How CSR could bridge the learning gap and contribute to skill development
India has the potential to be the skill capital world over given the availability of a large pool of young talent, but this talent needs to be transformed into income-generating avenues.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was pushed to the forefront through legislation in India nearly eight years ago. Since then, the Indian business landscape has seen a shift towards becoming more responsible – with CSR as a leading indicator for how stakeholders expect organisations to operate. Today, an organisation with strong CSR activities enjoys a favourable reputation in the market, which eventually reflects its values on the bottomline.
India is seeing a demographic revolution with a growing and sizeable youth population. The second-most populated country in the world, with more than a billion people, is the most populous one when it comes to youth. However, India struggles with a high rate of unemployment. There is an urgent need to enhance the skill level of the youth and harness this demographic trend into a demographic dividend. We are at a juncture with opportunities and prospects for the government and corporates to collaborate in developing and supporting the next generations. Closing gaps in the educational journey of underprivileged students and moulding an upskilled workforce will go a long way towards contributing to the upliftment of the Indian economy.
Skill development is a vital means of encouraging and empowering the youth of today, ensuring them a secure future. With over 12 million people joining the Indian workforce annually, the employment rate hit a record low of 36.40% in the second quarter of 2020 and is struggling to pick up. Unsurprisingly, the urban poor have found it the most challenging to bounce back from pandemic-related tribulations.
The first step towards skilling is education. While a significant portion of the Indian population lacks vocational training, education provides a basic understanding required to acquire job-related skills for those who do. In an ideal context, this academic knowledge transforms into employability-based skills. In the Indian scenario, the education system is not adequately tailored to the requirements of the job market, which leads to consequences like the inability of young people to find jobs and the failure of employers to hire the skills they require. Therefore, whether they’re educated or not, only a modest percentage of students are skilled with respect to work. This is where skill development can come into play to bridge the gap.
Skill development for socio-economic development
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched by the United Nations in 2016 with a mission to carry forward the global development agenda till 2030 and beyond, emphasise the actions of and involvement of younger generations. Putting this in the context of India, more than 62% of the population is of working age, with more than 54% of the population below 25 years of age. This can be seen as a challenge, an opportunity or a demographic dividend. To convert this challenge into an opportunity, the workforce should receive employable knowledge and skills, as a skilled workforce is essential for the overall socio-economic development of the country.
With oft-outdated infrastructure, a lack of teaching-learning materials and sufficient teachers, government schools and other schools targeted at children from lower-income backgrounds struggle to prepare graduates for a post-schooling world. This is where corporates, through CSR, can collaborate with the government to provide students with an environment conducive to learning through the infusion of educational interventions, scholarships, mentorship, vocational assistance, social and emotional learning support, and more. These interventions will go a long way towards creating a stronger foundation for students to succeed in the world of employment.
Initiatives taken by the Government of India
The Government of India has taken several initiatives to promote skilling in India, like Skill India or the National Skills Development Mission of India, a campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July of 2015 to train over 30 crore people in India in different skills by 2022. The flagship Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme was also launched in 2015 to provide short-term training and skills development through ITIs and under the apprenticeship scheme --the government has trained over 10 million youth through this. The SANKALP programme, which focuses on district-level skilling ecosystems, and the STRIVE project, which aims to improve the performance of ITIs, are other significant skilling interventions. The establishment of training institutes and initiatives from several ministries has helped in the considerable growth of bridging the skill gap, but there remains a long way to go.
Providing skills for a sustainable livelihood
In addition to the efforts of the government, corporates can augment these programmes through expanding their scale and quality. Companies can help to empower students in government schools by providing safe learning environments and educational programs. While there are many jobs that don’t require high school or higher education, CSR can assist in adding to the pool of talent for jobs that require specialised training. Corporates can leverage technology and academics to create learning platforms that would benefit not just industries but the organisation as a whole, as they would have a deeper and skilled manpower base to draw from.
While CSR has moved past being solely a cheque-book charity, it is vital that corporates look towards transformation, sustainability and innovation. While these efforts can be undertaken at a smaller level, there is also the opportunity to partner with government bodies. There is a growing demand for skill training institutes, which organisations can contribute towards. Not only can companies assist through funding, they also have the expertise and resources to emphasise deployable skill sets. This could go a long way towards reducing unemployment levels and creating strong institutions that would mainstream skill development towards greater economic and social equality.
The enhanced role of skilling as a CSR activity for nation-building has been well recognized. Considering the gap between actual and desired skill set levels, it is important for corporates in India to capitalise on skilling. India has the potential to be the skill capital world over, given the availability of a large pool of young talent, but this talent needs to be transformed into income-generating avenues. Continued efforts in the area of CSR skilling would yield long term results that would eventually prove to be a game changer for society and the country.