Skill Building & Employment in India: Interrogating an Uneasy Relationship.

AuthorSharma, Seema


With the opening of Indian economy, employment generation is more often the outcome of market forces. The governments of the day now focus on easing the stress points in the conduct of business which are identified by the corporate. The governments are also moving towards building an eco-system which in the long run shall ensure a pool of skilled labor in the market. The establishment of National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) is a case in point. There is, thus, a major investment in the field of skill development by the government as well as the corporate through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. The government has in fact taken a lead in stitching a partnership amongst the corporate, NGOs/ training institutes and itself to meet the targets of skill development. In the process, the communities have been converted into passive recipients of these skill-based interventions. This paper interrogates the process of skill building as practiced at the grassroots by the corporate and NGOs with facilitation from the state. It also critically looks at the engagement of the communities in this process. The paper concludes by highlighting the uneasy relationship between skill development and employment in India. The paper draws upon the field realities encountered by the author as social work educator, researcher in the area of CSR and evaluator of CSR initiatives of the corporate.

Understanding & Contextualizing Skill Development in India

Typically, training the individuals for a vocation provides them with skills for certain crafts or jobs. As per NS SO Report 2015: "the main objective of vocational education and training is to prepare persons, especially the youth, for the world of work and make them employable for a broad range of occupations in various industries and other economic sectors. It aims at imparting training to persons in very specific fields through providing significant 'hands on' experience in acquiring necessary skill in the specific vocation or trade, which make them employable or create for them opportunities of self-employment. A vocational training prepares an individual for a specific vocation or occupation"(NSSO 68th Round, 2015: 11).

Those familiar with the skill development initiatives in India are well aware of the flurry of activities in this area at the grass roots. A good representation of implementing partners enrolled with NSDC, monitoring of training targets by the state and corporate and consequent revisions of the skill targets indicate the seriousness with which skill building is being taken. At the same time, the engagement of communities; more specifically the youth; with skill development initiatives at the grass roots points towards the absence of their agency in the training process. This is substantiated by the data on youth employment post training which is not very encouraging (Hindu Business Line, Jan 14, 2019) and high job turnover within a few months of employment as witnessed by the author at the grass roots during evaluation of these skill-based projects.

The increasing emphasis on skill development in India is the outcome of two related arguments which are presently available in the public domain. First is the economic argument which maintains that the continuous increase in GDP is leading towards skill shortage in India; a situation which is likely to worsen in the coming years (Mehrotra et al, 2013). The second argument pertains to the demographic shift which is expected to have huge social implications in future. This demographic shift which is also referred to as the demographic dividend is reflected through growth in population between the age group of 1959 years. This shift provides enough justification for structural changes in Indian economy (Mehrotra et al, 2013) which in turn is expected to have far reaching implications for the skills requirements in the coming years.

The increasing focus on skill development by the governments of the day has its share of appreciation and criticism. Those critical of the increasing emphasis on skill building see it as a process of pacification of the working-class youth (Gleeson, 1989 & Sadgopal, 2016). For them, this pacification is necessitated by the fact that the manufacturing and service sectors in India have not been able to generate enough jobs to keep pace with the number of youth entering the labor market every year(Chandrasekhar & Ghosh, 2018 ; Kantha, 2017). Thus, training the youth on multiple skills in the absence of jobs serves the purpose of keeping them busy. Unemployment is, thus, projected as an outcome of the absence of required skills in the youth, a handicap which the youth needs to overcome. The critics, thus, maintain that the near collapse of youth labor market is managed through this mechanism (Gleeson, 1989). The failure of the economy to create sufficient jobs does not get highlighted due to the ongoing discourse on the inability of youth to encash on the opportunities available in the now open and expanding economy. Writers such as Claus Offe (1984) call it a case of "institutional storage"; a process which ensures that the youth is available for employment and is off the roads instead of protesting for jobs (Offe, 1984:99). We can therefore conclude that skill development is not purely a case of development of human resources or enhancement of a factor of production but it has political and ideological elements embedded into it (Burawoy, 1983). The political apparatus of the state plays an important role in the process of institutional storage by encouraging certifications and recertifications of the skills gained through training, by mandating the required number of hours to be spent on training and by enforcing the requirement of clearing proficiency tests. In the process, the state is able to regulate protests and struggles (Burawoy, 1983).

State & Skill Developmentin India

To understand and contextualize skill development in India, one may first look at the role of state in skill development. Numerous efforts towards skill development have been made by the governments of the day since Independence. However, it is pertinent to look at the role of state; post globalization, liberalization and privatization of the Indian economy as these do impact the labor market (Hahn & Narjoko, 2013; Bhorat & Lundall, 2004; Nanda & Kaur, 2008). In this context, the role of National Skill Development Corporation stands out. The National Skill Development Corporation was set up by Ministry of Finance in 2008 as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) Company with...

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