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Posted at: Jun 9, 2019, 7:22 AM; last updated: Jun 9, 2019, 7:22 AM (IST)

Needed: Many more jobs

Many skill centres are merely shells and have little to offer those who enrol themselves for vocational training

Sushma Ramachandran

Rising job losses have been hitting the headlines since the beginning of the year. Even during the election campaign, it was speculated that the unemployment issue might lead to the crash landing of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the event it did not, but the new government is taking no chances and making it clear that this is one of its topmost priorities. Right at the outset, it has set up a ministerial panel to tackle the issue of job losses and skill development. The creation of the panel comes on the heels of the release of a new report that shows joblessness has reached new heights. There remains fuzziness over whether 6.1 per cent unemployment in 2017-18 is the highest in four decades or not, owing to the change in criteria in collecting the data. But there is no doubt that this is high by any standards and the government has done well to swiftly indicate that it will try to alter this dismal scenario as soon as possible.

A disturbing element of the new data is the fact that unemployment is rising, along with education levels. As against 2.1 per cent unemployment among uneducated men, there is 9.2 per cent joblessness for those with a secondary education. Evidently, those with little education are prepared to take any job but those who have completed at least 11 years of formal schooling will seek better opportunities. The problem here is the issue of skilling, the very subject on which the ministerial panel has been set up. It has been stated time and again that the Indian educational system does not prepare young people for the job market. A drive towards vocational education was undoubtedly launched in the last NDA regime and for the first time a skill development ministry had even been created. But there is little to show for its efforts on the ground. Some media reports have shown that many skilling centres are just shells and have little to offer those who enrol there. Scams have also been exposed by the media in which private skilling centres provide fake names of students to the ministry to get funds. According to data provided by the ministry to Parliament, as many as 41.3 lakh persons were skilled under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana but only 6.15 lakh were able to get jobs. Apparently, news reports say a tiny number also sought loans to become entrepreneurs.

A National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), which was set up in 2008, has been the implementing agency for the skilling programmes. But if the government is really seeking to make a difference, it will have to undertake a complete overhaul not just of the programmes but also this institution. The need is for long-term courses that can make young people employable, not short-term courses that are not valued by potential employers. There is also a need to cleanse the scheme of corruption and ensure that it does not end up being just a money-making racket.

The other area of concern is the growing level of joblessness among educated women, which is as high as 20 per cent though the overall level of unemployment at 5.7 per cent is lower than the 7.8 per cent recorded for men. Equally disturbing is the fact that urban educated youth between the ages of 15 and 29 have been hit hard with an unemployment rate of 23.7 per cent in the last quarter of 2017-18.

To tackle the rise of unemployment, there is a crying need for higher investment in the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors. It is here that the largest numbers of manpower can be absorbed. Hence in a sense, both the ministerial panels that have been set up, one on investment and the other on jobs and skill development, go hand in hand. The slowdown in investments in the economy has been one of the major factors for the rise in joblessness. The success of one will mean the success of the other.

Ultimately, however, a holistic approach has to be taken to the issue of unemployment. A stimulus to investments is imperative, especially in areas like infrastructure where employment opportunities are available much more quickly. Manufacturing facilities will take longer to create but at the same time also create more long-term jobs for the adequately skilled. And providing relevant education rather than bookish knowledge needs to be placed on the agenda for the mandarins dealing with education both at the secondary and higher level. In any case, reducing unemployment is a gigantic task. But there has to be dedication in this campaign and it has to be undertaken on a mission basis to meet the growing needs of the youth in this country.

— The writer is a senior financial journalist


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