Reiterating the government’s commitment to the 'Skill India' initiative in her maiden budget speech, India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that the government is enabling millions to take up industry-relevant skill training, boosting their job prospects.
An analysis of the unit-level data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 however suggests that the reality is far more grim. Only a small section of the youth reported receiving any vocational training, and a large share of them were either unemployed or out of the labour force, the data shows.
Nationally, only 1.8% of the population reported receiving formal vocational/technical training in 2017-18. 5.6% reported receiving informal vocational training (such as hereditary, self-learning, and on the job training). This means 93% of the population did not receive any vocational/technical training from either formal or informal sources.
The youth (15-29 years) comprised more than half of the people who received formal vocational/technical training.
One would imagine that the young population with ‘industry-relevant’ formal vocational training would have better job prospects. But about 42% of the youth (15-29 years) who received formal technical training were not part of the labour force at all (i.e., they were not working or seeking employment opportunities, they reported). Among youth who did not receive such training, 62.3% were out of the labour force. Across age groups, substantial shares of the women who received such training were out of the labour force.
One reason why such a large section of ‘skilled’ workers were out of the labour force could be the difficulty in finding a job. Around 33% of the formally trained youth was unemployed in 2017-18. Nearly a third of trained young men and more than a third of trained young women were unemployed.
The unemployment rate among freshly trained youth, who completed training during the previous year, was even higher at 40%. With these high unemployment rates, it is likely that many young men and women have moved out of the labour force altogether after a fruitless job search.
What kind of training is the young population receiving? The PLFS collected data on fields of training, which are categorised under 22 heads. The bulk of the trainees were in the fields of electronics, IT/ ITeS sector, apparels, and mechanical engineering.
Men and women received starkly different kinds of training, reinforcing the segregation of the labour market. More than 80% of the trainees in the fields of agriculture & food processing, telecom, media & mass communication were men. The fields of beauty & wellness, apparel, handicrafts, hospitality and healthcare were dominated by women.
A year after being elected Prime Minister for the first time, Narendra Modi launched the Skill India initiative with much fanfare in 2015. The key flagship scheme under the initiative, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) was supposed to impart skills free of cost to 10 million youth to help them secure better livelihoods.
That all was not well with the programme was apparent as early as 2017 when a government-appointed committee led by Sharda Prasad found that the targets under the programme were too ambitious, and funds spent on the programme were not subject to adequate monitoring. The PLFS data only confirms the warnings issued in that report, and indicates that the programme needs to be completely overhauled if ‘Skill India’ is to mean something more than a mere buzzword.
Although the PMKVY aims to provide training free of cost, most of the youth who have received formal training have had to bear the cost of training, the PLFS data shows. Only 16 percent of the youth who received formal training were funded by the government. Around 73% of the trainees underwent full-time training. The training period for more than half of the youth exceeded a year, and about 30% underwent training for more than two years.
On the whole, most youth remain outside the ambit of formal training, and many of those who undergo months of vocational training at their own cost remain jobless.
The decline in budgetary allocations for PMKVY suggests that the government itself is not convinced that the scheme is working well.
But does the government have an alternative plan? Sitharaman’s budget speech at least gave no indication that the government has a credible plan to address India’s unemployment challenge.
This is the concluding part of a two-part data journalism series on jobs in India. The first part (https://www.livemint.com/politics/policy/most-regular-jobs-in-india-don-t-pay-well-plfs-1565075309032.html) examined the earnings of regular workers in the country.
Ishan Anand teaches at Ambedkar University Delhi, and Anjana Thampi is a researcher at the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) at IFMR LEAD, New Delhi.