Need to reskill Indians

by December 21, 2019 0 comments

The feedback from corporate India and research institutes is that 65-75 per cent of the 15 million youth who enter the workforce each year are not job-ready or suitably employable

The amount of change in the world economy in the last 20 years and the rate at which it has occurred is staggering. It is inevitable that everyone will have to deal with a significant degree of professional change. This shift could be seismic, to the degree that the very nature of a trade  or profession is transformed forever.

The great economist and Nobel laureate WA Lewis argues that an economy consists of two sectors: Capitalist (urban and industrial) and a subsistence sector (rural and agricultural). Wages in the capitalist sector are higher than in the subsistence sector, hence there is a tendency for labour to move from the latter to the former. However, in India, the growing population has led to an endless supply of cheap labour and this has also brought down wages in the capitalist sector. Moreover, the capitalist sector is not growing fast enough to provide jobs for this large population. With a small fraction of its workforce having formal vocational training, skilling in India has become increasingly difficult.

The imperative for skilling young people is well-recognised and has been flagged as a national priority for almost a decade, with significant initiatives being launched by the Government. The sad part is that only 10 per cent of the total workforce in the country receives some kind of skill training. The feedback from corporate India and research institutes alike is that 65-75per cent of the 15 million Indian youth who enter the workforce each year are not job-ready or suitably employable.

Technology is advancing faster than we can adapt, upending the job market and delivering unimaginable shocks to both our values and our patterns of thinking. Repetition-based jobs are declining the world over and will soon disappear. Most children entering school today will do jobs that don’t exist yet. Many of the children now being educated in the old system will find the norms, institutions and patterns of working and civic life they were trained for scrambled when they enter the adult world. The tools of most jobs are in a state of extreme flux. For example, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other boardroom documents have all been changed by the cloud and sharing and group editing are the new norm.

We are increasingly moving towards a world where evergreen skills like communication, empathy and the ability to “play well” with others are more valuable in the job market. They are essential to prepare our youth for the future. Empathy is foundational to social and relational intelligence. Empathy is the invisible giant. It is naturally hardwired into our brain and when harnessed, plays a crucial role in innovation, changemaking and solving systemic problems. Communication skills are essential to support both effective teamwork and creative linkages across disciplines and specialisations

Emotional and social “soft skills” such as possessing insights into other points of view, being supportive of one’s colleagues, problem-solving and critical thinking should be nurtured and developed as the key to future success for students and society in general. These soft skills need to be combined with other competencies such as English, digital literacy, arithmetic, financial literacy and basic life skills — together defined as “core employability skills” or “future skills.” We need to challenge the perception that these skills should only be taught to those going into business. Instead they should be seen as a set of transferable skills for all and are universally applicable, domain-agnostic and transferable. They hold the key to creating an impact at scale and with speed.

There is a huge gap between what is being taught to students and what they need to pursue as a successful career. To close this gap, we need to create a curriculum that would teach the skills that are most relevant for students entering a 21st century workforce. Thus we will need to give teaching and curriculum design a greater priority.

Technology empowers but will render millions of jobs obsolete, as smart machines take over repetitive tasks that employed previous generations. Many of the world’s schools and universities are modeled on the old, hierarchical elitism of the colonial times. Students are considered as empty vessels that simply need to be filled up with knowledge and skills readying them for their niche in a static labour market. The result is that educational institutions are disempowering students through their teaching methods and also failing to prepare them to capture the benefits of empowerment. A better way would be to treat students as creative, entrepreneurial problem-solvers and give them the skills, resources and power to generate and drive change both while learning and after they graduate.

The new emphasis on skill training should focus one “life cycle” approach which looks at all aspects of skilling, from the aspirations of people before training to counselling and following up with beneficiaries during their employment. Adopting this approach will ensure that the kind of skills imparted to trainees are marketable and linked to jobs.

It is also important to ensure that specific skills are not scaled across multiple areas in the same region as this saturates the market with limited opportunities for those who are trained. If everyone is trained in becoming a blacksmith, there will be too many blacksmiths and not enough jobs. Imparting locally-relevant skill sets like repairing bicycles, two-wheelers, solar lamps or mobiles, running a poultry unit, and the like, make families self-sustaining. To this end, governments should boost investment in lifelong learning to retrain, retool and reskill. For example, governments could provide training grants throughout people’s working lives, conditional on stronger private sector involvement in training and skills development. Governments should also reinforce the supply of skills by strengthening incentives for educational institutions to harness the power of digital technology and new business models.

While we continue our efforts to provide training in more advanced skills, it is also necessary to strengthen the ecosystems for basic subsistence skills in smaller communities. We can design new-generation skills for para-veterinarians, health workers, solar engineers, water drillers and testers, hand pump mechanics, artisans, designers, masons, accountants, technicians and computer programmers who support their fellow-villagers in building and sustaining collective livelihood projects and increasing their economic and social resilience. There is an important role for organisations supporting small producers to hone their skills, understand the marketplace dynamic, and to adapt their products for urban markets. They can encourage and promote environment-friendly products and processes, help in branding, packaging solution and also support primary producers in transitioning their subsistence livelihoods to reach sustainable levels. Education will have to be made available in more flexible and innovative forms to enable lifelong learning and deepening of skills and re-skilling as old occupations disappear and new ones evolve. It should also not be restricted to jobs that might be on offer, but encourage innovation and creation of jobs.

Graduates will need cultural competencies to effectively practice their skills in a multicultural world. Since the world is going to be dominated by digital forms of communication, everyone will need to have some proficiency in analysing and interpreting a world flooded with data. Higher levels of numeracy will be needed across many more occupations. Boundaries between educational institutions and the outside world would also need to be far more porous. Students will need opportunities to experience work environments as part of their learning system.

We require a more coordinated and collective impact approach from the various stakeholders if we want to enlarge the network of training programmes and ensure that training is closely aligned with specific demands of the industry. It would require developing a clear common agenda around the entire ecosystem of workforce training. It requires intervention at four levels: Quality trainers, market-aligned curriculum, assessment of learning outcomes, and effective matchmaking between youth and jobs

Individuals will have to cultivate a proper mindset to embrace changes and take a proactive approach to navigating the shock waves that may follow such powerful changes. Adaptability can quickly and confidently assimilate this type of upheaval and use it as a competitive advantage.

(Writer: Moin Qazi; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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