Speaking at the 8th pan-IIT conference last week,Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal dropped a hint on how to tackle this problem by highlighting the need for a comprehensive skill development programme and a Vocational Education Qualification Framework; the latter would help enable students to opt for a vocation as early as in standard VIII under the CBSE system. That would,in turn,enable school leavers to be directly employed as skilled workers by the secondary sector mainly manufacturing,but also construction.
The challenge of creating jobs is a daunting one: agriculture continues to over-employ people who need to be absorbed into either industry or services. Many jobs have indeed been created in the broad category of white collar services over the last two decades. Unfortunately,fewer have been created in what could be broadly called blue collar industry and service sector jobs (skilled machine operators,electricians,plumbers,skilled masons to name a few) perhaps because of a shortage of skills. But its important to change that. There is after all,a limit to which white collar services jobs can absorb Indias fast-growing workforce. Remember,post-liberalisation,there is little room for relatively unskilled workers in white collar jobs (the omnipresent class IV employee in the government). And,in an economy where skills are scarce,the challenge too will be to pro-actively offer people chances to constantly retool their skill sets.
Integrating vocational education as an optional stream with regular schooling would be a good way to mainstream the acquisition of skills at a relatively early age. The economy is certainly going to need plenty of vocationally-trained skilled workers over the next decade. At the very least,the government is committed to spending $1 trillion on infrastructure between 2012-2017. That will obviously involve a massive amount of skilled work,which will require plenty of skilled workers to execute it. Also,once there is a greater demand for,and higher premium paid to skilled workers,people will inevitably begin to abandon their reflexive prejudice in favour of white collar services jobs. That would be a start of a genuinely virtuous circle.