Millennium Post

Few jobs, many seekers

India’s unemployment rate is at a four-month high leading to a worrying situation for the country’s youth

Few jobs, many seekers

Jobs aren't easy to come by. A fact that even a small business like mine experiences every time we put out a job post. We are overwhelmed by the response from candidates, many of whom are overqualified and/or hail from diverse backgrounds. For our communications job openings, we have had applications from former entrepreneurs, air hostesses and cabin crew, marketing and sales executives, people with over two decades of work experience, and even a scientist! The most heartrending among them are the pleas that come from the younger lot. Given two years of raging pandemic and many workplaces still working from home or opting to, it's become almost impossible to give out internships leave alone jobs to freshers. No opportunity either to take them under your wing in order to train them. They send out earnest requests to learn on the job but have to be turned down. According to reports by Azim Premji University, workers between 15-23 years of age have been adversely affected the most.

Covid hit an already shaky Indian job market causing deep lacerations, which are yet to heal. This week, Salil Tripathi, a Zomato delivery partner died in an accident when allegedly a cop car rammed into him. His personal story of the last two years of the pandemic is equally tragic. According to a news report, he had worked in several hotels before clinching the job of a restaurant manager. There was a time when he was doing well, earning Rs 40,000-Rs 50,000 a month. He had a job he loved, his family depended on him, his life had a purpose. But then Covid-19 impacted his life. In the first lockdown, he lost his job; during the second, he lost his father. Soon after, he turned gig worker within a year. His death became the final chapter of two years of misery. There are many like Salil who have had their fortunes overturned during Covid. Unlike him, they live to tell the tale.

The job market in India that had marginally improved has again hit a four-month high in December with 7.9 per cent. In December 2020, it had peaked to 9.1 per cent before it settled down to 8.3 per cent in August, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Since August last year, joblessness rate had cooled down slightly before spiking again last month wherein the urban unemployment rate on a weekly basis had increased to 10.09 per cent. Economic activity in the country had restarted once the Covid curve was flattening. But now with Omicron fears and the third wave causing thousands of daily infections, the situation looks grim.

Interestingly, the poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Punjab, and Uttarakhand have fewer employed people today than 5 years ago. India's Labour Force Participation is quite embarrassing too at 46 per cent in 2020; much lower than other emerging nations such as Chile, Brazil, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, China, and Malaysia. A deeper look at the data unveils worrying details — more graduates are jobless, more women are unemployed than men, jobs shrunk more in India in the first Covid year compared to Vietnam, Brazil, Bangladesh, and Mexico.

The job market is also rapidly evolving due to the pandemic. According to a survey by an edtech startup, 80 per cent respondents felt that the skill set for the youth had changed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the work-from-home/remote job options, employers were increasingly looking for proactive problem-solvers, who are self-motivated, work well within a team, and are adept at time-management, and learning on the job. Critical thinking, decision-making, and communications prowess emerged as most sought-after skills among the youth. These asks create a competitive scenario for any potential job-seeker, including freshers. No wonder there are few coveted jobs and hundreds of applicants.

Lockdowns, curfews, shutdowns — life has been coming to a temporary halt after 10 pm or over the weekend in some Indian cities. Sometimes the only buzz one hears is the whizzing of two-wheelers as delivery boys come in and out of restaurants and cloud kitchens. The gig economy is truly alive and kicking, and (as I have written here before) proving to be a saviour to freshers and those who have lost jobs. But how long can they sustain? And what lives are these for India's talented, educated youth?

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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