By Sumant Sinha
Prime minister Narendra Modi has grasped the central issue of unemployment in India with clarity and firmness when he announced the twin job schemes this month—hiring 1 million people in various government departments in 1.5 years, and the path-breaking Agnipath military scheme. Though there may be some debate around the Agnipath scheme, the PM has boldly set the stage for a national dialogue on jobs, and this shows foresight on his part. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on employment, something that was missing in the previous decades. These latest announcements give us a chance to build on the momentum, and, in this context, the new schemes should not be seen as an end in themselves but as the acceleration of a process to get our job situation right.
It is critical to tackle the challenge. Currently, the Indian economy is on sound footing with >8% growth and, hopefully, having put the worst of Covid behind it. If we resolve the jobs conundrum, the country’s current robust growth momentum will only quicken. We must obsess about jobs if we are to reach our $5-trillion economy goal in the coming years. We need to create 90 million non-farm jobs in the next eight years to reach 8-8.5% annual GDP growth, per a 2020 McKinsey report. But, in the challenge, lies opportunity: India has nearly 120 million casual workers. If they are upskilled, it could potentially boost India’s economy by $570 billion by 2030.
Boost hiring via PPPs
If we want to employ the 12 million people that join the workforce in India each year, we must broaden the hiring pool through effective collaboration between government bodies and private players. In 2016, the Centre tied up with 20 private entities, including staffing firms, to provide them access to its pool of over 37 million registered job-seekers. States like Goa have also joined hands with private players to help job seekers find appropriate jobs.
For the first time in 2020, the Goa government shared employment exchange data with the private sector, and this initiative has helped 250 youth get jobs in three months. The country needs to look at and implement more such initiatives on a far larger scale.
While the onus is on the private sector, the government’s role in mass employment cannot be minimised. Over the past few years, especially after Covid struck, the Centre has come up with various employment schemes, such as Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan, Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat package 3.0, and the Rs 100-trillion PM GatiShakti National Master Plan that was launched to help digitise the economy and break down silos within ministries. The GatiShakti plan itself is expected to create up to six million jobs. The Centre’s programmes will help ease the job challenge that intensified during the pandemic, where the consensus is that the outbreak added around 10 million to India’s unemployment numbers. In fact, more targeted mass employment programmes should be considered.
An essential tango: Skilling and jobs
A major enabler of economic growth and prosperity is the shift from lower-productivity occupations such as agricultural labour to higher-productivity jobs like modern assembly line manufacturing. This will require more skilling on a mass scale. Recent surveys point out that many Indians lack the necessary skills to be employable. To become self-reliant and globally competitive, India urgently needs a better qualified, more competitive, and agile workforce. Also, given the scale of programmes like PM GatiShakti National Master Plan and National Infrastructure Pipeline, the mass skilling of millions is needed in areas like riveting, dredging, operating earth-moving equipment, roadworks, structural engineering, supply chain, and logistics.
Further, as a part of the Skill India Initiative, the government plans to set up 5,000 skill hubs across India in its first phase. Tourism is one sector where the focus should intensify. There is also great scope in the renewables sector, where India can potentially create about 3.4 million jobs by 2030.
Corporate push to skilling
Given the size of India’s development projects and job schemes, it needs to ensure there are enough people to train the millions of people who need to be skilled, retrained or upskilled. It is heartening to see the government acting with urgency. Under the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) was launched in 2015-16 with a target to cover 2.4 million youth and, during its pilot phase, trained nearly 2 million candidates in 375 job roles; an impressive result. We need more of these on-the-ground, inclusive, impactful initiatives, which will help the country move full-throttle towards very high levels of employment. In this context, the private sector can further actively engage with the government/academia to work with vocational colleges to tailor curricula to support skilling in areas such as opportunities in Industrial Revolution 4.0.
Corporates can also enhance collaboration with training institutes and government bodies in job-intensive areas such as logistics, food catering, home healthcare, age care, and specialised tourism. Furthermore, in this context, corporates could consider allowing their employees, on a voluntary basis, short-term paid leave to train more workers in relevant sectors.
PM Modi has set the ball rolling in terms of providing jobs for all Indians, and all stakeholders need to intensify collaborative efforts to ramp up employment opportunities and associated skilling at warp speed. In particular, corporates and business chambers need to work with policymakers more proactively to resolve the job challenge, which will lead to the destined rendezvous with economic greatness that the people of India deserve.
(The author is President, ASSOCHAM and chairman and CEO, ReNew Power)