From skills to sustainable livelihoods | Business Standard Column–13.09.2017

The debate over the poor numbers reported by the country’s skills mission and our inability to provide real jobs to tens of millions of youth emerging from colleges and training institutes often ignores some real issues. Are we attacking the right problem? Do we know what it takes to build an environment of sustainable livelihood creation in the country which can support better “agency” building in youth and empower them to chart their own destiny with skills as a by-product of this journey?

Some experiments in the city of Pune, initially by well-meaning corporates and in recent times by the Pune Skills & Livelihood Lighthouses of Pune City Connect and some new programmes targeted by missionary organisations like Global Talent Track and Social Venture Partners throw light on the challenges as well as the opportunity. Three large organisations have been working together since 2008, first in an experiment to participate in a national programme to skill youth in retail and later in support of a programme that had succeeded in another city to provide intensive skills aimed at job readiness. Both failed, with the participants in the skilling programme dropping out either during the arduous training or within some weeks of starting their employment. If one looks at the numbers reported by the National Skill Development Council, through the first phase of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana in July 2015 and the second phase launched the following year, there has been a substantial shortfall in skilling and a larger gap in employment generation with placement rates in the second phase of barely 12 per cent compared to 18 per cent in the first. It becomes obvious that herding youth into skilling centres is not the solution to creating either successful employees or inspired entrepreneurs.

From skills to sustainable livelihoods
The Pune City Lighthouses offer a different approach which has shown success over the last two years. The core premise is that the millennial youth, irrespective of their socio-economic strata, are not excited by a straitjacketed skilling process and even if domestic compulsions and free training induce them to sign up, the motivation levels do not sustain for long. Building in each individual the willingness to take responsibility for their own feature, the spirit of “agency” is emerging as a prerequisite to counselling for possible career or entrepreneurship options and the choice of a skilling programme to which the youth is truly committed. Early data have been encouraging, with large enrolments in each of the three lighthouses that have already been set up and a clamour to have one in each municipal ward of the city. Participant completion rate is in the high eighties and participants work collaboratively with the organisers to seek the right jobs or business opportunity on course completion. In a similar fashion, Jagruti, a nursing assistant training NGO supported by Social Venture Partners with grants and mentoring for three years, has been able to scale from 20 participants to 400 and is now willing to spread its wings to other parts of the country. Finally, an ambitious “social mobility” initiative by Global Talent Track supported by two large multinationals through their CSR is seeing over 70,000 grey collar workers in offices trained for better language and social skills that will enable them to double their salaries and move up the social ladder in six months.
All this points to potential solutions on a national level that the new skills minister would do well to consider. It all starts with accurate predictions and projections of job creation in both the formal and non-formal sectors. The jobs of the future will lie not in traditional areas but at the intersection of new pursuits for the millennials and digital natives. The ability to integrate entertainment with education and information, the skill of analysing data and providing timely inputs through predictive and prescriptive analytics and the intelligence to plot customer journeys through multiple channels and create new experiences will be much sought after, but do we in our country have the ability to skill young aspirants for these roles? At Nasscom a new research has identified over 50 of these new job roles and in every sector, leaders of the sector skills council will have to move from theoretical constructs of job roles and qualification packs to practical realities for white, grey, rust and blue-collar jobs of the future.
As the country progresses economically, there will be huge job opportunities in traditional areas like health care, tailoring and traditional artisan work, and while these may not be the most sought after by a new tech-savvy generation, the process of creating aspiration, providing counselling and then putting youths on a skilling path will have to be designed and implemented in new formats and pedagogies to excite and educate the youth of the country. Once job opportunities are clearly defined and enough momentum has been created in youth, the training methodology has to be enriched by introducing contemporary technologies like video walls, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality into the skilling process. An initiative that is being launched by Social Venture Partners India has the ambitious goal of identifying design partners with scalable models and connecting them to implementation entities that can take a proven model and scale it countrywide. There is much to be done and it has to be done fast. The country needs it and 300 million Indians are waiting!

The author is chairman of 5F World and Global Talent Track; Email:

via From skills to sustainable livelihoods | Business Standard Column

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