Where are the jobs?
In a highly tech-centric job market, a sizeable section of the youth are rendered jobless despite valuable degrees and talent.
The labour market may have four discernible possibilities. There may be growth but no jobs; neither growth nor jobs; jobs yet no growth; and, finally, both adequate growth and sufficient jobs. Among all, the last one is the most ideal situation. For employment creation, consistent growth is a must. But, there are phases in the economy when despite visible growth, employment generation remains low-key. We are going through a similar phase. Despite having a moderately good economic growth and enjoying the status of being the world's fastest-growing large economy, there are very few jobs in the market. The kind, quality, and number of employment available is shrinking. The emergence of 'jobless growth' is a scary economic reality. If left unaddressed, it may soon obfuscate all the narratives of growth and development.
While India's GDP growth has been in the range of 6-7 per cent in past few years, the projection of unemployment as per the UN Labour report is 18 million in 2018. In terms of percentage, it is close to 3.4 per cent. The GDP growth rate has been close to China's 6.6 per cent as per IMF World Economic Outlook Update of January 2018. Though China's 4 per cent rate of unemployment is higher than ours, President Xi Jinping is confident that at the present growth rate, he will fulfil his commitment of creating a 'moderately prosperous' Chinese society by 2020. What's India's roadmap to bridge the hiatus between growth and job? According to the recent ILO India Labour Market Update, while India's GDP growth was expected to rebound to 7.2 per cent in 2017-18 and 7.7 per cent in 2019, the challenge of converting that into better labour market conditions looms large. Where have we lost the jobs?
There's frustration among the youth due to the shrinking job market. The emphasis on higher education is churning out a huge number of educated yet unemployed youth who are forced to chase degrees and diplomas in the hope of finding a decent job someday. However, obtaining higher education often renders them both financially drained and all the more unemployable. This is because qualification, interest, expectation, and opportunity don't easily align in a tight job market. No doubt, many other countries are also suffering from a similar problem. Iran is a case in point, where, over 40 per cent of the country's unemployed comprises of the educated university and college graduates. The unemployment rate in Iran is nearly 12 per cent and the frustration was manifested in the recent unrest in Tehran.
In 2017, China churned out one million more graduates as compared to 2013. Apparently, most of them succeeded in getting a job, but in reality, they were mostly pseudo-employment in the form of part-time and low-paid jobs, not matching their qualification and expectation. My COS which provides data survey and analytics consulting services to over 600 institutions of higher education across China, estimated that six months after completing graduation, most the graduates landed up getting a job where the salary was below the salary of the average migrant labour. Not only this, shockingly, students who studied subjects like history, law, and literature in China had both the lowest employment opportunity and lowest employment rate, the report states. The situation of our own graduates and postgraduates is no different.
The belief that a higher degree guarantees a good job or a career is gradually turning out to be a myth. In reality, it has just become an entry ticket to the overcrowded job market. Not only that, in the era of technocracy, only a certain type of education which trains young men and women for running a business or industry gives access to the employment gateway. The question is, do the governments, academicians, policymakers have a vision ready to ward off redundancy of a sizeable number of graduates and postgraduates who study various theoretical and conceptual subjects like literature, history, sociology, among other in a techno-centric job market? These graduates who have the right skills to manage the office and administrative jobs are most likely to suffer. It's because emerging technologies like mobile internet, cloud technology, Big Data analytics and the Internet of Things are stealthily replacing them. Online marketing is snatching away jobs from poor salesmen. Banks, which used to provide sizeable and regular employment in India are substituting human resource with IT. Branches are being run by skeleton staff but jobs are not being created.
While jobless growth is becoming a global reality, the World Economic Forum presents an optimistic outlook about job creation. It envisages that AI, Big Data analytics, mobile internet, Internet of Things and robotics will soon unleash the Fourth Industrial Revolution and thus, there will be more employment. However, it also cautions that without an urgent and targeted action plan to cope with this imminent transition and train a workforce with future-proof skills, governments will have to face ever-rising unemployment and social inequality. As the fourth largest economy, India is not insulated from the global trends. They impact us too.
Since the government is planning a new National Employment Policy this year, one expects it presents a vision and a roadmap to align education and skills more closely with employability. The policy may also look into disruptive changes that technology interventions and emerging business models bring. Policy efforts should intensely focus on the ways to overcome structural impediments to growth alongside current issues of structural unemployment in India. Jobless growth is not a mere political rhetoric, it is a challenge which successive governments have not effectively addressed. By 2020, 34.33 per cent of India's population will comprise of the youth. Employment will be their biggest concern. It is time the government pulls up its socks and ensures that its economic policies can create job-rich growth by promoting more labour-intensive sectors and dynamic high productivity sectors having the potential of employment pull.
(The author is Senior Faculty, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. The views expressed are strictly personal)