Millennium Post

India, keep your youth bulge alive

There is an air of forlornness about the two young men as they prepare to take up the mind-numbing job of security guards at a fancy retail showroom in Gurgaon, the commercial city abutting the capital. “I don’t care. We have tried everything and I don’t mind doing this as long as my family back home doesn’t know,” says Nahid, who clearly has reached the end of his tether. It is six years since he got his bachelor’s degree in zoology and botany and he hasn’t even made it as an office assistant. He and Wasim have been told they do not even have the soft skills needed to peddle the furniture in the posh shop where they will now work as guards. Wasim’s brooding look is a silent comment on the compromise he has been forced to make for a salary that will just about keep the wolf from the door. What Wasim and six million others have realised is that a security guard’s job is about the easiest option since it’s one of the few booming sectors of the economy.

There is nothing unique about the circumstances of the Ali brothers. An estimated five million graduates are churned out every year by the hundreds of thousands of teaching shops across the country that provide neither a solid education nor any special skills to these young people. Graduates working as peons in offices and postgraduates carrying head loads as construction labour are not exactly new. 

Such stories are routine in India where securing decent jobs has always been difficult for the hordes that pass out from these colleges looking for white collar jobs. What is new and unnerving now is the overwhelming numbers of young people looking for employment on account of the changing demographics of the country.

A couple of significant statistics stand out in this new demographic profile. Nearly half the population, 48.6 per cent to be precise, of the total 1.21 billion is below 24 years, according to the 2011 census. What India is experiencing is a pronounced youth bulge with around 232 million people in the 15-24 age bracket, up from 190 million in 2001. The median age is 25 compared with 40 for most of the developed economies. Constituting a fifth of the total population, the 15-24 years cohort is the youngest slab in the working age population (WAP) which includes people between 15 and 59 years. It is the WAP segment that has been exciting discussion at home and abroad because with as much as 62.5 per cent of the population in the working age, there is the possibility of India reaping a huge demographic dividend.

But a caveat is in order here. Not everyone of WAP will be in the job market. According to the Institute of Human Development in Delhi, the overall labour force participation is just 56 per cent of WAP, a low figure compared to nearly 64 per cent for the rest of the world. This is largely because women participation is a dismal 31 per cent, among the lowest in the world and the second lowest in South Asia after Pakistan.

More people aged 15-24 years are likely to continue education, much more than the 26 per cent who do now, according to one analysis, while others think that more women in the same cohort are likely to join the workforce after their numbers dropped to an all-time low in the recent past. Whatever the calculations, India will need to create at least 100 million new jobs in less than a decade. In talking about the demographic dividend, the Economic Survey 2013 is candid enough to say that a larger workforce will translate into more workers only if there are productive jobs for them. The survey is not certain that enough jobs can be created to make the most of the demographic dividend
What exactly is a demographic dividend and why is there such a buzz over what this will do for India’s growth prospects? A demographic dividend occurs when the high fertility rates begin to decline and ratio of dependents—that is the young (below 14 years) and the old (over 60)—to the working population is significantly lower. This helps to funnel savings and investments into the economy and gives a huge boost to the per capita income. This is what happened in all the miracle economies of East Asia such as Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand which posted a huge growth starting in the 1960s. Economists say these countries experienced a demographic dividend that added a fantastic two per cent to their annual per capita income growth.

Can India, too, pull off such a feat? It has set itself a humongous target of skilling a mind-boggling 530 million people by 2022, of which 380 million are the responsibility of 23 government ministries. The remaining 150 million will be trained by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), a public–private partnership between the government and industry. States, too, have set up skill development missions whose goals depend to a large extent on Central government funding. But the odds clearly are daunting.

By arrangement with Down To Earth
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