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Livelihood and skills : A challenge in rural India

Jul 05, 2013

Public private partnerships in India are in the process of strengthening of rural infrastructure such as Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), polytechnics, writes Abhilaksh Likhi.

Rural India

A critical element in India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) is the generation of productive and gainful employment on a sufficient scale. The aim of such planning is to systematically absorb the growing working population in the unorganized sector of an expanding economy. This sector contributes about sixty percent of the country’s GDP. Infact, it employs workers in micro enterprises, unpaid family work, casual labor and home based work on a mammoth scale. In addition, it also absorbs migrant laborers, farmers, artisans and more importantly out of school rural youth.

In the last decade, the Indian economy has witnessed a structural transformation from agricultural activities to manufacturing and services oriented activities. A distinct feature of this transition has been a substantial decline in the absolute number of people employed in agriculture. However, according to the Planning Commission, a crucial factor in the migration of the labor force from rural to urban areas is its temporary nature and occurrence only in lean agricultural seasons. Besides, this large chunk of labor force is not available to participate in the manufacturing or the services oriented activities due to severe lack of appropriate skill sets. According to the Commission, the latter reflects rural distress, driven by the fact, that more than eighty percent of India’s farming households are small and marginal, tilling only less than 2.5 acres of land.

In the above backdrop, more than 700 million people are estimated to be of working age (24-59 years) in India by 2020. This indeed is a ‘demographic dividend’ that will also lead to a low dependency ratio compared to the rest of the world. Of these, approximately 500 million workers (including those who temporarily migrate from rural to urban areas in lean agricultural seasons) will require some kind of vocational/skill training. Besides, about  50 to 70 million jobs to be created over the next five years, (with more than 75% falling largely in the unorganized and informal stream) will too require capacity building in basic expertise.

High growth areas such as manufacturing, automotive, retail, trade, transport, construction, hospitality and healthcare have the ability to provide the required expanded employment. Public private partnerships in the country are already in the process of strengthening of rural infrastructure such as Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), polytechnics, community polytechnics and vocational education in secondary schools. Workers such as technicians, welders, fitters, paramedics, tourist guides etc are to be skilled with a twofold objective- first, to close the skill gap of an already qualified workforce and second, to provide formal vocational training to those who have acquired skills informally. At the same time, maintaining the efficiency and competitiveness of those of the working age group living in rural areas and depending upon agriculture is equally critical. Hence, the need also to create employable skilled opportunities in labor intensive industries and sectors such as agricultural food processing as well as allied value chains in livestock, floriculture, horticulture etc.

No one doubts the veracity of the overarching national framework to give a jump start to the above agenda through the government driven National Skill Development Mission and the National Skill Qualification Framework. An excellent initiative is the setting up of Community Colleges based on the North American Modular Model that will impart vocational skills aligned to occupational standards determined by employer led skill councils. However, what needs to be aggressively pushed, converged and monitored on priority is sustainable livelihood creation at the grassroots in rural areas. The National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) funded by the World Bank aims at the laudable review of the entire portfolio of livelihoods of each poor household by providing handholding support through livelihood collectives. Besides, it promises supplementary creation of opportunities for both wage employment and skill development for the rural youth.

Such a review under NRLM will, first and foremost, requires suitable decentralized convergence of skill development programs run by multiple central ministries including the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), especially the last mile tier of these local bodies in villages- Gram Panchayats, should be adequately empowered to provide information to the rural youth through skill inventories and skill maps on a real time basis. Herein, the Gram Panchayats’ will need to have effective synergy with grassroots civil society organizations and online local employment exchanges to provide access to such information. This synergy (dovetailing with school curricula is also possible) will enable the youth in the middle and secondary school stages, to access information on labor market and skill development possibilities. Such access, infact, is crucial to the sustenance of Resource Community Development Blocks that are envisaged to act as live workable model at the grassroots under NRLM.

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