The Centre’s recent extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for another five years, which will benefit 81.35 crore people, will cost the exchequer an estimated ₹11.8-lakh crore.

Though this is a commendable initiative, we must also prioritise job creation for the underprivileged. We must come up with a sustainable solution that equips them with the requisite skills to earn a decent livelihood.

Therefore, the Interim Budget 2024-25 on February 1, must focus on imparting employable and sustainable skills to the most vulnerable 67 per cent of the country’s population.

It’s a challenging task, but not impossible. There is a need to boost skilling programmes and industry partnerships to promote continuous skilling avenues and employability for school dropouts and unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Virtual labs and e-labs are useful, but our problem is extensive. API-based trusted skill credentials, payment, and discovery layers to find relevant jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities won’t work beyond a certain point.

It is essential to recognise that over 40 per cent of Indians aged between 15 and 24 are not in education, employment, or training, far above the South Asian (30 per cent) and global (24 per cent) averages.

Skills not in sync

Firms in India report high skill shortages, and they assess only about 46 per cent of graduates as employable. Most students lack skills, and the skills they have are not aligned with the skills needed by companies.

Every year, more than 12 million young people reach the employable age in India, but we are unable to absorb them. Many of them hold higher education degrees, but they lack employable skills. The India Skills Report (ISR) 2023 shows that only 50.3 per cent of those coming out of higher educational institutions are employable. India needs to provide ‘Ready to Hire’ young workforce talent.

The Indian skill development system suffers from fragmentation, resulting from the government’s multiple certification systems, which further divides industry initiatives. A consolidation of efforts is needed to scale up the participation of private players and industries. The unorganised sector, which accounts for about 93 per cent of the workforce, lacks any structural system for acquiring or upgrading skills, and there is no certification system for a large chunk of workers who have acquired proficiency on their own without any formal education.

Moreover, there is a shortage of information on skill development, resulting in non-responsive skill types and an inadequate number of skilled workers, creating a demand-supply mismatch in the labour market. Furthermore, the skill development ecosystem is yet to address the impact of Intelligent Automation and Robotics, and all stakeholders must collaborate to future-proof the Indian workforce.

We cannot overlook the potential of gig economy workers, particularly the youth, who account for a significant portion of gig workers in India. The Union Budget for 2024-25 must prioritise upskilling initiatives for gig workers.According to a report by Taskmo, a gig work platform, the participation of young people in the gig economy of India has witnessed an eight-fold increase between 2019 and 2023. The majority of these youth are from Tier-I and Tier-II cities, thereby emphasizing the need for upskilling.

A substantial allocation to provide employable skills to school dropouts should be a priority. This will not only empower them but also contribute to economic growth.

The writer is Co-Founder and MD, Orane International, a Training Partner with National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC)