Shifting dynamics of ‘skills' in India

| | in Oped

The recently released India Skill report righlty captures the gaps and highlights the need to face the challenge of imparting expertise to our students

At present, India is one of the youngest countries in the world with more than 62 per cent of its population falling into the working age group of 15 to 59 years and more than 54 per cent of its population below the age of 25. This young population represents the ‘demographic dividend' which is the biggest opportunity for India at present. If the young population can become skilled and employable, we can meet the demand for skilled manpower in India (predicted to be 700 million by 2022) as well as global. However, disruptive new technologies, like artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics and machine learning will lead to distortions in the business models that will force every firm to be a ‘tech' company in the future. According to a research by McKinsey Global Institute, 52 per cent of the activities in India can be automated by using currently demonstrated technologies in the future. This implies that the skilling ecosystem should undergo a paradigm shift to cater to the ‘skills of future' as well as to ensure that enough jobs are created for that chunk of young population who is below in the skills ladder.

Only then can India ensure that it reaps the ‘demographic dividend' instead of facing a ‘demographic challenge'. The just released India Skills Report (ISR) 2018, a fifth in the series, was compiled with the objective to bring out the ‘skills gap' by analysing the demand/requirements of industries for manpower on the one hand and the quality of supply of manpower on the other. The ISR appreciates the Government's efforts for skill development and aims to make India the future ‘skill capital'. According to ISR 2018, around 20 to 26 million people got some form of employment during the period of 2014 to 2017 due to factors like increased Government spending, increased hiring, entrepreneurship generation and the rise of independent work.

The report is based on two prominent surveys conducted all over the country. One is the Wheebox Employability Skill Test (WEST) designed to assess employability of students, which has collected data through an online survey administered to 5,10,000 students across 5,200 institutions in 29 States and seven universities. The findings of WEST indicate that there has been an increase of 5.16 per cent in the employability score from last year to 45.6 per cent. In contrast to this, the first WEST survey in 2014, which collected data from 1,00,000 students, found only 33.95 per cent employable. As far as domain wise employability is concerned, the report finds engineers to be the most employable. This highlights the fact that efforts of AICTE to improve the quality of engineering colleges have made some impact. The employability of BPharma student has been rising over the years while there is a drop of three per cent in the employability of MBAs. ITI and Polytechnic students still do not meet the standards of the industry as far as employability is concerned, meaning efforts being made by the National Council on Vocational Training are yet to show the result.

Though the report reveals that the students from IT and CSc courses are doing best, it also acknowledges an impact on jobs in these sectors due to automation. Hence, there is a dire need for a complete syllabus overhaul of these courses to be in tune with industry demand. The ISR 2018, like the previous reports, ranks the State/UTs on the basis of employability score and Delhi tops the list. There is an improvement in almost all States in employability as compared to the last year.

In 2014, the first India Skills Report had found that out of the total number of female test takers, 42 per cent were found employable while only 30 per cent of male test takers were employable. This availability of talented female workforce was an opportunity for the industry to bridge the gender divide. However, the present report indicates a decline in female employability from 41 to 40 per cent from last year as compared to a rise in male employability from 40 to 47 per cent, thus indicating a widening gap. Consequently, there is an urgent need for the industry and society to take measures to improve participation of women in the workforce. The good news is that the industry seems to be on the correct path. As per the survey findings, most organisations are sentient of gender diversity and are targeting to improve the gender diversity ratio from 77:23 (male to female) to 65:35 (male to female).

The second survey, which forms the other part of ISR 2018, is the India Hiring Intent Survey carried out by PeopleStrong. This was designed to assess the hiring requirements by corporates in near future. The survey invited responses by more than 1,000 organisations across 15 different sectors on hiring trends in future on education domain, numbers to be hired, apprenticeship awareness among organisations and future skill requirements. Nearly 50 per cent of the employers surveyed expected an increase in hiring in 2018 as compared to the last year. Major sectors that would up their hiring's include banking and financial services, BPO, insurance, travel, hospitality and IT. The key skill sets that are likely to be popular among employers are data analytics, research and development, artificial intelligence, robotics, concept design etc. Almost 69 per cent of employers also expressed a concern on automation likely to impact the number of jobs in future.

The highlight of ISR 2018 is that for first time there has been an emphasis on the importance of acquiring ‘soft skills/ transferable skills' by students in order to increase employability. Skills, such as positive attitude and adaptability, have been listed as most sought-after attributes by the employers. The report gives deep insights on the ‘skill gap' in India and how stakeholders must gear up to face the challenge of imparting ‘skills of future' to our students to make them employable.

(Meenal Sharma is Associate Professor and programme co-ordinator, Amity School of Economics; Abhishek is a post-graduate student, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, School of SocialSciences, JNU)


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