11/11/2016 5:20 PM IST | Updated 11/11/2016 5:37 PM IST

Do We Have The Skills To Script India's Growth Story?

Well begun is half done, says an old English proverb—and it holds true for the Skill India mission. A much-needed initiative that is making an effort to chart a positive course for the country, and it is gradually paving its way to its set goals. However, for all its successes, greater expediency is the need of the hour.

According to recent government statistics, more than 1.04 crore youth have received training under the ambitious Skill India Mission in the year 2015-16, 36.8 per cent higher than the previous year's recorded data; what lies ahead is an ambitious target of 40.2 crore workers by 2022. In addition, efforts are being made with a slew of policy-level changes being introduced with the National Skill Development Policy and Mission getting launched. 1500+ courses have been aligned to the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF). Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Union minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship recently stated how the comprehensive reforms introduced in the Apprentice Act can be a game-changer and perhaps the most successful skill development scheme.

The working-age population, though immense and growing, is not working enough, at least not in the ways that bring social growth and economic progress.

The Ministry, keeping in mind the burgeoning need to have a skilled workforce to ensure the success of the various flagship missions of the government such as Make in India, Digital India, Smart Cities etc, has also signed MoUs with central ministries to leverage existing infrastructure and opportunities for skill development across sectors. Going further ahead, the central office has also identified 52 skill centres in railway premises, of which 12 are already operational.

Walking a tightrope

Much has been said about the demographic dividend that is in favor of the country, with 75% of its population falling in the working age group of 15 to 59 years. The current statistics on the working age population reveal how the country is likely to hold the dominant position in the world's top ten global economies. With 18% of the global working population in India, hopes are being pinned on the nation to provide impetus to the growing economy. But herein lies the catch. India's biggest strength and its biggest vulnerability lies in just one of its most defining assets – its demographics. The working-age population, though immense and growing, is not working enough, at least not in the ways that bring social growth and economic progress. While on one hand not many jobs are being created for this expanding workforce, the existing ones do not find the eligible candidates possessing the right skills.

While the talent pool in the country is growing, the quality is yet to match the desired global standards—in fact, industry research recently pointed out that only 43% of youth possess the skills to be fully employable. With the growing influx of foreign brands looking to partner with and contribute to the Make in India dream, there is an urgent need to equip our labour force to match global standards.

The demographic dividend if not given the adequate skill treatment may simply take the shape of a demographic disaster. The striking imbalance between the low numbers of skilled workers and lessening jobs for the medium and low-skilled workforce is pointing towards the imminent disaster. To ignore the present scenario will be disastrous—with an estimated billion-plus job seekers by 2050 and the ongoing technology takeover, now is the time to arm the youth with the required skill sets.

Stepping up the game

Skill development forms the lead character of India's growth story. And it needs to be prioritized rather than used as a last resort to foster growth. This can be made possible by investing and promoting vocational education in the country. Vocational training is still not a priority for most aspiring employees, and is more of an afterthought that gains importance in the event of not finding a suitable job (or not finding any job at all). India's industrial growth is picking up pace at a time when industry's ability to absorb unskilled rural migrants is dwindling, making it one of the biggest challenges of our times.

Vocational training is still not a priority for most aspiring employees, and is more of an afterthought that gains importance in the event of not finding a suitable job...

One of the other biggest roadblocks ahead of vocational education has been the set mindset against it and the societal and historical preference towards academic courses and their pursuit as desired career options by the middle class makes it a difficult issue to deal with. I have often stated how this entire scenario makes the problem two-fold with the lack of a comprehensive policy framework to enable the right context for vocational education and the change in mindset about it being a viable alternative to pursuing pure academic courses.

Technology to the rescue

Mobile app boom in an ever growing number of smartphone users owing to the increasing mobile penetration in the country has come as a blessing in disguise for us. This has further pushed the growth of ed-tech (education technology), helping the cause of skill development through the development of mobile apps. These players have come a long way and also evolved their strategy to widen their scope of operations and focus on technical courses and vocational education. The advent of these courses for beauticians, electricians, plumbers etc is adding to the reach and success of the Skill India Mission by making online learning easy and accessible. Another advantage of this digital presence is the increase in the demand for them and their work and adding on to their income.

And it won't be long before the tech penetration enables and empowers the populace to add on to their existing incomes using the technological advancements—take for instance an Uber (or any app-based taxi service) driver whose earnings have been skyrocketing. Similar trends can be observed going forward with the Digital India initiative widening its base.

The demand for new multidisciplinary digital skills is mounting along with the need for rapid re-skilling and up-skilling of the present workforce. If the pace of skill development can match the pace of tech evolution, and training can be aligned with the industry opportunities or jobs available, the worst-case scenarios can be averted and technology can be used to augment rather than replace human skills. It will take concerted efforts from both the government and the private sector to make the nation move ahead in its growth story unhindered.