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Upskill or perish: The cold truth that Indian job-seekers face today

Where are the jobs? An obsession with white-collar jobs and disdain for skill development has left today’s youth in a dilemma even as demands for entry-level jobs have become tougher.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2017 11:43 IST
Suchetana Ray
Suchetana Ray
Hindustan Times
Jobs,Unemployment,NSDC
The NSDC provides a wide array of skilling programmes, from training in street food vending to industrial technical courses and driving courses at simulation labs in collaboration with auto majors.(Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

“Where are the jobs we were promised?” asks Anwesh Paul as he manoeuvres his car through rush-hour traffic in Delhi, not really expecting an answer.

The 31-year-old from Muktsar in Punjab has been driving his WagonR for Ola and Uber for the past five years, but life was never this tough before.

On the employment front
While India has a working population of 45 crore, 80% need upskilling, or learning of additional skills
10 lakh/year People who enter the workforce in the country
8,662 (Till May 2017) Skill training centres under NSDC
People trained by NSDC and its partners

Paul dropped out of college after his father passed away but gainful employment was hard to come by. That was when he heard about a neighbour doing well in the “Delhi-based taxi business”. So he arrived in the national capital clutching his driving licence, and began driving for Ola. The going was good in the beginning. Paul took out a loan to buy his own car, signing up with other cab aggregators too.

Caught in a battle for market share, Uber and Ola initially doled out heavy incentives that benefited drivers and customers alike. Driver sign-ups went up by 60% within a year. At its peak, drivers earned up to Rs1 lakh a month.

“Even a year ago, I used to earn as much as Rs10,000 a day. But then things changed. Incentives started falling. We went on strike and protested, but to no avail,” he rues.

Read more: Where are the jobs? Being in denial over unemployment woes won’t help Modi govt

Changing incentive patterns and a surge in cab availability were the factors that eventually reduced the daily earnings of drivers by nearly 75%, lowering their monthly income to anywhere between Rs30,000 and Rs40,000. Staring at an uncertain financial situation, an unpaid car loan and a bleak future, Paul persuaded his younger sibling to complete his graduation and look for a different job.

Yash followed his brother’s advice and joined a real estate broker last year. The money wasn’t bad — he got a monthly salary and there were commissions for every apartment sold.

But then came demonetisation, and the realty business began to totter. To make things worse, the Real Estate Regulation and Development Act, 2016 — which makes registering with the state regulator mandatory for brokers — kicked in from May 1. Years of indulging in shifty practices made it difficult for brokers to shift to a more transparent platform, and many such businesses perished. In the end, Yash was left searching for another job again.

Read more: Three years of Modi govt: Job-creation promise falls short as unemployment rate up

The bleak situation we have here is a result of the Indian youth’s obsession with textbook education and white-collar jobs, and a consequent disdain for skill development and professional training courses.

Data source: India Skill Report 2017 by Wheebox in association with PeopleStrong, AICTE and CII

Though the government invests thousands of crores in skill development schemes each year, convincing young Indians to benefit from them is a different matter altogether.

Data provided by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) shows that despite partnering with private companies, it has succeeded in training a little less than one crore people since May 2014. A small number, considering that there are over 8,600 skilling centres providing training in 40 sectors across the country.

Read more: Job creation in high-growth India should be a top priority

The NSDC provides a wide array of skilling programmes, from training in street food vending to industrial technical courses and driving courses at simulation labs in collaboration with auto majors such as Maruti, Tata Group and Toyota.

“Few aspire towards skill acquisition. This is why participation in our skilling programmes is low, despite the need for a trained workforce of 11 crore by 2022,” said an NSDC official on the condition of anonymity.

Even promotional and advertising campaigns have not succeeded in attracting the youth to its state-of-the-art skill training centres, he added.

Skill requirement and education: growing divide

Over a million people enter the job market every year but only around 10,000 find jobs.

In 2015, eight organised sectors — textiles, metals, leather, gems and jewellery, IT and BPO, transport, automobiles and handlooms — generated a paltry 1.5 lakh jobs. The unorganised sector was worse off.

The contracting construction sector and falling investment-to-GDP ratio since 2012 go to show that job creation will continue to be a challenge across the board. Unemployment is rising in tandem with the growing skill gap across almost all sectors in the country.

The NSDC’s official estimates show that while India has a working population of 45 crore people, 80% require upskilling — or learning of additional skills — by 2022. “Upskill or perish, that is the new truth,” said CP Gurnani, CEO of Tech Mahindra.

Even the nature of entry-level jobs at call centres is changing. “Simply knowing English is not good enough anymore. You need some domain knowledge,” said Raman Roy, CEO of Quattro BPO Solutions.

Read more: 3 yrs of Modi govt: Question of jobs a major challenge confronting Centre

Experts say margins of such companies have dropped from heady levels of 40% in 2006-2008 to under 15%, forcing BPOs in India to scale down their ‘calling businesses’ by over 60%.

Though call centres used to be a big draw for young English-speaking graduates, India has lost much of its business to countries like Philippines, Vietnam and China — with analytical jobs taking its place. The shift from scale to skill had begun in the BPO sector a few years ago.

What’s more, service sectors in India have also begun reflecting the growing divide in skill requirement and education.

“Four million people are employed by the IT sector. But due to the swift technological shifts occurring across the world, 50% of this workforce has to be re-trained,” said Roy.

First Published: Aug 21, 2017 08:27 IST