COVID-19 is continuing to be casting a long shadow over the future of young people all around the world and so, this year, World Youth Skills Day 2021 will be taking place in a much challenging context. It is estimated that nearly 70% of the world’s learners are affected by school closures across education levels currently. In India, young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and continuously exposed to the lower quality of jobs, greater labour market inequalities, tedious and more insecure school-to-work transitions.
In addition, women are more likely to be under-employed and under-paid, and undertake part-time jobs or work under temporary contracts. Apart from COVID, being the catalyst in creating this situation, under educated and under skilled youth also remain the main reason for this situation in India.
Underlining its importance, Skills and Jobs for youth feature prominently in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and SDG target 4.4 calls for a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills. As, for a developing nation like India, aiming to be trillion-dollar economy, it cannot hit its aim, without not utilizing its gold mine of raw talent sitting dormant in its youth.
The COVID-19 first and even deadlier second wave, especially in India, has not only hit manufacturing, services and business but also pushed back Prime Minster Narendra Modi government’s ambitious programme to double farmers’ income by 2022. Both small and big farmers are in deep distress after the lockdown caused disruptions in the food supply chain, scarcity of labor and resulted in a decline in demand.
India has majority of its population below the age of 25, a number that will look for jobs for the next decade. And so with half of India’s population expected to be in rural India by 2050, there is a pressing need to make quality skill training more accessible to the rural youth.
India’s economy has grown impressively, expanding 1.6% year-on-year in Q1 2021, accelerating from an upwardly revised 0.5% growth in Q4 and beating market forecasts of 1%. That shall be a positive sign indicating the resource hub in its demographic potential, high investment and savings rates, and allocation of resources for infrastructure.
But its high pace of economic growth and notable progress in reducing poverty over the last decade contrasts with the persistent gaps in creating a more inclusive, productive and formal labour market. Investment in skills development will ensure that economic and employment growth is more inclusive. This is especially important in the context of India’s demographic transition that has also produced a youth bulge in the working age population.
This year, World Youth Skills Day 2021, very aptly, pays tribute to the resilience and creativity of youth through the crisis and correspondingly to the technical and vocational providers that have adapted their learning delivery models in the pandemic.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation are transforming the world of work during these testing times. E skilling, learning and education has become our war cry in the pandemic.
Another blessing in disguise has been sudden shoving of education, trainings into e-learning methods, which has the potential to revolutionize the vocational training landscape in rural India. This deep penetration of digitization shall enable the remotest locations also to come to one single platform and learn. Especially for girls, in rural backgrounds, who otherwise are denied opportunities to come out and learn.
There is huge opportunity in rural areas for the growth of numerous off-farm sector activities and in particular the healthcare sector. The pandemic has focused the spotlight on our poorly equipped public healthcare system and the shortage of frontline workers i.e. Nursing cadres, lab technicians, paramedics and ASHA workers. In the coming years there is expected to be spurt in demand for these professions, one that, the skill training institutes need to respond to, by offering a greater number of healthcare courses.
Productive and formal employment generation depends on the availability of an adequately skilled labour force through sustained investments in skills development and fostering opportunities for decent job creation through entrepreneurship.
To close India’s skills deficit and increase employability, a range of policies and strategies are needed to address work-relevant education systems, career guidance, life-skills, and technical, vocational education and training schemes, along with on-the-job training in both formal and informal sectors. NEP 2020 and the budget for Education has already shown promising policies to emphasize more on skill based and vocational education in India.
This moment is an important opportunity to reimagine how, and what, education and skills are delivered to prepare students for a rapidly changing world of work. Several national flagship schemes such as Make in India, Start-up India, Stand-up India (a bank loan programme to assist Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and women borrowers to set up a greenfield enterprise), and Digital India, have been launched to spur the creation of more productive and higher skilled micro, small and medium enterprises, which would accelerate labour demand and job creation.
The Atal Innovation Mission endeavours to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship by providing a platform for the generation and sharing of innovative ideas, alongside an incubator to mentor and support innovators.
One of the main focus areas for World Youth Skills Day is to highlight the importance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) which can equip youth with the skills required to access the world of work, including skills for self-employment. Skill development and new models of learning will be central to the recovery post-COVID-19.
It supports the government’s job creation and entrepreneurship strategies and programmes to ensure that young people, women, migrant workers and other marginalized groups are included. The impact of COVID-19 crisis on skills development and therefore to explore strategies in response to the unfolding economic crisis.
This will help in preparing young people to develop their capacities to respond to rapid changes in employment and entrepreneurship in such sectors that are hardest hit by the crisis. Therefore we can say that this in the long term is to adapt skills development systems to changes in the economy of the world that the COVID-19 pandemic and recession will bring.