India’s Employability & Skilling Puzzle: Experts’ Views on Ways to Solve the Problem

How do investors view the skilling and employment landscape (across blue-collar and grey-collar, college students etc.) in India?

Unitus Ventures’ Sunitha Viswanathan says India has almost 415 million blue-collar workers, and about 11 million to 12 million youth graduating every year who struggle to find jobs either because they have not been skilled appropriately or they are unable to join the workforce. Regarding the future jobs and employment landscape, she says that there’s going to be different nature of jobs altogether, with side gigs and remote jobs already changing.

Being a VC firm that has EdTech and job tech as its critical focus areas, Unitus Ventures invests in startups and companies that cater to a large number of low-income population to solve India’s employability and skilling problem. Sunitha says they look for solutions which match people to jobs in real-time, at a given point of time and help them earn additional income over and above what they make in their day job. They look for solutions that match people to the right type of jobs, especially in the blue-collar sector, where CV is not necessarily distinguished, and people are judged based on the skills. Unitus also looks for tech-driven models and companies that can train people to ensure jobs stability. Sunitha added that they are continuously interested in seeing how a digital profile will help people get a better job.

According to Sunitha, the overarching size of the EdTech market – which includes vocational, skilling, and others – is currently about a billion dollars, and it is expected to grow at around 40-45% CAGR.

How the government’s Atal Innovation Mission contributes to the skill development and innovation building in India, and how can different stakeholders partner and support the mission?

Before going into detail about Atal Innovation Mission and its contributions, Mr. Ramanan – the Mission Director of the Atal Innovation Mission – shares some basic stats showcasing the vastness and diversity of the country. With a population of 1.3 billion, 715 districts, over 4,000 towns and cities, and 600,000 villages spread across the country, Ramanan says India has a demographic divide which is the envy of many counties. According to him, India has 1.4 million+ schools, more than 10,500 engineering and related institutions, 39,000 colleges; 65% of people under 35 years, and 115 million young students entering into the workforce every year. Ramanan feels that we have a tremendous youthful workforce that needs to be harnessed for the growth of the nation.

“So if you want to harness this demographic dividend that we are talking about and want to be able to really empower them to have a great future and to create the great future that India needs, we need to ensure that we become a nation of innovators, not just job seekers but also job creators.”

To make this happen, Ramanan says, the Atal Innovation Mission has launched thousands of tinkering labs called Atal Tinkering Labs. Tinkering labs are tech innovation workspaces in schools where the latest of technologies like 3D printers, robotics, IoT devices, augmented and virtual reality, and Do-It-Yourself kits are available to young school students. They help students to acquire a problem-solving innovative mindset by physically tinkering with the technologies to help create solutions for problems that they see, touch, and define. Ramanan says students tinker with those DIY kits in a place of fun without any association of credit or marks or something that is forced upon them. He believes this way will create the most innovative mindsets in our country.

At the university level, Atal Innovation Mission is setting up hundreds of world-class incubators to foster startups across the country to help them get access to the right technology and support. The government is giving a grant of up to Rs 10 crores for each successful applicant to the scheme. According to Ramanan, the mission currently has 68 incubators and more than 1500 startups, including 500 women-led startups in the last two years.

Atal Innovation Mission is also setting up community innovation centres to reach the remotest parts of the country to empower them with technology so that they can have access to quality education, healthcare, affordable housing, clean drinking water, sanitation, etc. According to Ramanan, 115 out of 715 are still aspirational districts problems like one-in-five infant mortality, one-in-three maternal mortality, etc. Ramanan feels these statistics are unacceptable for a country the size of India. Seeing these challenges, he says “…we need tremendous amount of focus on problem-solving, skill development, and innovation, so that we address the issues of socio-economic progress, bridge the digital divide, and thereby bridge the economic divide…”

So how can other stakeholders participate in or support the Atal Innovation Mission? Ramanan says they have created a large mentoring network which now has more than 10,000 registered voluntary mentors with expertise in various domains to help students, startups, and incubators. He says corporates can partner with the mission and institutions can adopt tinkering labs and participate in launching challenges to stimulate innovation. Ramanan believes that when corporates, academia, and government come together, we can have magic happening in our country.

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