There are multiple reasons for countries, companies and multilateral bodies becoming willing partners in Kumar’s endeavours. “Today, one in every five young persons in the world is an Indian. Our role as a multilateral agency is to present India as the human resource capital,” says Shabnam Sinha, lead education specialist, World Bank. Adds Kenichi Yokoyama, country director, ADB: “India is our largest borrower, and also among the best performing.
Now we are focusing our attention on low-income states… skill development and capacity-building will be critical.” Japan has multiple reasons for its multi-level support to India’s skill development push. An ageing population, a shrinking home market and surging Japanese investments in India are nudging a culturally insular Japan to support India. “India has supported us in difficult times. Now it is our time to help,” says Takema Sakamoto, head of JICA India.
India could do with a helping hand. At present, a disparate set of factors — slowing growth, elusive investment, demonetisation and GST along with automation (like banking), global headwinds (in IT services) and structural shifts (in telecom and even agriculture) — has led to rising unemployment in a populous country that adds close to a million new workers every month.
High inflation or high unemployment or both can often decide electoral fortunes. The government is in its fourth year and the 2019 general elections are on the horizon. On the one hand, desperate efforts are on to revive investment and create jobs. On the other, the government is trying hard to equip millions of unskilled and uneducated workers for a tech-led world.
It is a tough problem to solve. At 287 million, India currently has the world’s largest illiterate adult population, says UNESCO. Over 45% of India’s workers are employed in low productivity agriculture. Worryingly, 31% of India’s youth (15-29 years) are NEETs or not in employment, education or training, as per an OECD survey. Dated and poor quality education has created a serious employability issue. Over 80% of engineers are unemployable, according to various studies. Compounding this is India’s growing demographic bulge. By 2027, India will have the world’s largest workforce (between 15 and 64 years) crossing a billion and outpacing China.
It was for this reason that the Congress-led UPA government set up NSDC in 2010. In 2015, the BJP-led NDA government went a step further, targeting to train 400 million workers by 2022 under PMKVY (the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana). It has failed miserably. Of the 30.67 lakh candidates trained under the programme (as of July 2017), just 2.9 lakh got jobs. Many issues have riddled the initiative. Multiple authorities, an ill-equipped NSDC, a poor job-creation climate, sub-par training institutes, data fudging and misaligned incentives are just a few. “I see it not as a failure but as a part of the learning curve. Other nations have taken decades to reach where we are today in such a short time,” says Narayanan Ramaswamy, partner, KPMG India. Since last year, as part of a course correction, a raft of measures, including a top deck reshuffle, has been rolled out.
It is in this context that new global partnerships must be viewed. “Combining scale with speed and being flexible as a government body — that’s the toughest part. How do you forge partnerships within those boundaries to deliver?” is what keeps NSDC’s Kumar awake at night. How to ensure that the electorate keeps the faith will also be giving the government some sleepless nights.