Immediate ways to address India's impending jobs crisis

Covid-19 pandemic has given an extraordinary challenge t the world. Unmatched in scale and impact, it has taken a huge toll on human lives and also destroyed millions of jobs. In this pandemic times demand for job-specific skills is growing. There is always a concern by the industry regarding quality and supply of skilled labour. Temporary decline of some industries provides an opportunity for up-skilling toward future-skill-growth areas. Two interventions are needed in this regard: rapid up-skilling for short-term demand surges, such as in grocery retail, and longer-term up-skilling or reskilling that enables individuals to move into careers aligned with future-skill trends, such as health services. Employers focus both on technical and soft skills; building job-relevant skills ecosystem is fundamental for bridging the demand-supply gap and improve job readiness of our youth. There is dire need to focus on flexible as well as fungible skills. India has a large pool of informal gig workers such as contract workers on construction sites; focus to gig economy jobs or on-demand, part-time work given to contract workers can see a big boost. We are witnessing a structural work pattern shift as part of hybrid workforce blending in-person employees with virtual. Gig workers are assuming a strong place in India’s workforce.

Globally, industry is undergoing a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Future jobs will be ever more technology-intensive that will require a higher-skilled workforce. There is a dire need to open up skills training for workers enrolled under the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPF) and Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) who have lost their jobs. Focus may be given to emerging high employment sectors like logistics, BFSI and healthcare. Funds from existing skill training schemes can be preferentially allocated towards training youth in sectors under production linked incentive schemes and other high growth sectors like logistics, transportation and packaging, healthcare, construction and renewable energy. There is an urgent need for transparency on changing demand, growing job opportunities, and information on existing skills that may be underutilized and for better, faster matching between job seekers and employers.

Industry departments in each district can develop a granular view where jobs are at risk and where there is additional demand for labour by sector, occupation, demographics and geography. A heat map can be created. The result would provide government and private sector with list of the businesses and services in which jobs are lost and are therefore in need of interventions to safeguard employment as well as those in which jobs are being created.

Often, small businesses do not have access to the market information and technical infrastructure that can help them quickly redeploy labour or expand their portfolios of services. Government can create a multilingual job portal dedicated to MSMEs, which will act as a common platform for both employers and job seekers. Business Chambers, labour agencies and groups of large companies can post new openings and displaced workers; this way they can find redeployment and secondment opportunities. State governments and not-for-profit organizations can complement online exchanges with support services for displaced workers, such as coaching and counselling.

Investment in data and digital infrastructure is essential to support growth and jobs in the digital economy. Mass adoption of connected digital services by consumers, enterprises and government has emerged as a key economic driver that accelerates growth and facilitates job creation. In the current Covid environment, digitization can play an important role to spur new job opportunities. Government can create digitization plans for targeted sectors to maximize the impact of digitization. Government can work in concert with industry, consumers, and different agencies to establish an inclusive information and communication technologies (ICT) ecosystem that encourages greater uptake and usage of digital services.