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Young India must have a talent pool

Future generations should be taught skills that will enable them to compete globally, writes Milind Deora. Speak up

india Updated: Oct 24, 2006 12:12 IST

In terms of her demographic composition, India is, and will be the youngest country in the world.

The challenge before us therefore lies in helping the future generations acquire skills that will enable them to compete in the global workplace.

How do we convert this massive pool — presently over half a billion people under the age of 25 years — into a resource? Only a common minimum program for education, at all levels, from primary education to vocational training will convert India's youth into an asset rather than a liability.

Western countries as well as China and Japan have an increasingly ageing population. Accessibility to learning English and vocational skills will enable India's Generation Next to service the needs of these nations where labour is scarce.

Today, BPOs allow India to service global requirements in areas like IT, healthcare and other strategic processes while maintaining Indian "ownership". In addition to creating employment opportunities, the sector is bringing more people into the mainstream by raising their disposable incomes, contributing to the nation's exchequer and growth story.

Employees of BPO outfits, for instance, are not only catering to the global demand for goods and services, but are themselves consumers of these items.  Therefore, the multiplier effect is much larger as domestic demand also increases, leading to the need for more investment and industry fuelling employment generation.

While we must expand this talent pool in order to support foreign and domestic demand, increasing access to education will be futile if after completing their education, these young and talented professionals take their expertise elsewhere.

A NASA scientist educated at IIT does precious little for India. And the return on investment on education is poor in the same example. In order to retain our brightest, we have to create compelling reasons for them to stay in India. They must continue to be Indian, not just culturally (celebrating Diwali in New Jersey) or economically (occasionally remitting money to their relatives back home), but physically by living in India, paying taxes here, participating in India's democracy. This is key.

Government research shows that in less than a decade approximately 10 million people will be added to the workforce every year. India must have the capacity to absorb them. In addition to providing India's youth with relevant skills, the fundamental challenge still is how to make them employable.

So how do we expand the talent pool? Institutes of higher learning like IITs and IIMs do exist but they are exclusive and very few in number. Also, basic education is no longer good enough. Broadening the ability to access high quality education and vocational courses will improve India's economic fundamentals, which already look promising. While the political leadership is focused on education and related areas, we must also ensure that India is able to fix problems in key areas that generate employment, particularly agriculture and manufacturing.

We have a vibrant services sector but if we don't increase the opportunity in the other two sectors, which employ a vast majority of our population, India's demographic advantage could become a problem. It is all very well to speak of building the talent but we do need to build the bandwidth for absorption of this talent.

All in all, I am confident that our tag as the world's youngest country will yield us many dividends in the long-run.

(Milind Deora is among the younger Congress MPs in Lok Sabha. He has been Chairman of the Indian Merchants' Chamber Young Entrepreneur's Wing.)