India’s jobs and skills conundrum – The Hindu BusinessLine

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Worrying signs There is an alarming gap between jobs and skills   –  Bijoy Ghosh

Specialised roles are running hot but basic skills jobs are hard to find. Promoting self employment may be a good option

So how badly has the Covid-19 pandemic, now in its second year of destructive disruption, impacted the jobs landscape?

Take the Hrithik Roshan-backed fitness chain Cult.Fit. With gyms still not allowed to reopen in many metros, Cult.Fit had a business-ending crisis on its hands. It pivoted overnight into digital streaming delivery of classes and has, over time, managed to build up a subscription-driven model for online fitness training delivery. In the process, it had to hire digital and information technology specialists, videographers, producers and editors, social media managers and what have you. A far cry from finding a suitable space, assembling some trainers and putting together some gym equipment, which is what the business largely required pre-Covid.

The ‘hot’ jobs

According to a survey by staffing solutions provider Teamlease, the second Covid year has seen an explosion of new jobs and skill requirements in the market. Its 2021 edition of “Jobs and salaries primer” found that five out of the 17 sectors it tracks created new “hot” jobs — where demand far outstrips supply, while seven sectors created new “Upcoming” jobs this year.

Amongst Teamlease’s “Hottest Hot jobs” are Artificial Intelligence Specialist — (BPO and IT Enabled Services), Augmented Reality Expert — (e-commerce and Tech Start-ups), Genomic Portfolio Director — (Healthcare and Allied Industries), Master Edge Computing — (Information Technology and Knowledge Services) and Digital Imaging Leader — (Retail).

“High expertise-based job profiles have steadily grown in criticality, over the last 12 months, and are seen by employers to be indispensable,” the report states. Such skilled and mission-critical jobs are also the best paying. Such jobs attract around 11 per cent average salary increments or more, as compared with market averages running as low as 1.73 per cent (minimum) across sectors and cities.

But what happens if you don’t have the kind of skills that the market is looking for? What if you are not lucky or foresighted enough to have entered the “hottest hot jobs” sector?

Well, then you wait.

According to the CMIE employment portal, the overall unemployment rate in India as of July 20 stood at 7.2 per cent, with unemployment at 8.3 per cent in urban areas and 6.8 per cent in rural. The situation hasn’t changed much either. The 30-day moving average for urban unemployment, for instance, was 8.28 per cent as of July 20.

According to the National Career Services Portal — a Digital India initiative to make a fresh start, discarding the hopelessly moribund and outdated State employment exchanges — shows that there were just under one crore active job seekers — but only 1.3 lakh active jobs on offer.

In some States, this 1:100 gap between jobs and seekers grows to vast proportions. Bihar, which produces over 13 lakh high school graduates and over 1.83 lakh college graduates every year, has listed just 1,587 vacancies on offer in the State! Given this gap, most students — around two out of three — don’t even bother looking for a job, with the State logging the lowest labour force participation rate in the 15-29 age group in India. No wonder the official unemployment rate is just 10.3 per cent.

The growing gap

This means that the gap between the employably-educated and skilled and those who are, on paper at least, merely educated, is widening. According to the Teamlease survey, for instance, the top job profiles which employers were looking for included Analyst — Liquidity Risk Controller (in the Banking, Financial Services and Insurance sectors), Finance/Budgeting Manager (in BPO and IT Enabled Services), IT Applications Executive (in Educational Services) and IT Service Manager (in Healthcare and Allied Industries).

The profiles with fast growth in careers and salaries included Network Engineer (in Information Technology and Knowledge Services, with a salary growth of 10.89 per cent over last year) or an Asset Sales Executive in Banking, Financial Services and Insurance, with an average pay hike of 8.20 per cent over the previous year.

The picture for those without such skills — even those having what are conventionally recognised as “vocational” skills, on the other hand, is quite different. And much bleaker.

According to the Teamlease report, popular blue collar jobs included Field Supervisor. The employers wanted someone who was physically fit; had good organisational and planning skills, for which they were willing to pay around ₹22,000 per month.

Similarly, a technician-electrical (attention to detail, ability to analyse technical drawings as core skills) was paid ₹19,000 per month. A trainee mechanic — one who has already received the necessary certification from a polytechnic or technical training or skilling institute, was being offered ₹15,000 per month.

These wages are hardly likely to attract a stampede of jobseekers, since in most cases, they are below the basic minimum wage declared. On paper, the minimum wage for a skilled job — like a mechanic — in Delhi, for instance, is ₹18,797 per month. For non-matriculates, it is around ₹1,000 per month less, whereas a non-high school pass is unlikely to find a job, leave alone one at the statutory minimum wage. This in a nutshell is India’s jobs-skills conundrum, There are millions of job seekers on the one hand who do not have employable skills. Industry is creating hot new jobs with advanced skill requirements which our educational, skilling and training institutions are not capable of providing. According to a McKinsey Global survey, 42 per cent of employers are already experiencing skill gaps.

In the IT sector alone, the number of digitally skilled workers will have to rise nine-fold by 2025 and the average worker in India will need to develop seven new digital skills by 2025 to keep pace with technology advancements and demand, according to a report by Amazon Web Services.

This calls for a massive rethink of our approach to both education and skill development. Apart from a scale transformation in the skilling — and equally importantly, upskilling — space, we also have to rethink our approach to skilling and employability at the bottom of the pyramid. Otherwise, we will witness the paradox of millions of jobseekers fruitlessly looking for work, even as India’s best employers become net importers of high-end skills.

With employment reducing in organised manufacturing, even as skill requirements are growing, the focus on skill development will have to shift from skilling youth for jobs to skilling them for self employment. Now would be a good time to revive some of the self-employment schemes of the Indira Gandhi era. This will have to be accompanied by holistic assistance in acquiring appropriate tools and seed finance to start small own businesses.

The higher education space will have to pivot to address the requirement for new age skills in areas like artificial intelligence, cloud and quantum computing, machine learning and the like and away from standard engineering courses which are half a century out of date.

In the humanities space, the focus will have to shift on the ability to learn rather than rote learning itself, since most employers need people who are flexible, can adapt to change quickly and also continuously reskill themselves. The pandemic has helped by providing a ‘zero’ year. Now is the time to start.

The writer is a senior journalist

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