Business Today

Mismatches vitiate employability challenge: Manish Sabharwal

National Skill Development Council member Manish Sabharwal says the obvious employability challenge is the so-called demographic dividend.

Manish Sabharwal | Print Edition: April 3, 2011

Only a small section of our educated youth is readily employable. About 58 per cent are impaired by some sort of skill deprivation - last mile, interventional or structural. The gaps are most in the areas of spoken English and soft skills, functional skills and industry skills.

Manish Sabharwal
Unfortunately, demand and supply as far as employable youth are concerned have become parallel universes. Curriculum and pedagogy at teaching institutions are increasingly being set by people who do not understand what companies want. Also, curricula get outdated. For example, we still teach a mechanic about carburettors even though no car in India has them any more.

Scale of employability challenge: I would say we are in an education emergency. The obvious challenge is the so-called demographic dividend. But that only focuses on the flow - the one million young people who will join the labour force every month for the next 20 years. The more subtle challenge is the labour stock - there may be another 300 million people who are stuck in low-productive jobs. The employability challenge is complicated and compounded because of three mismatches. There is geographic mismatch (over the next 20 years jobs will be in a different state from where the labour force hails from), sector mismatch (people currently employed in sectors that will not see the high job and salary growth) and skill mismatch (people have skillsets different from what investors are looking for). The only sustainable way to reduce poverty is by tackling the 3Es - education, employability and employment.

Employability buckets: Obviously, the highest leverage is in education reform because you cannot teach someone in six months what they should have learnt over a period of 15 years. But the three solutions are much more closely linked than we think. Most people who need re-skilling do not have the money to pay for it. The government will have to innovate in skill financing.

Increasing private privatisation in this task is also difficult unless we increase the share of organised employment. This needs labour reforms. Making college education more relevant or creating the concept of community colleges requires a radical revamp.

So, fixing the problem needs a shift that physics made from classical physics (discrete systems) to quantum physics (everything is interrelated). So, the 3Es needs to be reformed, pursued and expanded simultaneously.

Solution to skill development problem: The entire ecosystem - assessment, counselling, curriculum, teacher training, apprenticeships and placements - should be job oriented. State policies need to figure out how to make public money available for private delivery - evolve some kind of skill voucher. There is also need to link financing to outcomes rather than inputs. Finally, regulations around school and higher education need to be made flexible for new models of delivery and creation of vertical mobility between certificates, diplomas, associate degrees and degrees. This vertical mobility is the key to multiple exits and entry ramps in the vocational system, as well as remove the impression that vocational training is dead end. Finally, we need to address the issue of labour reforms because 93 per cent employment in the unorganised sector sabotages sustainable and scalable skill development.

The author is a member of the National Skill Development Council

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