India, which is projected to be the world’s youngest country by the next year, encompasses the world’s largest youth population with 356 million people in the age group of 10-25 years [United Nations report (2014)]. This large section of the tertiary-age population provides our country with an exclusive demographic advantage. According to a report, there is an overall positive trend in talent supply as over 47.68 per cent of the graduates were found to be employable in 2019 against only 33 per cent in 2014 [India Skills Report (2019) released by the Confederation of Indian Industries].
However, despite these promising statistics and unique demographic dividend, a major segment of the Indian graduates still remain unemployable.
The youth in our country face multiple obstacles to find desirable and suitable job opportunities analogous to their educational qualifications. It is quite ironical that higher educational institutions/academia across the country are training millions of youth annually but the industry often complaints about the inadequacy of necessary skills among them desired for a suitable job. On the contrary, academia and industry also point fingers at the government for ineffective implementation of policies and sometimes even deficiency of government initiatives for a higher education system similar to global standards.
With the increase in the number of graduates and working population annually, employability and skilling have become two of the biggest challenges for the country’s growth. The Central Government in order to face the two challenges has proposed various youth-centric programmes and schemes. For instance, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Skill Development Mission, Udaan, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, Entrepreneurship Development Programme and Skills Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement among several others. In addition, recently, in 2014, the State Government of Andhra Pradesh to make its state as ‘knowledge and skills hub’ and promote ‘skill development and entrepreneurship’ had started Andhra Pradesh State Skill Development Corporation (APSSDC).
The APSSDC under its regime and to impart skill development trainings and taking up job facilitation had developed various programs for schools and degree students (imparting training in English/Soft skills and IT computational thinking, certification courses in finance/accounting etc.), engineering students (IT/certification courses in engineering colleges, day-long workshops, etc.) and international programmes for such students (setting up training centers to provide industry-relevant, placement training in colleges, etc.)
These initiatives and schemes as proposed by the Central Government indicate its assurance of fulfilment of certain principles envisaged under the Directive Principles of the State Policy (Part IV of the Constitution of India). The Government including the State Governments have indeed played an active role in eliminating inequalities in facilities and opportunities amongst the people engaged in different vocations. However, in order to face the conundrum of employability amongst the young graduates, it is vital to contrive specific strategies that bridge the gap between employability preferences and labour market realities. Nonetheless, it would also be unrealistic to expect the Central Government to overcome this challenge without solidarity from the states. It is essential that the industry and academia work in a symbiotic relationship with the various government agencies and their departments to explore this demographic divided.
Another aspect that becomes imperative while the Indian economy undergoes swift and concurrent economic, demographic, social and technological shifts, is to ascertain how best the academic curriculum can address various necessities and demands of the dynamic industry and the economy. The Government in cooperation with academia may look at the existing curriculum and assess if the same can be made more practical and flexible in approach accommodating the shifts within the industry. For instance, to improve standards of higher education in India in tune with the transforming the needs of the industry and market, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has taken various initiatives including the revision of curriculum on regular basis. AICTE has instructed all the higher education institutes across India to revise their curriculum every three years.
Notwithstanding the role of the government in providing basic education and training, there is also a significant need for greater involvement of the private sector or the industry in increasing employability amongst the graduates. Since the private sector plays a pivotal role in contributing a significant portion in India’s GDP, it becomes vital for the private sector to contribute towards employability of the youth in the country. A combination of economic, business and technology factors have led to a steady rise in synergistic partnerships between the industry and academia in many countries like Canada, Singapore, UK, USA and few others for several years. Given the dynamic nature of business today, enterprises collaborate with the universities for providing continuous training to their employees across disciplines. This ensures that their employees have a contemporary understanding of the best practices in their field of work, while also promoting employee satisfaction. On the other hand, universities carry this understanding of the needs of the corporate sector and incorporate the same into their academic curriculum. For universities, this is a critical way in which they can create comprehensive coursework that is exceeding relevant in the job market today.
In India, the serious issue has been that the higher education sector and the industrial sector have worked in isolation from each other. On one hand, the industry needs talent and on the other, there is an abundance of graduates who do not have industry-oriented skills. In countries like the US, corporates reach out to universities/institutions to bring innovation into their work, while in India, corporates and industry bodies rely mostly on their own research rather than reaching out to academia. However, India has experienced a change in its approach recently. Various corporates and academia are taking a step forward to build a cordial relationship. For instance, HDFC Bank, as a part of its industry-academia partnership, has announced its plan to partner 50 technology companies and business schools to tap emerging fintech ideas starting with IIT-Bombay and IIT-Roorkee. The Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) has increased its funding to IIT-Madras by nearly Rs. 300 crore to encourage innovation and strengthen the industry-academia relationship. A few trade associations representing the Indian ESDM (Electronic System Design and Manufacturing) industry have also signed MoUs with institutions to build a robust talent pipeline in the ESDM space.
One of the approaches to tackle the problem of inadequacy in skills and job readiness among youth is by bridging the gap between Government, industry and academia. The second could be that academia, apart from imparting the technical knowledge, should impart training in enhancing softer/interpersonal skills, leadership capability, attitude, communication skills, etc. Moreover, it should inculcate such schemes from primary level in schools. Academia should also include workplace exposure through internships, live projects, corporate interactions in the curriculum and provide credits to the students for the same. Such programmes enable the students to keep pace to the needs of the industry. It would be heartening to see the Government as well as the private sector step forward and work exclusively with the academicians to create and develop a shared model for jobs and curriculum to address the industrial needs so that India can fully utilise the demographic dividend that it possesses.