The ILO suggests that globally youth comprise 25 per cent of the working-age population and yet they make up for 40 per cent of total unemployment.
By Mangesh Wange
During a visit to Raigad a few weeks ago, I met a young man named Swapnil who had returned to his hometown after a short stint as an office boy in Mumbai. A Swades skilling course in welding had facilitated his return and helped fetch much more than his role as an office boy would. His friend Prachi was pursuing a course in animal husbandry, thanks to a scholarship that she had secured from the state. Although pursuing different goals, each of them is empowered in their own way.
Rural youth is a dynamic mix of young boys and girls with different aspirations, challenges and potential. These include students who’re early dropouts, class 10-12 pass outs, graduates, post-graduates, entrepreneurially inclined, artistically inclined etc. The effort to empower them thus, has to be made in a way that is mindful of each of their individual capacities and ambitions.
The ILO suggests that globally youth comprise 25 per cent of the working-age population and yet they make up for 40 per cent of total unemployment. In India where more than 50 per cent of the youth live in our villages – isolated from opportunities – the problem is more pronounced. To create a strong, young workforce to reap India’s demographic dividend therefore, would need us to invest in our rural youth.
Here are ways in which we may empower the youth so they may be self-sufficient and contribute to India’s growth story.
1. Curb forced migration:
Like Swapnil, many rural youth continue to migrate to urban areas in large numbers still, due to the lack of opportunities in their villages or access to training and education. Often the jobs that they seek in urban areas are menial jobs that can barely help them sustain in the city. Many leave behind open farmlands and cleaner environments to huddle in cramped shared spaces – hugely compromising their quality of life.
The pandemic was an unfortunate reminder of the massive migration, with 51.6 per cent urban men returning to their villages (Periodic Labour Force Survey, July 21). In order to curb rural-urban migration, we must ensure that opportunities of training and employment are made available in the villages.
2. Skilling and upskilling of youth:
Skilling programs help formally train students in technical expertise and make them job-ready. The government’s Skill India Mission is one such step in the direction. In Raigad, Swades’ partnership with Learnet has successfully trained over 4,000 youth and placed 3,624 in formal employment in jobs related to hospitality, accounting, electrical work, masonry, beautician courses, etc. in Raigad.
3. Equip rural youth with soft skills and self-confidence:
Often the lack of communication and presentation skills hold back talented youth. Schools – especially government schools – must train students to be confident by exposing them to national programs such as the NCC, NSS etc – that help build overall personality. Mentoring sessions with young professionals must be facilitated through schools and other organizations to encourage exposure. Schools must also consciously participate in urban-rural exchange programs that help broaden horizons by exposing them to newer cultures and worlds.
4. Focus on rural female youth population:
The National Sample Survey points out that female employment in the rural sector dropped from 54 per cent in 1987 to 31 per cent in 2017. Unfortunately, gender norms and social restrictions continue to play a huge role in holding back the rural female workforce. Empowerment of young girls in villages therefore is crucial to empowering the youth. To begin with, we must take steps to ensure that young girls don’t drop out of school.
Additionally, to hone entrepreneurial spirit in the rural female workforce, we must focus on making the population financially and digitally literate. Self-help groups are a great way of making the rural female diaspora financially independent. Mentoring and capacity building exercises with national and state programs such as MSRLM’s Umed Abhiyan can help boost home-grown businesses and help expand them into larger, urban markets.
5. Fuel a robust start-up ecosystem:
As a pleasant coincidence in 2022, the number of start-ups in India stood at 75,000 – as if to mark India’s 75th year of Independence. Given the limitation of government jobs and the private sector, start-ups are a boon to the employment sector – having created over 5,60,000 jobs till now (DPIIT). Acknowledging the potential in the machinery, the government has taken steps to aid the space. For instance, the government’s Startup India initiative in 2016 supports new start-ups with tax rebates, patent subsidies and much more. If we want to ensure that India’s start-up ecosystem continues to thrive, we must keep it robust by incentivising start-ups and small businesses to take off the ground.
6. Create a digitally smart workforce:
The penetration of the Internet is blurring the digital divide between the urban and the rural. We must leverage this to empower our rural workforce – especially in agriculture and the handicrafts sector.
Agri-tech is an exciting space with governments and start-ups creating virtual market spaces where the farmer can negotiate a better price for his harvest by selling it directly to retail chains. We must work towards creating a similar space for our artisans too.
In 2021 the Indian handicraft industry earned approximately INR 35,000 crore in foreign exchange – and yet 66 per cent of handloom weavers earn less than Rs 5,000 per month (All India Handloom Census, 2019-2020). Empowering artisans with digital skills and giving them control over the prices of their products can thus hugely empower the sector and keep traditional practices alive.
7. Training in the green economy:
ILO suggests that the world’s green transition is likely to create 100 million jobs by 2030 – carbon accountants, regenerative farmers, battery engineers etc. India’s commitment to SDGs will require us to have a workforce trained to function in the green economy – we must therefore curate our skilling programs in a way that caters to a green market of the future. Young farmers must be trained to adopt regenerative farming practices that help make efficient use of natural resources, engineers must be trained to operate solar machinery etc.
(Authored by Mangesh Wange, CEO, Swades Foundation)
Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels to stay updated with the latest CSR news and exclusive updates.
By donating to India CSR as you feel moved, you become more than a reader—you become a partner, a co-navigator charting the course for a more enlightened future.