How can India prepare its youth for the future of work? Here’s what’s needed now

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Annette Francis, Program Director, Vocational Training, Pratham

  • In India, the number of young people in school and set to graduate school is higher than ever.
  • However, just 5% of its workforce, which is the youngest and largest in the world, are recognised as formally skilled.
  • A new reporthighlights three major areas of intervention to improve the school-to-work transition for India’s youth and prepare them for the future of work.

Riya Rajesh Patel, a young person from Damoh, Madhya Pradesh, had to drop out of school in grade 10 because she had to start earning an income for her family. For years, Riya engaged in different types of informal work. Eventually, she thought about continuing her education but wasn’t sure what options she had.

At the age of 30, having spent over a decade in the informal economy, she came across a healthcare skill development centre. The centre offered her training, certification and placed her at a home care agency where she started earning INR 16,000 per month. Six months later, Riya loves her work and only wishes that she had known about this course when she was younger.

The ASER 2021 report showed that the number of older children (ages 15-16) in school now is higher than ever. It is likely that we will see an even larger number of youth graduating with high school certificates and degrees. India has the youngest and largest workforce in the world. However, the country struggles with significant skill gaps with approximately only 5% of the workforce recognised as formally skilled. So, why is the transition from school to work challenging for youth?

  • Information asymmetry regarding opportunities, pathways and the associated opportunity cost has resulted in an aspiration mismatch amongst youth.
  • Access to training opportunities is restricted by both geographical and financial barriers.
  • Lack of dignity associated with different forms of work, due to decades of social norms, have made several accessible roles non-aspirational.

The future of work will require advanced technical skills and softer transferrable skills. There is value in giving children early access to those skills so they have enough time to cultivate those skills before they enter the workforce.

The National Education Policy (NEP) has recommended several goals to enhance the school-to-work (STW) transition experience of children across the country. These goals range from increasing awareness about vocational education to expanding STEM learning to using technology for enhancing learning experiences. The cornerstone when planning for STW transition is that it should be designed to cater for the many rather than the few.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the skills gap in India?

According to our Future of Jobs 2018 report, more than one-half of India’s workforce will need to be re-skilled by 2022 to meet the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

With the world’s largest youth population and more than half of the population of working age, skills development is critical for India to sustain inclusive growth and development.

In late 2018, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with India’s oil and skills development minister as well as the head of business consulting company Infosys, launched a Task Force for Closing the Skills Gap in India.

The task force brings together leaders from business, government, civil society and the education and training sectors to help future-proof India’s education and training systems. Find out more about our Closing the Skills Gap 2020 initiative.

The Education 4.0 India Report, launched by the World Economic Forum, YuWaah (Generation Unlimited India) and UNICEF, recognizes digital interventions as a means to enhance learning outcomes in school children and reduce inequities in educational access in India. The report focuses on four priority areas, namely, foundational literacy and numeracy, teacher professional development, school to work transition, connecting the unconnected.

Improving the school-to-work transition and preparing for the future of work

The school-to-work transition section outlines three major gaps and associated interventions for priority action:

  • Enhancing opportunities for career awareness and exposure through internships and apprenticeships: A career awareness curriculum should be integrated with the school curriculum which exposes youth to a variety of industries while clearly describing the pathway to access such opportunities. Youth need to be aware about the challenges/risks associated with those opportunities. Furthermore, students should be given practical training through internships, apprenticeships, volunteering, etc. to enhance and build skills whilst at school.
  • Allowing credit transferability to enable students to transfer between formal and informal channels of education and training: Improved mobility within the education system and greater industry acceptance could enhance the aspirational value of alternative pathways, both nationally and globally. A robust and agile labour management information system (LMIS), for example, could track the demand for skills and competencies in a rapidly changing world, and act as a feeder to the government as well as private sector innovators.
  • Providing experiential learning for holistic development through STEM-based courses, language learning and life-skills coaching: Future skill programmes are usually driven by experiential learning, which requires investment in physical infrastructure, resources, and teachers’ capacity building. Providing resources such as coding applications and using new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning for programming code evaluation and assessment, and natural language processing for coding in local languages, can help provide experiential learning and set them up for the 21st century workplace.

This blog contains inputs from the School-to-Work transition chapter of the Education 4.0 India report, which was supported by Narayanan Ramaswamy, Ashish Maheshwari and Jagriti Rawal from KPMG India. For more information on organizations and knowledge partners who contributed to the report, please access the full report here.

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