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Skills don't match jobs in India's new work profile

Millions of educated young Indians join the labour market every year but rising mismatch between basic skills and jobs on offer is leading to a peculiar flux. Gaurav Choudhury writes.

business Updated: May 12, 2013 11:27 IST
Gaurav Choudhury
Gaurav Choudhury
Hindustan Times
employment,umemployment in india,employment opportunities in india

Two-and-half years ago, on a dour December morning, Jasbinder Kaur (name changed), a 25-year old MA in Economics, was queuing-up alongside 1, 200 aspirants for the job of a peon in district courts in Punjab.

Kaur hung around for a couple of hours, seeking cold comfort by talking to a few other hopefuls that included law graduates, MBA and M.Phil degree holders vying for eight jobs on offer.

For Kaur, and many of her peers, the incongruent banter while waiting for their names to be called out was a way to run away from the enormity of a hard truth: there were no jobs to match their skills. Kaur answered a few questions that the panel of judges asked her and, in her own words, literally “ran home with tears rolling down.”

Next morning, she was again getting ready for a similar exercise. This time, for a job of a piada (one who delivers summons) at the courts. The staid posting in the local newspapers listed out the eligibility conditions for filling up the posts of four piadas: Class 8+ pass and should be between 18-35 years. Kaur fulfilled both of these. There were 900 such applicants that included several post-graduates.

“I failed to get the job in both the instances. It was a moment of truth,” Kaur, who now works as a teacher in a private school, says mirroring the severity of India’s labour market characterised by rising mismatch between skills and jobs on offer (see case studies).

But Kaur’s is only one side of the story. Every year 12 million young boys and girls join the growing army of people entering the labour market.

There are jobs on offer but millions of them still remain unemployed because of lack of skills.

Jobs, economy and society

Until not-too-long-ago India was among the world’s hottest growth economies with growth rates running almost shoulder-to-shoulder with populous neighbour China. Gross domestic product (GDP) — or the total value of all goods and services produced in the country — grew at an average 8.45% during 2004-05 and 2009-10.

India’s national income is within striking distance of crossing the $2 trillion mark joining the elite group of globe’s richest economies. The world has been peering curiously at the stuff bubbling in the Indian manufacturing laboratory with top automobile and other brands jostling against each other to own a slice of the market that should double its size in the next decade, if not earlier.

Yet, data suggests that the factory floors — the large plants as well as the tiny one-room units — aren’t really adding jobs to cater to the pipeline of people joining the queue.

Consider this: According to data collated by the Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR), in the five years starting 2004-05 employment in the manufacturing sector has actually declined by 5.03 million.

This period, ironically, coincides with the Indian economy’s most sizzling phase (see graphic).

In all, 460.22 million people or less than 40% of the population — were employed in India across various sectors adding only a 2.76 million during the six years between 2004-2010.

“Creation of decent jobs outside of agriculture is one of the biggest challenges that confront the policy makers trying to achieve faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth,” IAMR said in a recent paper titled Jobless and Informalisation, Challenges to Inclusive Growth in India.

Labour market experts, however, are of the view that the informal sector, where about 85% of Indians work, need a critical overhaul to correct the imbalance.

According to Manish Sabharwal, chairman of TeamLease Services, a staffing firm, “the primary consequence of informal growth is low productivity. If all the job creation in India had happened in the formal sector, we would have seen much higher growth rates.”

All these mirrors the constraints of an economy and society caught in a peculiar flux, which perhaps fits into Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis in Wasted Lives.

Bauman classifies modern society that “cast[s] employment as a key — the key — to the resolution of the issues of, simultaneously, socially acceptable personal identity, secure social position, individual and collective survival, social order and systemic reproduction.”

Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan describes the current situation as “Africanisation” of Indian society and economy. “It’s a situation where displacement of people is seen as a common occurrence.

People, much like products and technology, have come to be considered as dispensable.” This, according to Visvanathan, is manifesting itself in hundreds of forms in social behaviour and conduct.

“With old structures and support systems crumbling, jobs and employability, or rather the lack of it, can result in serious sociological imbalances,” he said.

Angst — collective and individual — can be one among these, which needs immediate attention.

Guwahati: Arunjana Das, 28, B.Tech IIT-Delhi, masters in journalism and going to pursue a PhD in international relations

With a B.Tech degree in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Delhi, and no interest in an engineering career, the first challenge was to find out what I really wanted to do for a living.

After spending seven months in an engineering-related position at Tata Motors, and frustrated enough to disrupt myself, I decided to follow my first love — writing. I completed a Masters degree in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington.

The next challenge was to find an employer who’d need the services of an engineer-cum-journalist. I interned for seven months before an opportunity opened up at the World Bank in Washington for a communications, training, and knowledge and learning (K&L) profile.

By the time I left the World Bank and came back to Guwahati, I had become an engineer-journalist-trainer-K&L person. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Then I got a chance to work as a business consultant for Eclectic Northeast in Guwahati that allows me to channelise my creativity, and explore lateral and vertical innovations.

I expect to be there for a couple of months before I head back to Washington to start my PhD in International Relations. It’s been a wild ride, about to get wilder.

(As told to Gaurav Choudhury)

Rishikesh: Nitin Dev, 34, MBA from Northeastern University in Boston, director of a hotel, partner in a software firm

I am currently a director of RajMahal Hotel in Rishikesh and a partner in Delivation Solutions LLP, a startup firm striving to develop on innovative software solutions. But this is not what I envisioned after my return to India after five years of very enriching experience in the US.

I was one of the fortunate ones to pursue an MBA from Northeastern University, Boston on full scholarship. During and after my graduation I got an opportunity to work with IBM, RBC and EMC as financial and senior financial analysts. Because of my specialised skills I was doing reasonably well even when the US itself was struggling with an uncertain economic future.

I decided to return, which was always the plan, and continue to build my career here. The excitement was short lived as enthusiasm soon gave way to frustration.

I was prepared not to expect a matching dollar salary but wasn’t prepared to be competing for a job that undermined my international experience.

For a senior financial analyst’s position I was interviewed more like an accountant. Eventually I took over a hotel from my family to kickstart my career and use the base to pre-launch my entrepreneurial career. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise but is different from what I thought for my life a year and a half back.

(As told to Gaurav Choudhury)

Mohali: Pritam Singh, 25, arts graduate, helper in a mechanic’s shop, awaiting a government sweeper’s job

When luck is not on your side and opportunities shrink, it is better to think about earning a living than the way it is earned. Not to forget the security that comes along with a government job even if it is that of sweeping the city’s roads. But this ‘sweeping’ profession was never my first choice.

An endless number of job interviews and competitive exams bore no positive results. Success eluded me. Whenever I was close to getting a good job, something or the other went wrong. And, then I was back to square one. Frustrated, I began working as a helper in a mechanic’s shop.

My routine is from 9 to 9. By the time I return, I am too tired to mull other career prospects. When the municipal corporation advertised for the post of sweepers, I filled the form without even thinking twice. I was an average student and after graduating in Arts I pursued a Masters course through correspondence, optimistic that it will brighten my career prospects.

Sadly, that never happened. I have now switched to Plan B-- to secure a job in a government department, be that of even a sweeper. If I manage to get the job I will feel I have achieved something in my life even if it means having a brush with the scraps of City Beautiful every day.

(As told to Hillary Victor)

First Published: May 11, 2013 21:06 IST