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Why India Needs To Upskill Its Rural Youth Skilling rural youth is the key to combatting the issue of development in both farming and non-farm employment sector

By Vaibhav Maloo

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The economic meltdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated and amplified the technological disruptions that were still in their infancy during the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In fact, industry pundits also blame the pandemic for exacerbating the already-in-motion disruption in the labour markets that had resulted in the advent of Industry 4.0 and is now leading to the Fifth Industrial Revolution (Society 5.0).

A World Economic Forum Report on 'Future of Jobs' notes that for the first time, in this new context, job creation is lagging behind job destruction, and this will affect disadvantaged workers in the longer run.

Unemployment has been an issue of grave concern in India even before the pandemic hit. While the country's unemployment rate stood at 5.27 per cent in 2019, in the same year, this rate for youth aged 15 to 24 was 22.74 per cent. By 2021, the situation recovered a bit as the unemployment rate rallied at 5.98 per cent, down from 8 per cent in 2020. However, the threat and distress for job-seekers in India was not yet over. In 2021, bang in the middle of the raging virus outbreak, India's youth unemployment rate scaled to 28.26 per cent, highlighting a sharp increase from 24.90 per cent during the first wave.

Add to it the leaps in technological advancement in the last decade aggravating mass job displacement, skill shortages and artificial intelligence replacing human intelligence, the future of work will require employers to come up with ways to harness peak human potential. And this can be done through education, new learnings and upskilling the manpower for these 'jobs of tomorrow', especially for the rural youth that constitutes nearly 67-68 per cent of the country's total population.

Upskill, update

Union home minister Amit Shah recently emphasised that "the future of any country is not determined by how many industrial units are functioning there, or how powerful its armed forces are, or how much tax it collects".

"The country's future is decided by how many of its youths go to libraries," he said.

This, in fact, could not have been more relevant to our current status as one of the main reasons behind India's unemployment problem is often said to be the lack of skilled labour. People, especially the youth in India, lack the updated skills needed to do a particular job even though they're graduates and qualify the basic requirements. However, the country has been addressing this issue head on.

To address the gap between skill demand and supply, in 2015, the Centre launched the National Skill India Mission with an aim to provide the youth with the necessary skills for sustainable employment. As part of the country's fight to eliminate poverty and uplift the underprivileged youth, the government has undertaken several initiatives to provide vocational training sessions.

However, while schemes address the problem at the urban end, these programmes often fail to widen their scope of sight to include the issues the rural population is facing due to a huge demographic divide hampering their access.

The rural economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, employing over 60 per cent of the total populace, yet contributing only 20 per cent to the national gross domestic product (GDP). This dependency on agriculture, coupled with lack of employment opportunities in the sector in compliance with the upcoming technological advances in the industry, act like fuel to the fire of rural poverty and migration.

Skilling rural youth is the key to combatting the issue of development in both farming and non-farm employment sector.

Back to the fields

A big economic opportunity for India lies in creating trained and competent manpower out of the nearly 68 percent of India's total rural youth population to capitalise on its demographic dividend. However, due to lack of quality trainers and high focus on only academics, vocational training and skill development takes a backseat in these areas, so much so that about 93.7 per cent of youth had not received any vocational training in 2017-18.

Lack of transport facilities to training institutes which are mostly located in the nearest small towns make them inaccessible to most, especially women. This leads to the rural youth migrating to bigger cities, shunning the country's largest employment providing sector: agriculture. There is an urgent need to skill literate rural youth and change the perception of agriculture being deemed unprofitable and laborious.

The emerging technological opportunities linked to agri-extension services, food processing and agri-based ecommerce are expected to have several employment openings in the coming years. This requirement can be fulfilled by the introduction of specialized courses in these fields. By creating awareness and providing training, rural youth can achieve fulfilling careers.

In order to address the substantial challenges facing the labour market today, it is paramount that governments design a cohesive blueprint that ensures a holistic coming together of education providers, skills, workers and employers.

Making Indian agriculture profitable is the need of the hour, not only to attract investments but also to retain the second or third generation farmers who are at the crossroads of quitting the sector and migrate to bigger cities to make ends meet. It is about time the country formulates policies that enhance agricultural productivity by way of skilling the rural youth to solve the issue of unemployment.

For this, supporting farmers by de-risking their income sources and giving them the right price for their produce by skilling them to ace the technological advancements to make time and cost consuming traditional agri-practices more economic and efficient. Providing practical skills in managing warehouses, logistics and crop-yielding techniques as part of skill training is pivotal to save the rural youth from the increasing commercialization of farming and create a new stream of employment opportunities for them.

Vaibhav Maloo

Managing Director, Enso Group

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