How India is preparing a strong workforce for the future with the right skills

On International Youth Day, let’s take a look at the aspirations of India’s youth, especially young girls, and how equipping them with relevant skills can help in the overall development of the country

12th Aug 2019
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United Nations Development Programme

United Nations Development Programme

“Why should we girls be dependent on our husbands? We are also capable of being independent. Girls should tell their parents that like boys, even they have the ability to do anything. But if they don’t even try to step out of their homes, how will they know what they are capable of?”

This question from Sahana sums up the narrative around young girls in India today, especially their empowerment through education, opportunities and know how to become independent.

Growing up, Sahana always wondered why women like her mother who worked so hard at home to take care of the family never got any credit for it. Termed as unpaid care work, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), on an average, Indian women spend 297 minutes in a day on unpaid care work, while men spent only 31 minutes.

“But men like my father who go out to work get all the credit. Why is that? My mother works so hard and her work should also be acknowledged,” she says.

Determined to change the status quo, at least in her own home, Sahana wanted to pursue further education, despite her family members opposing her decision to join college. But she managed to convince her mother and enrolled herself.

Armed with this resolve, she also enrolled to train as an electronics mechanic under Project Disha. Apart from the technical training, the programme also focused on soft skills and improving the overall employability of candidates, which made Sahana more confident to take on challenges like job interviews. “Earlier, I used to be gripped by fear at the thought of appearing for a job interview. I felt inadequate and didn’t know where to start and what to say in front of the interviewer. But all that changed after my training. That’s when I realised that I didn’t have to be nervous, needed to maintain eye contact and answer all questions with confidence.”

The metamorphosis of Sahana from a shy and nervous teenager into a confident young woman, all set to achieve her dream of financial independence, is thanks to the training she received under Project Disha.

A partnership between UNDP and the India Development Foundation, and supported by IKEA Foundation, Project Disha aims to create employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for one million underprivileged women in India through training in marketable skills and helping them become economically self-sufficient. Till date the project has enabled over 9 lakh girls and women in India.

Empowering youth with the right skills

With 600 million young people, India is the youngest nation in the world, with at least half of the country’s 1.2 billion population comprised of people under the age of 26. According to the India Skills Report 2018, over 12 million youth between 15 and 29 years will enter India’s labour force every year over the next two decades.

Put together, all these factors highlight the need to focus on the development of the country’s youth so that India can make the best use of her demographic dividend.

Clement Chauvet, Chief, Skills and Business Development, UNDP India, explained this in detail in a recent Facebook Live on the occasion of World Youth Skills Day. “India is in this position right now where It has over 600 million young people and will benefit if its youth are trained with the right skills. When the youth, especially young women, acquire the right skills, they become more employable and are in a position to take up right jobs or to even start their own ventures. This kind of empowerment will play a significant role in scripting a positive development narrative for India.”

He further explained, “UNDP is helping young people get placed through Youth Employment Service (YES) Centres where they are connected with training providers, are prepared for interviews, and put in touch with potential employers. There are many young people who are being placed in jobs through these YES Centres which are present in Haryana, Maharashtra and Karnataka,” says Clement.

Watch how Diksha benefited from a YES Centre 

In 1999, the UN designated August 12 as International Youth Day. This year, the theme for celebrations across the globe borrows from Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. To mark the occasion, on August 9 a Facebook Live session was held to discuss the Aspirations of Youth.

This session was part of the Let’s Talk Skills campaign, jointly launched by Skill India and UNDP, to create awareness about various skilling initiatives in India. The initiative specially focuses on the aspirations of young girls.

The panel included Sunita Sanghi, Senior Economic Advisor, Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE), Vandana Verma, Program Manager, Ikea Foundation, Clement Chauvet, Chief, Skills and Business Development, UNDP India, and Vandana Bhatnagar, Chief Program Officer, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).

During the Facebook Live, Ms Sanghi shed light upon why it was so important to focus on the development of the youth. “The youth population is very dynamic in nature and in the long run they are the ones who will guide the country’s economic development. We need to empower them to explore opportunities that are available. Globally, there are a number of ageing economies facing a shortage of manpower, and India has ample opportunity to fill that gap,” she said.

There has been a concerted effort by the Government to empower India’s youth through a variety of skill development initiatives, in association with a number of organisations. One such organisation that’s actively contributing to the country’s skill development ecosystem is the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), a Public-Private-Partnership under the aegis of the MSDE. Since its inception in 2010, NSDC has trained more than 15 million people across 40 sectors and sub-sectors.

Mapping India’s development through skill development of its youth

Commenting on how skilling India’s youth, especially young women, plays a key role in the overall growth of the country, Ms Bhatnagar, Chief Program Officer, NSDC said, “There is a direct connection between the country's development and skilling, and there are studies which demonstrate this. It’s a vicious cycle when youth are not vocationally engaged and provided requisite training to become employable, because they are unable to realise their full potential and generate suitable income for their aspirations. When requisite skilling is provided, it becomes a virtuous cycle of development. Especially when it comes to women, this cycle becomes even greater since when women earn, they invest more in their families and kids.”

The Skill India mission, the world’s largest human capital development programme, was launched on July 15, 2015, to tap into the hidden talent and potential of India’s youth and women through broad-based skill development programmes.

The premise of the mission is to make youth employable. Currently, there are 40 schemes for different target groups, such as tribal youth, rural youth, women etc. The flagship scheme under the mission, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) is implemented through centres known as Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras (PMKKs) that are present in every parliamentary constituency and are completely subsidised by the government.

Currently 620 PMKKs are operational, with 180 more in the pipeline. These PMKKs provide training options in manufacturing as well as service sector trades, in addition to counselling and placement services, and even linkage to loans. they have become a hub in the district to roll out skilling efforts.

In addition, there are Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and polytechnics which offer long-term training courses.

The NSDC is also working on a number of aspirational programmes. One of these is the Vidya Kaushal platform. Sharing details about the programme, Ms Bhatnagar said, “Often youth want to pursue courses to enter the hospitality or aviation sectors, but the cost of these courses may be out of their reach financially. Through the Vidya Kaushal platform, we give these youth the opportunity to get micro-loans for such skilling programmes. The training centres themselves act as intermediaries for processing these micro-loans.”

Digital learning is another area of emphasis for NSDC and it has launched the E-skill India portal, where various entities can showcase both, the free and paid skilling programmes they offer.

Taking into account aspirations of the future workforce

By the year 2027, India is likely to have the world’s largest workforce. For skilling programmes to successfully prepare youngsters to enter this future workforce, the aspirations and abilities of this generation have to be taken into account. The focus needs to be on whether the youth have access to skills relevant to the current scenario, to ensure that right people with the right skill sets can perform to the best of their ability.

Clement said, “The future of work is something that we don’t clearly understand today. We don’t know what skills will be needed in the future. So it’s important to give young people the opportunity to acquire a set of skills that are transferable. These are skills that can apply to any job anywhere -- communication, digital skills, cognitive or non-cognitive skills, leadership skills and critical thinking.”

The NSDC is also partnering with schools to introduce vocational education in the school to ensure that there is the right kind of focus within the curriculum. So far, 9,000 CBSE board schools are offering vocational training, with over 7.5 lakh students benefitting from this.

While career counselling and guidance, in school and beyond, play a significant role for young people to discover their aptitude from a range of opportunities and choose accordingly, apprenticeship opportunities also enable job seekers to find a firm footing when starting off work. In fact, most organisations prefer to hire youngsters who have undergone an internship or apprenticeship, as they are perceived to have better skills due to the hands-on experience on the job. Almost 95 percent of students surveyed for the India Skills Report 2018, both male and female, agree that apprenticeship increases their chance of getting a job.

This is one of the reasons why apprenticeship and hands-on exposure to industry are a part of the short-term training course under the PMKVY. In addition to this, there are embedded apprenticeship programmes at the undergraduate level that are being rolled out in specific sectors like logistics.

Thanks to the rapid influx of technology across all sectors, the skills also need to be in sync with the latest and future requirements, which is why the NSDC is working with industries to develop training facilities based on localised industry requirements. 

Changing mindsets is necessary to change the narrative

The government’s skill development initiatives also give equal importance to soft skills, entrepreneurship, and financial and digital literacy. Women are also being encouraged to avail training in what have so far been conventionally male-dominated job roles such as mechanics, automation, welding and security guard, among others

If India has to bring to life its dream of becoming the future skill capital of the world, closing the gender gap, focussing on quality education, creating better employment opportunities and imparting relevant skills should continue to be the key focus areas.

Summing up the need to bring about a change in perception and thinking, in order to truly empower young girls, Ms Sanghi said, “Skills are gender neutral. You cannot make a distinction that a particular set of skills is for girls or for boys. We need to create an environment where girls and their parents need to be sensitised on why a woman can also be a plumber or a forklift operator. In Indian society, there is a notion that women are only meant for beauty, wellness or cookery, but that’s not true. When talking about changing this perception, the way society thinks about women needs to be changed.”

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