Huge skills gap making new age jobs go abegging for want of the right fits

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
Unemployment numbers are a cause of worry, especially coming along at a time when Covid-19 pandemic, and its latest attack in the third wave is casting its own shadow on the economic revival.
What is more painful is that unemployment is rising on one hand and on the other, there are plenty of jobs that are going begging for suitable candidates.  In what can easily be described as a relief to the job seekers, news is that across sectors India is witnessing increased hiring.
Till recently it was only the pharmaceutical and logistics that were hiring more but now, with increasing signs of economic revival, hiring has increased across sectors like manufacturing, infrastructure, automobiles, engineering, healthcare, consulting, and professional services to IT firms, and startups. At least 40 to 70 percent rise in hirings as compared to the pre-pandemic times as per industry sources.
In fact, there is a talent war going on, between various companies and across sectors, for the right fit. On the one hand this is very good news for the talented that they can get the best deal, but on the other it is also a relatively sad commentary on the state of education, that the industry feels strongly about. Which is the reason why many employers are unable to find suitable candidates and jobs go abegging.
Talk to any industrialist or manufacturing leader, or for that matter anyone in the hiring business, it is difficult to find hirable talent even during campus recruitment drives.
Well, this is surely a sad commentary on the state of education or the ability of educational centres to turnout graduates who are ready with employable skills.
More often than not, companies have to do the bulk hiring and put the young ones through rigorous training programmes to suit their requirements. Some of the big companies may do this, on a regular basis, but not many companies have either the time, money, energy or patience to do it.
So, the double whammy continues: while the companies are not able to find the kind of manpower they need, students join the army of unemployed, wasting away their time and energy. And in case they have taken loans to complete studies, the burden only keeps increasing.
Labour experts have been warning the country time and again, for the past several years, about the yawning gap between the demand for skills and the supply of skills–from the crop of graduates and diploma holders turning out of general and professional educational institutions across the country.
It is not that the Government has not done its bit–successive Governments have taken note of this problem that has the potential to turn the demographic dividend of India into a demographic disaster–but clearly it is not enough. Besides, there are problems galore in the implementation at the ground level.
But even before coming to the skills gap, which is a reality, let us acknowledge that unemployment is a real issue that is hitting the youth of the country. Even a spate of ground level surveys has indicated that people are worried over the unemployment situation in the country, and some economists fear that the toughness India will see in the economic revival will only accentuate the unemployment problem. The job market in India is going to become that much tighter and more competitive is the apprehension of economists who study labour issues.
India faces a peculiar situation. Yes, there is growth, also during the pandemic and in the post pandemic days when many companies have begun hiring in earnest, with demand for labour coming in from the traditional companies moving into newer growth areas like the digital economy and automated world. Disruption caused by the pandemic notwithstanding.
Besides, there is some definite optimism of post pandemic economic growth, hope on Government’s production-linked incentive schemes for certain industries and emergence of new business areas and new modes of working. Optimism is also replacing the fear of Covid, with the third wave dominated by Omicron, so far, being seen as a milder one with fewer deaths. This augurs well for the economic recovery, and hence greater chances of opportunities for employment.
But despite all this, the opportunities that exist and are emerging require specific skill sets that are in short supply. Which in other words means that the unemployment problem gripping the vast majority of the youth, remains a problem, unless the gap in skill sets is filled up urgently, which requires a huge investment in skill development programmes.
Successive Governments, including the Modi Government, have been allocating funds for skill development under one name or the other, but if the problem still persists, perhaps the issue is in the design of the programme.
India can benefit from the huge demand for even low engineering skills coming from SAARC Nations, Japan and others, provided the Government takes it up as a National mission. For example, in the caring industry, as demand for healthcare services in general and in the post pandemic period is all set to boom. Demand may further intensify and States like Kerala, and Tamil Nadu with their concentration of nursing institutions will benefit.
For one, the Government (including State Governments as and where applicable) must step in and focus on education, training and skills development, all the three of which are not really up to the mark. And when India gets competition from across the borders, like Bangladesh, if we neglect it any further, we would have missed this bus as well. Bangladesh had made export of manpower, as one of its main employment policies, and we in India too can perhaps pay some attention to this and experiment.
But first, we need an overhaul of the existing skill development ecosystem. Also, there is a need for English language skill upgradation, as also of technical skills, even for domestic utilisation of labour.
At present India has a five pillar eco system of skills training. Since skills is in the concurrent list, the Central Government ought to take a serious look at this and address this issue on an urgent basis. There are far too many institutions that have cropped up on the training and skilling space, but their quality is questionable. Neither is there proper monitoring or regulation.
In the absence of any significant industry and employer engagement with skilling, training and education, the quality of youth coming into the job market is unemployable. This must be addressed on a war footing, if the talent gap and skills deficiency are to be removed. What is the point of having a demand driven training ecosystem that churns out potential workers, unless the industry and employers are engaged in curriculum design, course selection, internships, assessment of trainees ?
Sure, there are some corporations who do post recruitment training, but that number is miniscule. It is ironic that potential employers are looking for workers and cannot find the right fit, and there are employees looking for work and cannot find jobs.
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected] and Twitter handle @kvlakshman