There has been considerable public discussion and media coverage in recent times about how ’skills development’ is the magic wand that will create millions of jobs for unemployed youth. The underlying assumption is that as the Indian economy makes a transition from rural to urban, farm to non-farm, and from other traditional to non-traditional methods, our youth are hampered by lack of skills to cope with this changing world. Very true. However skills development, while a necessary condition, is by no means a sufficient one to ensure that our teeming millions live happily ever after.
Based on our own experience at Growth-For-All, and validated by a study we commisioned earlier this year, it is clear that the issue is indeed very intriguing and complex.
The first community that we got involved with - Savda Ghevra, N.W Delhi- has several thousand unemployed youth. Looking at this, we went in with am ambitious skills-development( & job placement) offering free of cost. However, only a few hundred of them signed up and completed the courses. It’s been a struggle to make headway beyind these numbers. To understand this better, we commissioned a study which validated what we had suspected for a while:
a) that skills development was NOT an answer by itself. Low motivation & aspiration levels ( even in a city like Delhi) were the fundamental softer issues that needed to be addressed. Programs that build motivation & aspiration need to go hand-in-hand with ‘hard’ skills-development courses.
b) while focusing on skills development for youth is important from a short-term standpoint of providing livelihoods, the longer-term approach requires that we ‘work on them’ when they are much younger, say between 12-18 years. By the time they are 18, its too late to build motivation & aspiration. We have used music for girls( & are contemplating sports for boys) to build this connect with them so that other messages like education & careers find a receptive audience.
c) in a city like Delhi, with its distances, the youth - even after they have been trained for skills - have an aversion to commute for 1-2 hours by bus to get to their place of work. They are willing to settle for less if its closer to home( a Jhuggi-Jhopri colony or resettlement colony in most cases).
d) finally, the whole discourse on skills development seems to want to move youngsters into ‘jobs’, while ignoring self-employment as a route, which is both an opportunity and a necessity. For the self-employment route to success, it needs to get tied to related aspects like mentoring, microfinance, etc. In private conversations, I have been very surprised to find policy advisors summarily dismiss self-employment as a something not worth pursuing.
All this suggests that the government, in all the euphoria and optimism surrounding skills-development should not ignore related, and softer issues like motivation/aspiration, urban distances, as well as possibilities of self-employment.
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