With 2020 finally behind us, the current situation presents to India a moment to reimagine itself as the skills and knowledge destination of the world and occupy its rightful place in the global world order by leveraging the benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The Prime Minister’s passionate drive to build an AatmaNirbhar Bharat hinges on creating an economically self-reliant India – a nation that achieves transformational change with the leapfrog in economic growth that will come from technology, services sector but also from manufacturing and production prowess.
In spite of the bountiful natural resources, fast-improving infrastructure, rapidly changing governance, India’s principal resource continues to be its people. Amongst the various factors required for quality production enhancement, availability of suitably skilled labour is the easiest to disentangle. However, that will call for redefining our approach to skill development and employability and leveraging the existing digital penetration and platforms. Having solved for Identity, financial inclusion using best in the world indigenous digital platforms, solving for future ready skills will help India achieve its ambitions and meet the aspirations of its people.
The job market today presents a great paradox where youth are looking for appropriate jobs and employers looking for skilled resources, are unable to find suitable talent. This anomalous situation demands an urgent recalibration of our skilling strategy and their platforms. To begin with, we must integrate all skill development programmes under one nodal agency to have processes, outcomes and reach under a grand unified vision.
Given the robustness of India’s globally recognised digital governance model, it is abundantly evident that we should develop a digital-first approach. We need to leverage technology and remote learning to achieve the much-needed scale in our effort at a much lower per-unit cost. A significant portion of all vocational education is about gaining knowledge and the rest is application-driven skills. Knowledge can be obtained by observing and self-learning which renders well with remote learning modes. The practical learning can be obtained at common training centres closest to the learner, details of which can be effortlessly accessed through a mobile platform. Building upon the India Stack, a skill development marketplace can decentralise application-oriented skills along with digitized theoretical learning.
The locus of control in our skilling effort should move to the beneficiaries, that is industry and to people in or due to join the workforce. The starting point of this decentralisation will be to take skill development closer to the industry where district or cluster industry centres lead the effort to create demand-led programs. A marketplace for jobs integrated with the skilling platform can be the backbone of this demand-led approach. With cutting edge analytics, demand projections of available jobs can be made accurately. This approach will best satisfy the coincidence of want. Such an interoperable marketplace can be panacea of issues facing the current approach. By dovetailing the skilling effort with initiatives such as one district one product specialisation significant synergies can be achieved.
A skill wallet with the freedom of choice of programmes will leave the decision in the candidates’ control to decide what is most suited for him or her, with some guidance from AI-enabled learning paths. This skill wallet will ensure portability of learning that will come with such a skill development marketplace. The focus should be to map a skilling journey in order to facilitate a career. Candidates should be incentivised for lifelong learning and regular upskilling. In no way less important will be to integrate life skills in the skilling journey.
Undoubtedly skilling and entrepreneurship should be integrated with regular education, and the New Education Policy (NEP) has the right intention. It envisages beginning with vocational exposure in middle and secondary school, and integrating vocational education so that at-least 50 per cent of our children obtain at least one vocational skill. With mainstreaming of skilling credits it will be smoothly transferable.
The new age gig economy requires digital skills combined with service sector expertise. Integrating digital skilling with entrepreneurship training will also enable self-employment, talent utilisation of aspirational India.
With varied population and economic growth rates across the country, domestic migration of labour is another important aspect that demands attention. Labour receiving and labour supplying states should board the skilling and jobs marketplace to work together. With state governments working together they will be able to ensure better protection of rights and benefits of migrant labour.
With 10 to 12 million youth entering the workforce every year, India should not only train and skill them for the domestic economy but for the world. Besides the current health crisis creating great demand for healthcare professionals, in many other trades too India has the advantage of skilling its youth for the global market.
We should integrate international labour supply with India’s economic diplomacy. The Indian IT workers contribution to changing the snake charmer image cannot be understated and hence, we should use international mobility of labour to enhance India’s soft power.
To achieve the Prime Minister’s vision of a strong prosperous India contributing to global good it is important that we channelize our human resources for nation-building. With a large young population, there is much to leverage.
(Arvind Gupta is the Head of Digital India Foundation. He is a digital innovator, Eisenhower Innovation Fellow, and member of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Economy & Society network. He tweets @buzzindelhi. Manavendra Prasad is a public policy consultant. He tweets @manavendrajsp. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine.)