NEW DELHI — U.N. World Youth Skills Day on July 15, 2016 prompted reflection about the world’s largest supplier of workers. While 54 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people belong to the highly productive under-25 cohort, more than 60 percent of its population still works in the agricultural sector, where the average wage is $1.50 per day.
The U.N. World Youth Skills Day has moved government officials and their private sector counterparts to evaluate the effectiveness of current training programs. This intention aims to align the workplace abilities and knowledge of graduates with current employer demands.
India’s youth unemployment rate stands at 12.9 percent, and in certain states like Kerala, the economy depends entirely upon foreign remittances. In 2011, $58 billion in total remittances was registered from expatriates.
The U.N. World Youth Skills Day emphasizes cooperation between education, government and business. One example is the government-sponsored Skill India program, which offers incentives for employers (120₹ billion in 2015) to train and initiate recent graduates. Skill India has created 1,141 industrial training institutes (ITIs), although it fell short of last year’s target of 173,000 trainees.
Another example is a public-private venture by the McKinsey Social Initiative (MSI), which combines traditional skills certifications with close support, mentoring and counseling for new entrants into the labor market. MSI receives funding from USAID, and thus far its results have been promising. Its nursing assistant program has reduced the attrition rate of new employees by 25 percent and boosted the placement rate of new graduates from 60 to 90 percent.
This progress is important in an economy where the casualization of jobs has left many youth disillusioned with the changing nature of work. Rajesh Chakrabarti, vice president of research at the Wadhwani Foundation, admits that many youngsters “would rather wait for years to get government jobs or opt for higher degrees from low-rung colleges.”
The approach taken by MSI tackles this cultural dynamic by closely following its participants. First, they are given several weeks’ exposure to their new work environments to ensure that they are the right fit. Then they take a seven-week skills course including a counseling regime that shows them what to expect and how to cope with challenges at their new jobs. After official hiring, participants receive follow-up support for several weeks.
As president of the U.N. General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft explains, “Far too often, the incredible potential in the world’s youth population is wasted by extreme poverty, discrimination or lack of skills and information.” MSI’s approach has helped India decrease losses in youth income and shows a glimpse of what future U.S. assistance will look like for its emerging trade partners.
– Alfredo Cumerma