreover, India currently has a Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 26.6% when it comes to higher education. That means, 74% of the 18-23 age group are not getting access to higher education or simply cannot afford it.
But India needs 2.7 million skilled professionals by 2023. And the youth of India are facing a roadblock both in achieving the degrees on paper that they want and the vocational skills that they need.
Thus, there is a need to ensure that India’s youth is supported in completing higher education and also gaining the right skills to secure employment.
HOW TO BEGIN SOLVING THE EMPLOYABILITY CRISIS
“Solving the employability crisis is less about the skills that our youth need to build and more about the opportunities that need to be built to skill our youth,” says Robin Bhowmik, Chief Business Officer, Manipal Global Education Services (Skills Academy).
“While academia provides graduates with general knowledge and comprehension of subjects, industry-academia partnership is vital to empower young professionals with first-day, first-hour productivity training,” he says.
Bhowmik reiterates the need to ensure inclusive access to high-quality education for the youth that can empower them to access quality employment opportunities in the future.
Manav Subodh, Managing Director of 1M1B (One Million for One Billion) Foundation, lists two reasons for the skill gap and youth unemployment in India.
“Firstly, the skill gaps exist as workplace experiences are not part of the skilling programmes. We need more internships, industry projects, shop floor experiences, industry mentoring, and career sessions by experts,” he says.
“Secondly, we need to work on infrastructure challenges — we need more skill labs, science labs, incubators and maker spaces,” he adds.
He also notes that Metaverse can be used for AR/VR based skilling and shop floor experiences as it can help bypass some of the infrastructure-based challenges.
HOW WORKPLACES CAN HELP EASE THE EMPLOYABILITY CRISIS
Easing the employability crisis cannot be a one-sided imperative. It is not just for the youth and the connected shareholders to ensure they have the right skills; workplaces also need to take into account the shifting dynamics and set achievable hiring criteria.
“In today’s volatile job market, getting a foot on the career ladder is often easier said than done, with even entry-level roles requiring prior skills and experience inaccessible to most school or university leavers,” says Tony Prevost, HR Director EMEA, Skillsoft.
“A recent analysis of close to 4 million jobs posted on LinkedIn since late 2017 showed that 35% of postings for ‘entry-level’ positions asked for years of relevant work experience,” he adds.
“This World Youth Skills Day, more employers should look beyond traditional hiring requirements and consider ‘STAR’ candidates — workers who are ‘Skilled Through Alternative Routes’,” he says.
Considering the drastically evolving nature of job roles, he stressed the need for apprenticeships that can help employees perfect their core craft and also branch out to learn new skills.
Fixing India’s employability crisis needs a multipronged approach that brings together adequate skill development measures right from the school-level, a booming industry-academic partnership that equips the youth with employable skills, and the right sort of accountability from workplaces to correctly utilise the country’s booming demographic dividend.
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