A sea of young people on a Delhi Metro last week offered a glimpse into the despair within young India.
Most had taken the train from Delhi University — a hub of students from across the country — to the heart of the city, to take a test and apply for a job with a national bank. But there were only a few thousand vacancies — and 100,000 youngsters had turned up for the test.
Amid talk of the intense competition, the conversation turned to each youngster’s struggle.
The latest round of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) statistics on employment, released last week, reflects the growing resentment among educated urban youngsters (aged 15 to 29) over not finding jobs commensurate with their qualifications.
Unemployment in this age group — which comprises 285 million people and makes up a fourth of India’s population of 1.2 billion — is more than double the national average of 3%. And it is nearly four times the national average for youngsters with an education above the secondary level.
“Not enough jobs are being created for those joining the workforce,” says Ashok Reddy, CEO of staffing firm TeamLease. “The manufacturing and service sectors, particularly, have not created enough new jobs.”
In the absence of an aggressive economic policy to create employment, agriculture remains the mainstay, and there was no growth in employment in this sector between 2010 and 2012. Manufacturing, a sector that usually offers a ray of hope, created just 4% more jobs in this period. Overall, between 2010 and 2012, the pace of job creation in India was the slowest in a decade — a meagre 2.2%.
The result: About 500,000 youngsters joined the ranks of the unemployed, even though the overall unemployment rate remained static. Others are being forced to accept jobs well below their skill level, joining the swelling ranks of the under-employed.
Most telling, the NSSO does not even measure underemployment in relation to skills and qualifications — only by the number of days worked in a year.
For young graduates driving cars for a living, working as salespeople or serving as personal assistants, this is just part of the bad news.
‘My degree was a waste’
Pradeep Yadav, 29 -Mumbai
Qualification: BA with Honours in History from Lalit Narayan Mithila University, Bihar
Earns a living as a driver
Every night, Yadav goes to sleep with the same nagging thought on his mind — the precious degree that he worked so hard for, that his father, a farmer, struggled so hard to pay for, has been wasted.
Yadav’s dream, when he graduated in 2006, was to join the armed forces. “But I was told that I could not get a seat in the academy without a donation, and we had no savings left,” he says.
Yadav then tried to find a job as a schoolteacher, but all he got offered in his hometown of Fatehpur in Bihar was `1,500 a month — not enough to support his ageing parents and three younger siblings.
“I had no option but to leave Bihar for one of the big cities,” he says.
For two years, Yadav worked as a construction site supervisor in Pune, earning `5,500 a month. In 2009, he moved to Mumbai and found a job that would pay him `18,000 to `20,000 a month, driving a vehicle for a transport company.
“I took it,” he says. “The money was good and I wasn’t finding anything more suitable.”
Yadav now lives in a slum in Mahalaxmi. “I like my job, but sometimes I feel frustrated with a system that forces people to take up jobs that do not match their qualifications,” he says.
— Riddhi Doshi
‘I am dependent on my family’
Vipin Kumar, 28 - Delhi
Qualification: B.Ed from Al-Barkaat Institute of Education, Aligarh
Earns a living tutoring children
Kumar moved to Delhi from Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, three years ago, with dreams of becoming a teacher. “I studied in a vernacular medium, so I have given various entrance exams for a position in a government school, but I am yet to find one,” he says.
He currently earns about `4,000 a month tutoring high-school students in their homes.
“That is not enough, of course. I have to take money from my family,” he says. “Employment is a big problem for the youth today. So many of my friends are also finding it difficult to find jobs. You study a particular course, hoping to get a job in a certain profession. But that is just not happening.”
— Poulomi Banerjee
‘I need to help support my family’
Hemalatha Sivakumar, 29 - Chennai
Qualification: MSc in Biochemistry from Madras University
After a five-year break when she became a mother, Sivakumar — a former Biochemistry professor — was keen to get back to work last year, but she cannot find a job.
“The market is so sluggish,” she says. “Jobs are scarce and employers are hesitant to recruit experienced people. They seem to prefer fresh graduates who will cost them less in salaries.”
So far, the only position she has been offered is that of a schoolteacher, and even there she would need to go back to school herself first, and get a degree or a diploma in education.
“I really need to start working again so that I can help support my family,” she says. “If this is the situation in a metro like Chennai, I can’t imagine what it must be like in smaller cities and towns. I shudder to think what is in store for the thousands of students ready to graduate and the countless others still searching for work.”
— Shyam Sundar
‘I’ll wait… as long as it takes’
Thejashwini Suresh, 26 - Bangalore
Earns a daily wage as an assistant accountant
In 2008, Thejashwini became the first person in her family to graduate. For years, ever since her father had become bedridden, her five elder brothers had supported her, dropping out of college themselves to help support the family and pay her way through college.
So as soon as she graduated, Thejashwini began hunting for a job in the finance sector. “I couldn’t wait to start contributing at home,” she says.
But there were few posts and many contenders for every position.
Slowly, her hope and pride were replaced by desperation. Finally, she settled for a temporary position as a personal assistant, earning `200 a day.
For the next five years, Thejashwini continued to hunt for a job as an assistant accountant, but soon she was being branded an administrator, because that was all she had on her CV.
Finally, she recently found a temporary position as an assistant accountant in the same company. She still earns a meagre `319 a day — less than her brothers — gets just four days off a month, and 12 days of leave a year.
Thejashwini is now pursuing an MCom and a diploma in cost and account management, hoping that will help her beat the competition.
“Life is hard,” she says. “But I don’t want to give in to the temptation of working at a call centre for more money. I want to pursue a career in accounts and finance. I’ll wait… as long as it takes.”
— Humaira Ansari
‘I’ll take any job in my field’
Subhankar Saha, 27 -Kolkata
Qualification: BSc from a Calcutta University college
Earns a living as a salesman at a car dealership, tutors school children
It’s been six years since Saha graduated and began looking for work in Kolkata.
“The only jobs I could find were in sales,” he says. “But the pay was very low, especially given my qualifications. After 14 months I decided I could not indefinitely work as a sales boy, and I quit.”
Saha thought quitting would free him up to find a good job, but all these years later he is still working as a sales boy, now at a dealership run by a relative. To add to his income, he tutors neighbours’ children out of his home.
“Since I am an only child, there is constant pressure on me to land a job,” he says. “I am constantly on the lookout. Given the sparse job market here, I have even let go of my preferences and am willing to take any job that suits my qualifications.”
Adding to Saha’s sense of urgency is the fact that his father is now just a year away from retirement.
“If I don’t get a job by then, I’ll just find more children to tutor,” he says.
— Orin Basu