How to transform the employment landscape opportunities for unskilled workers

How to transform the employment landscape opportunities for unskilled workers

Saturday August 22, 2015,

4 min Read

The informal sector in India presents a paradox of sorts; it employs 90% of the workforce, with a job growth rate estimated to be twice that of formal sectors– but it depends largely on the unskilled labour pool. It is quite a daunting task to gauge the heterogeneous skilling requirements that match the undefined job roles and unstructured competencies.

People who work in the informal sector are compelled to do so simply because they cannot afford to be unemployed. This applies to all those who work in construction, agriculture and manufacturing sectors, and street vendors selling groceries and fast food.


Informal sector is a peculiar mix of small businesses, cottage industries and household trades that necessitates the workers to perform multiple tasks with diverse skills. With proper skilling, financial support and entrepreneurial training, a road-side fast food vendor can upgrade his food cart to a small eatery and the agricultural worker can increase his produce, package it and market it well. How do we ensure that top-down campaigns and national drives in the area of skill development and entrepreneurship impact these people’s lives and make a difference to their livelihood?

Campaigns like Skill India can play a crucial role in closing the chasm between the organized/formal and the unorganized/informal through conscious effort. This includes increasing productivity through knowledge and skill, better income, and social security through empowerment with right tools and technology. Let’s be realistic, national campaigns alone can’t perform this miracle.Close collaboration between the government, the industry and training providersis needed to devise need-based schemes and execute them strategically.

Participation from the grassroots with advocacy and ownership of these projects is the best way to meet skilling goals in the informal sector. Most importantly, it helps in overcoming scepticism and resistance in a gradual manner. Here are some ways to expand outreach and transform efforts into desired outcomes:

Go beyond skilling: Workers and their employers in the informal sector are not keen on training and skilling; for them, doing the job is more essential than worrying about how to do it. This has primarily to do with their awareness about the impact of training on productivity and quality. A good way to make them realize the value of skill development is to tie it with up social benefits and make combo packs that offer insurance, job security and upward mobility.

Skills champions: There is nothing like local leadership when it comes to spreading the message of skilling, and that it has a long term impact on livelihoods. A local champion can be someone who volunteers to mobilize people, organize them and help them understand the significance of their contribution to the economy. These champions can be the active touch points, and form a network that supports the campaign from the bottomup.

Ensure right financial support: A training provider working in the informal sector might have certain financial needs for designing and implementing training programs. For workers, besides financial motivation, they need assurance that attending training and abstaining from work will not deprive them of their wages. Such apprehensions can be allayed by educating them about how skilling interventions are aimed at alleviating poverty and providing decent livelihoods.

Recognition of Formal Learning (RPL): RPL as an instrument can map existing skills with desired outcomes. It helps in closing the skills gaps, and integrating the informal sector with the formal and organized sector. It can be effectively used in assessing, quantifying and certifying skills learnt in an informal set-up without institutional recognition. A well thought-out RPL strategy can attract a large informal workforce into formal vocations, without their losing respect and recognition for what they already know and have been doing without systematic training.

Embrace digital technologies: It is imperative that skilling interventions include the ICT, especially using mobile and cloud technologies to deliver and administer training. While digital dashboards may give us trends and targets for monitoring at the national level, mobile apps and videos can make knowledge accessible anywhere anytime. Pictorial flash cards, linguistic video bytes, and dexterity-driven learning aids are particularly relevant for the informal workforce, since they mainly comprise school dropouts and those with low levels of literacy.

Apart from the above-mentioned efforts, there is an urgent need to spread success stories and positive messages to all – the construction worker, the leather craftsperson, the street vendor, the carpenter and so on. They need confidence in themselves to move out of contractual wage employment and seek secure and stable jobs. This can be instilled in them only through sustained skilling.

About the author: Rajesh AR is the Executive Director of LabourNet Services, a social enterprise engaged in skill development and vocational training.

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