Sometime back, the Boston Consulting Group did a study of workforce availability for the world in 2020. It came out with a grim forecast that for most of the world, including China, there would be an acute shortage of working people. India, on the other hand, would have a surplus. For the first time, it is evident that we could indeed convert the numbers to our advantage while we serve the world. But there is a catch here—the people we produce must be good at their work. The world would require professionals, not hackers.
The other day, I was chatting with Sajjud bhai, my favourite mutton-seller in town. Half humouring him, I asked why he was not considering opening a shop near where I live because I drive 10 km to buy his cut. Sajjud Bhai dismissed me saying that it takes six years for one to learn how to cut the mutton right. Sajjud bhai’s point was very valid—creating competence in his field, like in every other, requires commitment, dedication, resources and longer-term nurturing. If you think I am making light of a heavy subject like reservation here, please be notified that Ireland has recently relaxed its immigration norms for special job categories that includes butchers. So, for the first time, the world beckons us in every which field. But first, Sajjud bhai’s rule applies.
Another day, I went to meet the famed cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty at his hospital that boasts of a 95 per cent success rate among all open heart procedures in the world. Only 20 per cent of professionals in a heart hospital are doctors. The secret of his success: a 24x7 nurse attached to every crib with a baby who has been operated upon. It is the post-operative care, Shetty told me, that guarantees the 95 per cent success rate. He told me that India could become the health provider to the world if we wanted to. I told Shetty to speak softly lest the Chinese hear him. He said, fear not. Apparently, they overlooked investing in the required infrastructure in medical training and that has a lag factor for producing nurses. Back home, Shetty’s hospital cannot get enough trained nurses, so he had to start a nursing school.
There is a Pizza Hut next to my office in a middle-class neighbourhood in Bangalore. There, on its glass facade, is a huge poster advertising openings for all categories of workers and promising "good pay and great working conditions". In the past, I had seen such things only in developed countries. In India, we always hoarded our jobs. Is Pizza Hut out of its mind? Would it not get overrun by thousands of job-seekers clamouring for a slice of their action? On the contrary, they are moaning the lack of enough good people because there is apparently a retail boom going on in the country. And also a construction boom—such that it is easier to get a software engineer today than a good plumber, carpenter or electrician.
The reservation issue is a trap. It is set up by our own minds. It is asking us to focus on the wrong set of priorities that could keep us busy for another generation to come and go. While the world is knocking at our doors and our own economy exploding, we are busy fighting the ghost of a ghost. Instead of feeding the opportunity, here we are, making a national obsession with feeding a problem. The need of the hour is to build capacity, not confusion.
(The author co-founded MindTree Consulting where he currently works as the Gardener.)