By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, July 18, 2020: India faces a daunting task to wriggle out of the huge crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic. The deadly virus has forced the government to clamp lockdowns and shutdowns time and again, which virtually paralyzed the economic development in the country leaving the wretched of earth in total hapless situation.

Life during the COVID era is uncertain at the moment and many things remain outside our control. The Pandemic has already triggered sweeping changes in the day-to-day life of one and all. It has imposed enormous economic costs in every country and it is widely accepted that life in the post-COVID era will not be the same.

Still worse is the fact that the COVID has incapacitated the global job market and governance. There is an colossal economic pain ahead with more than 2.5 crore jobs threatened due to the spread of novel coronavirus globally, according to International Labour Organisation (ILO).

International Monetary Fund (IMF) has described the present situation as the second-worst economic crisis faced by the world since the great depression of the 1930s. But the worst sufferers are the low-paid and low-skilled informal workers in low and middle-skilled countries who account for 61% of the global workforce as they do not have social protection.

In India too, the national lockdown turned out to be the biggest job destroyer in history. The Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) shows a significant fall in jobs and reaches to the unemployment rate stands at 8.7% in March 2020. The CMIE survey further says that the joblessness in the urban areas has been increased to 11.26% from 10.69% by the end of June.

India’s strength is its demography with about 65 per cent of its population below 35 years age. However, demography brings a dividend only if the youth is trained properly and up skilled keeping the market demands in mind.

In India, every year at least 80 lakh new job seekers enter the jobs market. But going by the available data, in 2017, only 55 lakh jobs were created. The situation is further worsening with highest unemployment rate recorded in 45 years. The Indian youth has become the first casualty, with the unemployment rate reaching 34 per cent among the 20-24-year-olds in the first quarter of 2019 – it was 37.9 per cent among the urban lot, according to the CMIE.

According to the 2018 Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), the unemployment rate among the urban 15-29-year-olds was 23.7 per cent. Experts attributed this inescapable joblessness to the poor training of the youth as only seven per cent of the people surveyed in the framework of the PLFS declared any formal or informal training.

The Narendra Modi government needs to focus on upskilling the youths to meet the employment needs of technology-driven 21st century and accelerate the pace of self-reliance or what he calls Atmanirbhar Bharat. This is evident from a survey report which says 48 per cent of Indian employers reported difficulties filling job vacancies due to talent shortage.

The Modi government has launched the “Skill India” programme to train a minimum of 30 crore skilled people by 2022. But only a mere 2.5 crore had been trained under this scheme by the end of 2018 due to mismanagement and lack of funds under “Skill India” programme. According to the PLF Survey, in 2018 only 16 per cent of the youth who had received formal training funded by the government.

Ironically, those who have been trained under Skill India programme didn’t find jobs. Though the number of youths trained under Skill India scheme has shot up from 3.5 lakh in 2016-17 to 16 lakh in 2017-18, but barely 30 per cent of them could find jobs upon completion of their training.. Union government had approved Rs 12,000 crore in 2016 for the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), with a target to train one crore people by 31 March 2020. As of now, the skill ministry claims that 92 lakh people have been trained. But many of them remained jobless due to several factors.

Addressing a digital conclave on World Youth Skills. He also offered a new mantra for the youth. “The mantra to remain relevant is – skill, re-skill and up-skill. Skill – Learn a new skill and value add to things. Re-skill – Add to your skill every day by learning something new. Up-skill – Widening your skillset is upskilling yourself,” he said.

Interestingly, the prime minister for the first time talked about the need to map the global manpower in different sectors and align Indian standards with those of other countries so that Indian skilled people can fill the gap between global demand and supply of workforce.

“Skill mapping will make things easier,” Modi said adding that in a rapidly changing business environment and market conditions, more so due to covid-19, skilling and reskilling will assume importance for the labour market.

The union government recently launched a digital platform for skill mapping of workers including migrant workers and how this will work as a matchmaker between skilled workforce and region specific jobs available.

Keeping the ground reality, the Modi Union government will soon unveil the next phase of PMKVY, which will primarily focus on the role of states, issues of migrant workers, and post covid-19 employment scenario. It is expected to come up with an increased focus on entrepreneurship, digital technology, and skill development suitable to meet the industry demands and hopefully, this works to solve unemployment problem partially, if not fully.

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