With a majority of our population being under 30 years of age, our country clearly has a demographic advantage, which if not leveraged properly, might just get converted into a demographic disaster.

Besides promises of widespread job creation and credit facilities to encourage self-employment among the youth and information technology (IT)-based jobs in rural and semi-urban areas, all parties in their election manifestos this season are stressing on skills development and vocational training to add long-term value to the economy.

We have understood that it is not about capacity any more, but about making more people employable. The logic is based on the fact that the Indian economy is one of fastest growing global economies with a projected gross domestic product growth rate of 7% and above for the next few years. It is also estimated that 83% of the increase in India’s demographic dividend will be in the age group of 15-59 years.

Harnessed properly, this dividend will allow India to own 25% of the world’s total workforce by 2025, increasing our per capita income to $4,100 from an approximate current staggering $1,330, according to United Nations Development Programme India and the National Skill Development Corporation India (NSDC).

With global economies thriving on advanced processes and innovation that demand specialized human resources, clearly skills and knowledge are driving economic growth today. Therefore, while India with its potential demographic dividend has the ability to emerge as the global skills factory servicing all levels of the value chain, it can only realize this potential if it begins to focus on skills-related training that is linked to employability right now.

With this in mind Nasscom’s IT-ITeS (IT-enabled services) Sector Skills Council was launched in partnership with NSDC and has, over the last two years, endeavoured to create an employable pool of graduates who are industry-ready.

The council has set up standards to foster global best practices in industry, validated IT-ITeS skill development models so that they can be applied across sectors and collaborated with other sector skills councils to develop best market employment solutions which advocate greater investment in skills.

However, the end goal is not just to create a ready skilled workforce, but to eventually scale up quality capacity and have a greater alignment between occupational competencies and increasing employee satisfaction and performance with the active involvement of all the stakeholders.

Against this background, IT-ITeS Sector Skills Council also initiated occupational analysis and mapping, a process that scans the industry and identifies different occupations in the various sub-sectors. The occupational standards define 73 unique job roles at the entry level and then map them across the middle and leadership levels.

For employers, adherence to occupational standards means focused skill development interventions, increased business productivity, and reduced training time and recruitment budgets. For the workforce, it clearly spells a method to identify skills needed for specific work roles and a standard against which informed career decisions can be taken.

Since the IT-BPM (business process management) industry is globally recognized as the growth engine for India, occupational standards were set within its parameters first. But the overarching challenge lies in touching the masses with quality training while keeping costs low. Sustainable models can be scaled up, but since each state and sector comes with its own peculiarities, it is difficult to find a common denominator.

There is also the question of who pays for the training; is it the employers who get ready-to-work employees from day one, or the students who are made employable rather than degree holders? Or is it the government’s responsibility?

Obviously the hurdles are multifaceted, so the solution must be too. At one level, we need to work on innovative models of payment that takes the burden off any one entity; this task is the collective responsibility of all the stakeholders—government, private organizations, academia and workforce. At the same time, we also have to counter the common misconception that skill-training is only meant for those who cannot make it in the formal education system.

On a macro level, occupational standards in the long term will continue to ensure quality in the talent pipeline and thus cement India’s leadership status in the global arena of progressive workforce.

The author is chairman of industry lobby group Nasscom and executive vice-chairman of Cognizant Technology Solutions India.

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