One of every five youth in the world is an Indian. This is not bad, except for the fact that most of them are likely to be idle or underemployed.
There are 808 million individuals between 13 and 35 years of age in the country (40 million of them are illiterate) and comprise 66 per cent of the population. Of these, about 9.7 per cent of men and 18.7 per cent of women in the age group of 20 to 24 years living in urban areas were unemployed in 2009-10. Add to this the dreary detail of the 130 million children who enrolled in primary schools, but about 80 million did not make it to Class VIII, according to 2009-10 figures.
So, these 80 million children went out in the world unskilled and unprepared to seek jobs.
The labour ministry and other departments are currently engaged in creating employable youth through skilling programmes, almost like reinventing the wheel. For schools had already provided the opportunity and the audience for such skilling.
Since skilling is not part of education, and exposure to workplace through apprenticeships is not heard of in the country, the dropouts generally are doomed.
Rarely do skilling programmes have any link with classrooms. In Chile in the 1990s, the government experimented with an approach that tapped school dropouts. It was called Jovenes.
Sher Vervick, an employment expert with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), recently showcased this approach as part of an experience-sharing seminar organised jointly by the ILO and the labour ministry.
Jovenes focused on disadvantaged youth (school dropouts and other youth from low-income households) and provided a mixture of technical training, work experience (through internships), combined with basic life skills and job search assistance. Vervick says India could borrow from this model, even as he admits that linkage with education is vital.
Jovenes had nothing to do with schools, but was a demand-based programme and targeted poor young workers between 16 and 29 years, with vocational training and numerous support services.
The model was replicated across the region in Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Columbia, Panama, Dominican Republic, etc. In India, in spite of its high dropout rates, skilling is taking place in a random fashion with not every village or district being targeted, not to speak of any linkage with schools in any fashion.
Anyway, here is how Jovenes by no means the ideal, unfolded itself to poor Chilean youth.
It did advertising campaigns in select municipalities, screen potential participants, and then trained them in skills of an occupation. This is similar to what the skilling programme of the National Skill Development Corporation does.
The course structure includes soft skills for reading, writing, mathematics, problem solving, interactive skills and lasts for 150 to 250 hours. The comparison ends here. Jovenes also offered job search assistance for a month or so. The best part was internship (not paid) in a real labour environment for two to three months.
Evaluations of such interventions show that any skilling programme, especially with work experience even without guaranteed placement, helps youth enter the labour market. But, there is no guarantee of accessibility to the poor and needy.
Kerala’s former Left-led government had proposed introducing skill education in Class VI. Skills included farming, carpentry, stitching and so on. It already runs a separate vocational education schooling system for those who have completed Class X. But, the upper primary intervention that was regarded as an enlightened step could not take off after the government changed hands. Linkage of skills with schools is yet to materialise anywhere in the country, and it is no wonder that Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is never part of any gathering that discusses skilling and employment of youth, including the series of seminars being organised by the ILO.