It's for bread alone

India, June 3 -- How many colleges does India have? How many graduates do they churn out every year? How many of the graduates manage to get jobs that match their education? How many are left by the wayside - literally?

There are questions galore. And the answers lie in dry data, being read and re-read by experts. Meanwhile, millions like Santosh Kumar, a graduate from Bihar's Motihari district, continue to do unskilled menial jobs for eking out a meagre living in India's towns and cities.

Kumar, who drives an auto-rickshaw in Delhi, says, "I don't qualify for a technical job. I didn't even manage to get a peon's position in a government department after several attempts. What could I have done?"

He is right. As millions jostle for a college seat in the coming weeks, Santosh's tale mirrors a hard reality that has come to characterise the Indian economy and society burdened with an education system that fails to provide enough job-skills to around 15 million additional hopefuls every year.

Of India's 1.2-billion population, 60% are of the working age. And of the 15 million individuals who join the queue of job seekers every year, only 3% undergo vocational training.

On a global benchmark, the country still has a long way to go before bridging the skills deficit. India has won only one medal - a silver one - at the World Skills Competition, a biennial event popularly known as World Skills Olympics.

Consider this: According to data collated by central government think tank Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR), during the five years from 2004-05 to 2009-10, employment in the manufacturing sector has actually declined by 5.03 million.

In all, 460.22 million people - or less than 40% of the population - were employed across various sectors. And the work force expanded only by 2.76 million during the five years.

"Imagine if we can come up with products and solutions to train the under-skilled population, a lot of contribution can be made to India's development," said Dilip Chenoy, CEO and managing director of National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC).

NSDC was formed to provide and upgrade skills for 150 million people by 2022 by encouraging the private sector in skill development. It provides funding to build scalable and for-profit vocational training initiatives.

Equipped with a low educational and skill base, the surplus labour from agriculture is generally absorbed in the unorganised segments of both industry and services.

IAMR said in a recent paper, Jobless and Informalisation, Challenges to Inclusive Growth in India, that the second stage of transition - from the unorganised to the organised sector - will happen with a considerable time lag.

Besides, it will depend on access to education for the marginalised sections, proper implementation of legal provisions and skill development initiatives by the government.

While Chenoy says it is a great national challenge to impart the right skills - although "we now have the appropriate policies and programmes in place" - it may soon become more than a national challenge as 15 millions are joining the queue of job seekers every year.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.