Business Today

Dividend or drag?

Several studies reflect this skills gap. An IT industry study found that only one out of four engineering graduates is employable. This is scary and needs to be addressed on a war footing.

     Print Edition: June 29, 2008

A recent Accenture survey of the class Of 2008 in India offers a peek into the minds of the future Indian workforce. An overwhelmingly large percentage of these grads, 84 per cent to be precise, aspires to reach the “corner room”, against the world average of only 46 per cent. This reflects the high aspirations and energy levels of Indian youth, but also throws up a few questions. Is India ready to be the world’s, or even its own, talent pipeline? The world at large is ageing fast, and India, which has a massive young population, can potentially use its growing youth power to its advantage.

Indian youth: High on aspiration and energy levels
High on aspiration and energy levels
However, there’s a high probability that this distinct advantage will be squandered. How much talent can a handful of IITs, IIMs and a few other premier institutes churn out? HR heads across India are concerned about the “employability” of the workforce. Shorn of jargon, this means that though the potential workforce is massive, “employable” skills are in short supply.

Several studies reflect this skills gap. An IT industry study found that only one out of four engineering graduates is employable. This is scary and needs to be addressed on a war footing. Even as leading recruiters expand their search for talent to Tier II and Tier III cities, more often than not, these prove to be exercises in futility. Industry watchers say companies have to devise their own training mechanisms to groom talent. India Inc. is spending huge amounts on its own training requirements simply because this talent-building is crucial for its growth.

The bitter truth is that this serious shortage of employable talent is a legacy of the lopsided education edifice that successive governments have erected. Quality education is limited to a handful of IITs, IIMs and the like. The pipeline that feeds these institutions—the schools and colleges across the country are, with a few exceptions in some of the larger cities, mostly stuck with outdated syllabi, inadequate facilities and disinterested and underqualified faculties. That is where the process of reforming India’s education infrastructure must begin.

Here, allowing privately-funded, “for profit” educational institutions will be a good starting point. Without this, and other wholesale changes, India’s headstart as a source of talent for the global workforce— evocatively labelled a “demographic dividend” by some analysts—could well turn into a demographic drag. The window of opportunity is still open. The government must allow some fresh air in before it closes over the next two-to-three decades.

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