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Skills Are The Secret To Harnessing India’s Greatest Dividend

Employees work inside the office of U.S. online cab-hailing company Uber on the outskirts of New Delhi
Employees work inside the office of U.S. online cab-hailing company Uber, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, April 24, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee
This week hundreds young people are gathering for the ASEAN Youth Summit in Bhopal under the theme “Shared Values, Common Destiny.” The Summit will be a celebration of youth innovation and regional cooperation, and an opportunity for some of the region’s brightest young minds to meet and form bonds.

As India plays host to this buzzing forum, it holds a potent weapon—its youth.

It’s no secret that India is home to the largest youth population in the world. There are more than 780 million Indians aged under 35, and India is on course to be the world’s youngest country by 2022.

Not only is global youth unemployment at a record high, for the jobs that do exist, employers are finding that they’re unable to find candidates who hold the requisite skills.

Not only does this national resource represent India’s future in the socio-economic realms, but this generation will largely determine the extent to which the nation will be able to harness its demographic dividend and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This is a massive opportunity for India and the region, but it could go under-realised if the proper investments are not made now.

Three years ago, I was selected to be the youth delegate to the United Nations for Sri Lanka. At that time, the need to focus global attention on the issue of youth skills was clear.

The global youth unemployment rate was at a record high. More than 40% of the world’s youth were either unemployed or had a job and yet still lived in poverty. More was needed to deliver on a coordinated and coherent approach for young people and ensure they gained the education and skills they needed to reach their full potential and live good and fulfilling lives.

As a youth delegate, I am proud to have worked on the resolution which established World Youth Skills Day in an effort to draw global attention and political will in support of this issue.

A year and a half later, Member States of the UN agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals—17 global goals to end poverty, tackle climate change and reduce inequalities. These goals include youth skills development with clear metrics under Goal 4—a quality education.

Young people need to learn not just the skills required by new technologies, but also the ways in which humans are able to interact with and adapt to technology.

Nonetheless, the number of unemployed youth globally has remained stubbornly high whilst the skills in demand have been rapidly changing.

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2020, more than one-third of skills that were considered important in 2015’s workforce will have changed. Dramatic advances in technology and the emerging importance of areas like artificial intelligence and biotechnology mean that young people are being equipped with skills that will quickly become outdated.

This raises concerns for the 12 million young Indians entering the workforce each year. Not only is global youth unemployment at a record high, for the jobs that do exist, employers are finding that they’re unable to find candidates who hold the requisite skills. Not only are job-seekers often improperly trained for the global labour market in terms of quickly changing technical skills, they lack the necessary non-formal and informal skills that are imperative to ensure a smooth transition from education to employment. These include social skills, awareness of rights at the workplace, and the ability to adapt to the needs of fast-changing and oft-demanding workplaces. The private sector will be an important partner in this reorientation.

There isn’t a single jobs market which will not be affected —the World Bank forecasts that new technology could displace between one and two-thirds of workers across the world. Young people need to learn not just the skills required by new technologies, but also the ways in which humans are able to interact with and adapt to technology.

Rapid developments threaten to leave a massive portion of the world’s population behind, including those who are already vulnerably employed, as well as women, who globally have less access to technology and advanced education.

These rapid developments threaten to leave a massive portion of the world’s population behind, including those who are already vulnerably employed, as well as women, who globally have less access to technology and advanced education. This means that closing the skills gap will rely heavily on relieving the digital gender divide and vice versa.

The Government of India has taken significant steps to respond to India’s demographic opportunity and has adopted commendable measures in the form of progressive legislation and targeted schemes for the empowerment of young people, especially women.

This commitment to ensuring that young Indians are ready to compete in the labour market of today, and of the future, is demonstrated by the breadth of skilling programmes it has made available such as Skill India, the National Apprenticeship Training Scheme, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushal Yojana, National Urban Livelihoods Mission, and the National Rural Livelihoods Mission.

Further, the UN in India is a proud partner of the Government of India, and works together with the central and state governments to help implement their vision of development for all.

Our efforts are boosted when they take a holistic approach and focus on all aspects of education necessary to best equip young people for success. And our chances of success are much higher when young people are at the table. The recent initiation of a National Youth Advisory Council in India is a good move in the right direction.

Young people can transform the social and economic fortunes of their countries. But delivering this transformation requires sustained investments and partnerships to respond to health, education, employment concerns of young people…

Encouraged by the right opportunities, young people can transform the social and economic fortunes of their countries. But delivering this transformation requires sustained investments and partnerships to respond to health, education, employment concerns of young people comprehensively. Young people, after all, will experience first-hand the success or failure of the SDGs.

In this rapidly changing world, one thing is true—there is no better investment a country can make than in the capacities and potential of youth. And there may be no other country which stands to benefit from such an investment as India.

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