Unemployment Crisis: Bridging the skill gap to create a better future for grassroots adolescent entrepreneurs

By Gaurav Arora, 

India has one of the youngest demographics in the world, with 66% of the population below the age of 35. Our untapped youth potential could change the world. Unfortunately, 50% of the country’s population struggles with limited job opportunities, rising inflation and the fear of falling under the poverty line. Reports from the Centre for Economic Data & Analysis (CEDA) show that available jobs for youth have been declining at a steady rate since 2016, causing a very distinct and visible economic divide in the country. As unemployment continues to rise, we must prepare the emerging youth and enable them to address the economic and employment gap through entrepreneurship.

The country’s unemployment crisis got exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as 7.35 million Indians became unemployed in April 2021. The economy contracted 7.3% in FY 2022, and a survey by Pew Research in May 2021 noted that 75 million Indians fell below the poverty line. A study by Azim Premji University showed that 230 million Indians earned less than the daily minimum wage threshold of INR 375 at the height of the pandemic. The data clearly shows that India needs people who can create jobs and help raise employment rates across the country.

Entrepreneurs in India can help solve the crisis by innovating and starting new businesses. Over the last few years, the country has created a start-up ecosystem to support entrepreneurs. In 2021, over 40 Indian start-ups gained unicorn status, proving that the country is focusing efforts on promoting a vibrant entrepreneurial culture. While these enterprises can create job opportunities, the infrastructure predominantly helps individuals over 18 who have a strong business background and can explain their need for funding through working business models, educational qualifications, and good work experience. Unfortunately, an entire generation of young, skilled entrepreneurs may not receive the support required to share their business models with the world as they lack the exposure to understand how to build an enterprise.

As per reports by the International Labour Organisation, 12.9 million Indians between the ages of 7 and 17 are already working. Most child laborers aged 12 to 17 work 16 hours per day, which means they do not attend school regularly. These young workers get stuck in a cycle of poverty as they do not have the educational qualifications to support their career growth. Even those from underprivileged or less privileged backgrounds who complete school may not have the ability to attend a good college or further their education. They become unable to gain the skills required to understand what makes a business work. Self-starters who are keen to become entrepreneurs then struggle to understand what they need to run a business and cannot secure the required help or funding.

Given the current scenario, upcoming government policy must focus on youth above the age of 14 as they will become the next generation of entrepreneurs and employers. The New Education Policy (NEP) of 2020 was a move in the right direction, with the government prioritizing vocational education, which is directly linked to future employability. The idea is to help those from poorer backgrounds gain sustainable employment while completing their education, giving them a better chance of success in the future. Skills training programmes allow these individuals to become successful beauticians, bakers, and mobile and home appliance technicians. However, there is little room for growth as they struggle to convert their self-employment into a successful business that creates new employment opportunities for others.

Under the Entrepreneurship Incubator model, Mumbai’s Salam Bombay Foundation launched the Dolphin Tank initiative to connect grassroots adolescents and formalized a new entrepreneurship model focused on resource-challenged youth by helping them to start developing their dream businesses while still completing their higher education.

With more similar initiatives in the future, India’s start-up culture could face a revolution, with more start-ups, entrepreneurs, and employers emerging at the grassroots level.

(The author is VP – Projects (Skills & Sports) Salaam Bombay Foundation. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the

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