Today, knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially… Today, knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water…There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you… What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.
Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators
The change that has occurred in the world economy during the past twenty years is staggering. Given that the rate and scale of change is increasing exponentially, it is inevitable that everyone will have to deal with a significant degree of professional change. This change could be seismic, to the degree that the very nature of an industry or profession is transformed forever.
One of the most effective ways of achieving growth without compromising on the redistributive aspect of it is, employment generation. It is the foundation of inclusive growth. The new development paradigm considers inclusive growth as the most powerful symbol of a nation’s universal prosperity.
Unemployment is a global problem with more than 73 million youth unemployed worldwide. In India, the unemployment rate among youth is almost 13% (compared to 4.9% overall). Underemployment is even higher. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), there are currently nearly 31 million unemployed Indians.
The missing link that underlies the growing unemployment is ‘skill development’, which is the key ingredient to robust economic growth. With the dilutions of the old ‘iron bowl’ of employment protection, the idea of lifelong secure employment has now been shattered. The 2016-17 annual report of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship says that less than 5% of the total workforce in India has undergone formal skill training.
Technology is advancing faster than we can adapt, upending the job market and delivering unimaginable shocks to both our values and or patterns of thinking Repetition-based jobs are stagnating the world over and will soon disappear. Most children entering school today will do jobs that don’t exist yet.
Many of the children now being educated in the old system will find the norms, institutions and patterns of working and civic life they were trained for scrambled, when they enter the adult world. Tools of the job are in a state of extreme flux. Spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other boardroom documents have all been changed by the cloud — sharing and group editing are the new norm.
Capacities for specialized problem solving and mass communication, until recently controlled by a few elites, are now accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Yet our education system and other institutions remain geared towards the old, siloed, hierarchized, repetitive system leaving young people ill prepared for the cascading changes coming. Young people need to look outward, get out of their zip codes, and experience situations different from the ones they are conditioned to expect. Their success will depend much on how well they can navigate a world of diverse cultures and beliefs.
We are increasingly moving towards a world where evergreen skills like communication, empathy and the ability to ‘play well’ with others are more valuable in the job market. Empathy is foundational to social and relational intelligence. Empathy is the invisible giant. It is naturally hardwired into our brain and when harnessed, plays a crucial role in innovation, changemaking, and solving systemic problems.
It’s no wonder a growing number of universities are enriching their curriculums with real-world Knowledge and empowering students with practical learning experience. Universities will have to increasingly infuse practical elements in learning systems and culture.
By deploying its corporate and social responsibility (CSR) capital on skill development projects, the private sector stands to benefit enormously from the availability of a large skilled and disciplined workforce. This can parlay into better levels of customer service, increased productivity and efficiency, reduced absenteeism and employee turnover, along with lower wages and recruitment costs.
The results of several such programmes have, however, been mixed. Programmes have reported high dropout rates, low employment percentages and continued attrition post-placement, leading to dissatisfied employers as well as frustrated youth. Providing ‘skill-training and certification’ alone cannot be a solution to the problem. There is clearly a case for going back to the drawing board.
The new emphasis on skill training should focus on a lifecycle approach. This approach looks at all aspects of skilling, from the aspirations of people before training to counselling and following up with beneficiaries during their employment. Adopting a lifecycle approach to skilling will make sure the kind of skills imparted to trainees are marketable and linked to the available jobs.
It is also important to ensure that specific skills are not scaled across multiple areas in the same region as it saturates the market with limited opportunities for those who are trained. If everyone is trained in becoming a blacksmith, there will be too many blacksmiths and not enough jobs. Imparting locally relevant skill sets like repairing bicycles or motorised two-wheelers, solar lamps, mobiles and running a poultry unit or small animal husbandry and the like makes families self-sustaining.
There are hundreds of organisations and agencies engaged in honing vocational skills and promoting entrepreneurship. While these successful efforts demonstrate the critical roles that employers and social sector actors play in the development of a healthy workforce, they are not able to achieve system-wide change. Businesses, educators, governments and young people need to adopt a collective approach and synergise their latent strengths. Closing the skills gap requires that educators and employers work together more closely.
We require a more coordinated and collective impact approach from the various stakeholders if we want to enlarge the network of training programmes and ensure that training is closely aligned with specific demands of the industry. It would require developing a clear common agenda around the entire ecosystem of workforce training.
One of the most demanding needs will be digital fluency. It is a much wider concept than the metaphoric digital literacy. It refers to the ability to leverage the myriad digital tools and resources at our disposal to complete a specific job. Assimilation in digital culture would require learning the nuts and bolts of technology.
All these disruptions will eventually have to be addressed though a changemaking strategy. As US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “A key factor of success for any society going forward is what percentage of its people are changemakers. It’s the new literacy.”
Dr Moin Qazi is an author, researcher and development professional who has spent four decades in the development sector. He is a member of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog Committee on Financial Inclusion for Women. He has worked for three decades with State Bank of India as a grassroots field officer, program manager, policymaker and researcher in development finance.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team