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"To enhance the negotiating power of the youth, we need to make them aware of their rights and duties"

May 14, 2012

In an exclusive interview with OneWorld South Asia, Sharda Prasad Director General, Employment & Training and Additional Secretary, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government of India; talks about the challenges India faces in terms of job creation for its large youth population and the creation of an education system that makes better skilled workers.

OneWorld South Asia: Recently, the Ministry of Labour and Employment organised an event on Decent Work for Youth in India in collaboration with the International Labour Organization. Could you please throw some light on the significance of this event?

Sharda Prasad: The purpose of this event was to comprehend the ways and methods of ensuring participation of young people in the economy because we realize there are many entry barriers in their participation. For example, the required skills are absent and relevant education and its accessibility is a concern. We organised this event in collaboration with International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other social partners to devise a strategy to enhance the participation of youths in skill development and employment. This will not only help our youth to improve their life but would also contribute to economic growth of the country.

Decent work has three components. First is a decent salary, second is social security, and third is occupational health safety because many occupations are hazardous in nature. Besides, there are many other issues too, for example, the number of hours at work. In case of India, it is eight hours, provision of weekly-offs and other service conditions so that a person can work in a healthy environment and be more productive. Our objective is to ensure that people are helped in accessing social security benefits.

OWSA: How important is negotiating power for youth in the labour market and what is the situation in India?

SP: I personally don’t see adequate negotiating power in Indian youth because negotiating power is a state where a person is able to dictate terms and conditions for employment. But, our youth have not reached the level where they are in a position to decide what they want. To enhance the negotiating power, we need to make them aware of their rights and duties and how they can become an active part of our economy. Once, they become an active participant in economy, their negotiating or bargaining power will increase. But for that, they should become an active part of the economy. 

OWSA: The number of educated youth is increasing with time. What are the challenges before policy makers in this regards?

SP: This is a critical issue that policy makers are confronted with today with respect to main streaming youth according to the need of our economy. There are three major components. Firstly, youth should get exposure to good professional education so that they become active contributors in economic growth. However, the biggest challenge is the revision of our school curriculum as per the requirement of our economy. As of now, our education system is not in sync with our social requirements. There is a contradiction.  On the one hand, millions of young people are on the look-out for jobs while on the other hand, employers are facing a shortage of skilled manpower. This mismatch is basically related to education and skills. So the biggest challenge is to re-orient our education system according to our requirements. I am not saying that the subjects like history, numeracy and geography are not important but we should also understand the ways by which we can contribute to the productivity of our economy.

The second challenge is that our youth don’t know what to do after completing school or college education. Today we need skills. Education is alright but we need education-plus. We need skills. So, skill development becomes a second major challenge. Youth form between 54 and 55 per cent of our country’s population.  They will not be productive if we fail to provide them with skills. We need to provide skills that are in sync with the requirements of our economy. 

The third challenge is related to our employment exchanges. We have this concept of employment exchanges since 1950s but they are manually operated and youth are not able to harness the full potential of these exchanges. We need to provide proper guidance and counselling about employment and professional education to the youth so that they can choose a profession which is best for them and start contributing to economic growth. So these are the main areas, education, skills and providing employment services. 

OWSA: What is the government doing for employment generation and enterprise development in rural areas?

SP: The government’s biggest programme is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) where we provide 100 days of guaranteed employment to the individuals who are willing to do unskilled manual labour work. This has been a huge success for us.

A second programme of the government is the Swarnajayanti Gram SwarazgarYojna (SGSY) where young men and women form Self-Help Groups. We provide skill training to them. Subsequently, they form a production center where they sell their own rural products like handicrafts and other raw materials.

Then, there is Pradhanmantri Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) where we provide skill training to the youth who could not complete their schooling. We provide subsidized loans to them so that they can set up their own micro or mini enterprise. These are major programmes in place for employment generation in rural areas. 

OWSA: Recently the union cabinet approved a programme for skill development of 500 million people by the year 2022. Could you please tell us more about this programme?

SP: As I told you earlier, one major challenge before us concerns skill development and we will not be able to make our youth economically productive asset unless we are able provide them with relevant skills. The Twelfth Five Year Plan (FYP) has focused on skill development. We have a plan of modernizing our Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). We have taken an ambitious programme on modular employability by spending Rs 6,000 crores. The impact of this programme is visible in the ITIs – their placement rates have gone up from 35 per cent to around 85 per cent. Students studying in these modern and upgraded institutes have a fair chance of finding employed. We are building skills of young people who weren’t able to complete their school education (or, school dropouts) so that they can acquire a modular skill and start working. They can even go for skill enhancement programmes as or when they feel necessary. The government bears the cost of this programme. As part of the twelfth five year plan, we have a programme of starting new ITIs, vocational training colleges and modernizing employment exchanges. 

We also have a plan of setting up a national web portal which will show the requirements of the employers and the availability of skilled manpower. This will help youth in accessing the employment-related information on real-time basis. We have proposed to spend more than 15 thousand crore rupees on these projects. We are hopeful that if we continue working with this pace during the twelfth and thirteenth five year plans, we would be able to achieve this goal. 

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