For a fulfilling future

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For a fulfilling future

Wednesday, 28 October 2020 | Dr Neelam Gupta

For a fulfilling future

It is important to engage the rural youth in productive ways, to make them future-ready and ensure a sustainable livelihood, says Dr Neelam Gupta

While India is aiming to be the 5 trillion dollar economy, it also is sitting on a goldmine of raw talent, waiting to be nurtured, developed, and added to the growing human resource pool in our rural setups. A big economic opportunity for India, lies in creating a competent and trained manpower. According to a study, an Indian worker today needs about 100 days for reskilling to be ready for future jobs by 2022. One particular concern has been the skilling of the rural youth, who constitute nearly 68 per cent of the country’s total population. It is important to engage the rural youth in productive ways, to make them future-ready and ensure a sustainable livelihood. Apart from the technical skills, the rural youth have to be trained in cognitive and interpersonal skills to adapt to a technology-enabled and truculent world.

Especially during Covid-19 pandemic, it has unleashed multiple challenges in different geographies, especially for the vulnerable groups living in rural set ups that already have existing issues of water and food security. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only hit the manufacturing, services and business industries but also pushed back Prime Minster Narendra Modi Government’s ambitious programme to double farmers’ income by 2022. Both big and small scale farmers are in deep distress after the lockdown caused disruptions in the food supply chain, scarcity of labor and the decline in overall demand. India has majority of its population below the age of 25, a number that will look for jobs for the next decade.  And so with half of India’s population expected to be in rural India by 2050, there is a pressing need to make quality skill training more accessible to the rural youth.

Even while having cognizance of the challenge and the opportunity on our platter, the hurdles in skilling rural youth are many. Dearth of quality trainers, inadequacies in training programmes and high dropout rates remain the hurdles to proper skill development. Most training institutes are located in the nearest small towns, inaccessible to most, especially women, due to the lack of public transport facilities. The Government-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) have severely limited capacity and offer outdated courses with limited placement options. Due to the absence of proper skillset, the literate rural youth end up working as unskilled migrant workers in the nearest towns and cities.

Still the Government is fighting pillar to post, to capitalise our rich demographic divident in nation’s development. A significant, and, highly welcoming step in addressing this skill gap is the New Education Policy 2020 which integrates Vocational education into all schools and higher education institutions in a phased manner over the next decade. A bulk of workforce (70 per cent) emanates from rural India, and if by effective implementation of the policy, we can get them interested in vocational training and provide them that training through their formative schooling years; then we would be close to realising our dream of a developing a competent and trained manpower.

Degree Apprenticeship is a new education route, recently introduced by the Government, bringing together the best of higher and vocational training. This new option enables university study and the invaluable on-the-job training typical of an apprenticeship. While pursuing a degree course the candidate can undergo apprenticeship training as an integrated component of the curriculum.

Another blessing in disguise has been the sudden shoving of education, trainings into e-learning methods, which has the potential to revolutionise the vocational training landscape in rural India. This deep penetration of digitisation shall enable the remotest locations also to come to one single platform and learn. Especially for girls, in rural backgrounds, who otherwise are unable to go out and learn due to family and societal pressures.

There is huge opportunity in rural areas for the growth of numerous off-farm sector activities and in particular the healthcare sector. The pandemic has focused the spotlight on our poorly equipped public healthcare system and the shortage of frontline workers i.e. nursing cadres, lab technicians, paramedics and ASHA workers. In the coming years there is expected to be spurt in demand for these professions; and the skill training institutes should respond to this situation by offering a greater number of healthcare courses.

Another priority area for training are the skills relevant to the rural economy; newer opportunities are emerging in information technology (IT)-linked agri-extension services, food processing, agri-based e-commerce, solar technicians, amongst many others. A key part of such a push would be to create awareness and aspirations for these vocations, and their potential to offer a fulfilling career. The pandemic has forced most of us into remote working and telecommuting. This is likely to become a larger phenomenon in the future, opening up new employment vistas for rural youth, women in particular. Another initiative aimed at creating local employment has been through the BPOs being set up in rural or semi-rural areas. Today, it is entirely possible for the daughter of a rural landless worker to work as a programmer or content developer out of her home. So the COVID-19 situation could also become as the catalyst for the emergence of a new paradigm of skill training and work opportunities in our rural areas.

Skill development and new models of learning will be central to the recovery of our precious workforce post-COVID-19. One of the major challenges affecting the efficiency of this skill development programme is the lack of awareness around the opportunities, and numerous government skilling initiatives. Different stakeholders like the NGOs, the Government, the corporate sector, social businesses should work in cohesion in a collaborative ecosystem to address the need of competency-based skill-oriented training and placement, capacity building, promoting entrepreneurial activities, and up-skilling for agricultural and allied practices. These higher authorities can also counsel to determine their interest and enable different types of in-demand skills and achieving real-world outcomes. Empowering rural human capital through Skill Development is an essential for developing the country’s economy. The CSR teams of reputed companies can also help in creating an impact to empower the rural youth in local communities, engaging with the ITI and polytechnic institutions in the villages with the support of expert NGOs.

The writer is CEO & Founder – Aroh Foundation

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