Skilling and Employability: Understanding Challenges in India with Special Reference to West Bengal

Published date01 June 2018
Date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Indian Journal of Public
64(2) 143–158
© 2018 IIPA
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0019556117750893
1 Former Principal Labour & Employment Adviser, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government
of India.
Corresponding author:
Partha Pratim Mitra, Former Principal Labour & Employment Adviser, Ministry of Labour & Employment,
Government of India, India.
Skilling and
Understanding Challenges
in India with Special
Reference to West Bengal
Partha Pratim Mitra1
Demand and supply mismatch is central to the issue of skills and employability.
If levels of education are considered as proxy for skills, literacy and numeracy, then
higher share of those with lower levels of education—primary to secondary level
(44% to 52%)—has not joined the labour force compared to those with higher
education levels. The paradox is that unemployment levels are the highest for
engineering, technology and management and lower for law, medical and accounts
graduates. High dropout rates in schools contribute to lower levels of skills in
the workforce. There is dominance of self-employed and casual labour over
wage labour. Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Manipur and Uttarakhand have both high
gross enrolment ratio and high workforce participation. Studies show that only
40 per cent are employable based on attributes of employability, such as domain
knowledge, communication skills, numerical and logical attributes and vertical
thinking. In West Bengal, there is excess supply of workforce in all categories—
skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled. Although the share of trained workforce in the
state is higher than the national average, the absorption rate of this workforce is
lower than the national average. Although national- and state-level skill policies
have been announced, there is poor mapping of skill gaps which is not in keeping
with the local demand. Skill-building policies and strategies need to be made more
demand-driven and responsive to the needs of the industry, whose participation
in the entire skill-building process will have to be proactive than has been the case
at present.
Demand, supply, mismatch, effective, mapping skill gaps
144 Indian Journal of Public Administration 64(2)
There is a demographic opportunity and window in India that can be harnessed
with appropriate policies for skill building and employment generation. But this
will require focused strategies in several areas of human resource development
including education and health to leverage that opportunity. Reality check shows
there are several challenges and barriers that are yet to be addressed to facilitate
that transition.
This article, which is divided into four sections, seeks to put the problem in
quantitative perspective based on published data from various sources, makes a
few observations on the existing policy regime and schemes to tackle the problem
and suggests ways to mitigate it. The first section puts the entire issue of skills
and employability in perspective bringing out the national context. It tries to link
education levels with employability, brings out the challenges and also mentions
the various indicators of employability. The second section analyses two major
policy announcements and important schemes in the area of skills and brings out
as to why these announcements are important as statement of intentions by the
government on the issue of skills and employability. The third section makes a
comparative analysis of West Bengal with the rest of the country and shows that
the state possesses a higher level of trained manpower than the all India average,
and yet people are willing to settle for lower salaries within the state due to lack
of jobs or migrate outside for better salaries. The fourth section focuses on some
of the policy challenges and concludes that emphasis on mere certification of skill
sets will not be enough to move forward, but more active role of the industry in
investment and harnessing local skills would be required.
Skills and Employability: The National Context,
Challenges and Indicators
India is facing a major challenge of absorbing skilled human power. It is important
to understand some of the challenges associated with skilling and employability
of labour force in India.
During 2015–2016, the unemployment rate at all India level was estimated
to be 5 per cent, which implied that 5 per cent of the persons aged 15 and above
do not have any work and are chronically unemployed. Unemployment rate is
defined as the number of persons unemployed per thousand persons in the labour
force which consists of persons both employed and unemployed. More important,
only 60.6 per cent of the persons aged 15 years and above, who were available for
work for all 12 months could get work for a year, while the remaining 39.4 per cent
did not get work implying that they were underemployed creating an over-supply
situation in the labour market (2015–2016). This implies that people would be
willing to offer themselves for jobs that engage them full time, and in the absence
of such jobs, there is an excess supply of labour in the job market. (The rate of
unemployment mentioned here is as per the usual principal status approach—
UPS—where 365 days are taken as the period of reference and the major time

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