Thursday, 4 April 2013

India’s growing youth population: Asset or liability?

India is poised to have one of the largest pools of young people in the world in the future. Demographically, does that qualify as a dividend or a disaster?
You can’t make a real argument either way unless you take another aspect into account: skill.
The able working population in India must be transformed into capable working people. Numbers alone don’t matter. A growing population of young people becomes an asset only when it has the skills to become an economically productive segment of society. Otherwise, it ends up being an economic burden, consisting of more mouths to feed.
India is poised to have one of the largest pools of young people in the world in the future. Demographically, does that qualify as a dividend or a disaster? Punit Paranjpe/AFP
Ensuring that its youth population turns into an economic asset is the challenge that faces India today, according to experts who participated in a skills development discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) India Summit being held in Mumbai.
Panel experts also believed that without harnessing the potential of its youth population, the economy would be unable to gallop ahead in double-digits.
Thankfully, the government is aware of that. “The problem of skill development has to be tackled at different levels, said Kapil Sibal, human resource development minister. “We are planning to launch a training policy framework in 2012 so that by 2022, India will have 500 million skilled people and 200 million graduates.”
According to Rajiv Khandelwal, co-founder and executive director of Aajeevika (Livelihood Bureau), an organisation that provides support services to migrant workers, there are currently 40 million people employed in the unorganised sector. Those who work in the unemployed sector typically have few skills and consequently, get very poorly paid. Most of them hail from relatively poor states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.
Because the nature of their work is often tough and offers few benefits by way of insurance and pensions, most workers don’t survive very long on the job. In fact, the average age of retirement in the unorganised sector is 28 years, Khandelwal, the WEF’s social entrepreneur for 2010, revealed.
Education and development of skills will go a long way in ensuring that large chunks of future generations don’t end up the same way.
To do that, the panelists urged the government and corporate sector to join hands. Technology could also pitch in to help towards improving young India’s skills sets.
N Chandrashekharan, chairman and managing director of IT company Tata Consultancy Services, and RS Pawar, chairman of NIIT, a technology education service provider, noted that 400,000 teachers would be required in the coming decade to train the next generation.
Since it was highly unlikely that many teachers would actually be available by then, they suggested telecom and broadband services could be used instead to reach students even in the remotest part of the country.
Clearly, the fact that India will soon be home to one of the world’s youngest populations in future can become a tremendous asset, but only if our policy makers start planning for it today.

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