Opinion

Scaling up the ecosystem for job and skill seekers

Rohit Kumar/Deepro Guha | Updated on July 26, 2021

An open digital ecosystem that brings job seekers, employers, skills providers and government agencies can be implemented with ease, with a little help from government and technology

With the receding number of Covid cases, roll-back of lockdowns and cautious optimism about a recovering economy, skilling initiatives are in the spotlight yet again. On the occasion of ‘World Youth Skill Day’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put his weight behind the Skill India Mission and called skill development of the new generation a national need, important to building a strong foundation of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat.

Skilling India’s youth should undoubtedly be a high priority. But government initiatives to improve India’s skilling track record have not been very successful in the past. An analysis by the Sharda Committee (2016) found that skill development courses often offered poor placements to participants and added limited value to their employment opportunities.

While some skilling schemes have since been restructured, the problem has not been fully addressed. For instance, when the government introduced the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojana (GKRY) last year to address skilling and unemployment issues that emerged in the wake of reverse migration, it did not pan out as anticipated. Many reports suggest that GKRY’s demand-driven skilling initiatives were not successful; they did not reach the intended beneficiaries.

This hints at a systemic problem that affects the talent ecosystem in India.

Think about Asha — a young woman contemplating her next career move. How should she go about finding her calling? Where should she get trained? And what kind of jobs would be open to her? Stories of many youth in India today mirror that of Asha’s. While they have a strong drive to better their lives, they are limited by a lack of access.

A major challenge that India currently faces with respect to its talent pool is one of ‘matching’ — between jobseekers and jobs, and between skill-seekers and skill-training providers. Search costs are prohibitive for employers and a candidate’s qualifications are difficult to verify. For jobseekers, there seem to be many available jobs but listings are spread across different platforms and there is no real way to establish quality of job roles. For someone like Asha to successfully navigate through this maze would be almost impossible.

Similar issues plague the arena of skilling; candidates looking to upskill find it difficult to connect with credible skill providers, and ‘certified’ trainees often do not have the required skills to make them employable. Data from India’s biggest skilling programme, PMKVY, testifies to this fact. Over the last few years, only one in four persons who trained under PMKVY, were actually placed.

Designing the future of work

Technology can potentially bridge these gaps that we observe in the labour market. Already, several employers conduct recruitment through digital platforms, and there has been a significant ramping up of State level employment initiatives such as the Delhi Rozgar Bazaar — a government job portal.

To extend support to blue and grey collar workers, the Central Government has also announced a beta version of the Unnati platform. Meanwhile, there are a number of promising private sector initiatives that have come up, such as a new hyperlocal job search portal named Jobsgaar as well as other established platforms like QuikrJobs and AasaanJobs.

While these initiatives are impressive, connecting them through a common digital platform can yield immense benefit. In fact, the government has already indicated its plans to develop Unnati as a “platform of platforms” to facilitate interoperability and bring together the entire ecosystem, in the form of a national open digital ecosystem — a Talent NODE.

People like Asha can benefit greatly from such a Talent NODE. In one place, they can find information on accredited skilling programmes including placement records, as well as details about employment opportunities. Private players can seek insights from this platform to create value-added services such as counselling, aptitude testing and credit transfers between training institutes. As more initiatives get integrated into this platform, it can host a wealth of information, offering a bird’s eye view for India’s talent.

Building a robust Talent NODE

While the Talent NODE is a promising idea, its execution will need innovative solutions to address several dogged challenges. The first issue is the verification of existing skills — a problem that has been especially hard to solve. Looking to international examples, Singapore uses “OpenCerts”, a blockchain platform to validate educational certificates.

While this could work for university/college degrees, verifying skillsets for grey collar jobs could prove tricky. This would require further standardisation and certification of vocational courses — a task which the Ministry of Skill Development has already started on through the National Occupational Standards.

The second related issue is that of universal access. The informal sector accounts for approximately 93 per cent of the employed population in India. In the case of the Talent NODE, this population could face a high risk of exclusion. Mitigating the exclusion risk would require engagement with marginalised groups, via both online and offline channels.

Common Service Centres (CSCs), for example, could be used to facilitate last-mile reach. Similarly, user-friendly, vernacular interfaces could greatly benefit job and skill seekers across segments.

The Talent NODE is by no means a silver bullet. But if done right, through an innovative and inclusive approach, between 50-80 million people can be expected to benefit from new jobs or jobs that are better matched to their skills. A million different opportunities firing up a million ‘ashas’ or aspirations, for millions like Asha — all through one inter-connected ecosystem.

Rohit Kumar is a founding partner and Deepro Guha is a manager at The Quantum Hub, a public policy research and communications firm

Published on July 26, 2021

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