Mismatch of Jobs and Skills for Today’s Youth?

Typing and typewriters: An outdated skill?

I write on jobs and skills required for the youth in this new world of internet and smartphones[1]. The concerns I highlight in this note based on my research are: What is a good education and appropriate skills for students entering the job market? Is there a mismatch?

In 1988 The Shramshakti Report was a landmark report on working women. It noted that “all women are workers because they are producers and reproducers. Even when they are not employed, they are involved in socially productive and reproductive labour, all of which is absolutely necessary for the survival of society”. That is, both the economic and household work of women is important for the growth and stability of the economy and society. All the work that women do is equally important. This is what the women’s movement has taught us, for which we celebrate International Women’s Day.

Girls’ education and her participation in employment reflect the twin characteristics of women’s work, the double burden of productive-reproductive work, and the social and cultural restrictions imposed on them. Women are also less literate with lower levels of formal education compared to men. These drawbacks, together with poor access to human and physical capital, encourage far fewer women to participate in the workforce compared to the men. I will elaborate on this in this short note.

India’s youth population (15 to 35 years) is expected to peak in 2020[2] with 64 percent in the working age group. India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. This bulge of the youth population is called the ‘demographic dividend’. However, the advantage of having a young population will not be an advantage if the education system fails us.

To begin with all our children in India do not go to school. Drop out from schools is very high, particularly after the age of 10, more so for girls. And what is important for higher educational institutions is that there is a growing mismatch between the skills we teach our students and the jobs that are available in the market. With increasing use of technology in manufacturing and service industry, the emerging gaps at the level of tertiary education are a major constraint for youth in getting good jobs. 

Yes, there are many positive features in education. There has been a vast improvement in levels of general education among the youth. Illiteracy has declined sharply, particularly for women. Students completing secondary and higher secondary schooling has risen for both girls and boys. An encouraging feature is that the gender gap, that is the difference between girls and boys, in secondary and higher secondary schooling is closing. The gender gap has also closed for graduate education, which constitutes about 20 percent of the youth.

What happens after schooling is completed for boys and girls? We found an interesting gender difference between the choice of girls and boys after schooling and graduation. Girls, who have completed school or college with a degree are more likely to continue to study to complete post-graduation. But the boys are more likely to undertake a diploma/ certificate course immediately after school or after their college education to gain an additional skill.

What could be a rational explanation for this difference in behaviour among boys and girls? It is possible that boys, particularly from poorer households, have to find a job, or work in a family enterprise, early in their lives, to support the family. The life of girls is different. They have a major restriction on their mobility, restriction on what society thinks they can or should do. So why are girls allowed to continue with their education for a little longer, rather than go out to work. Why? I am not sure, but my observation comes from experience of working in and heading an educational institution. I think that perhaps families consider that the educational institution provides a safe environment rather than the work place and is also closer to home.

Now this can be both good and bad for the girls. It is bad as their capacity to get a first job is restricted. They enter the market later in life, and also with an additional degree which is useful only if they have been in a really good educational system and acquired some good skills. It is good for the girls when they do find a job. At the job, when it comes to promotions, the additional degree helps them to climb the ladder within a company or organization.

For students who get additional skill training, are the choices or options different for girls and boys?[3] Overall we find that it is different. Among those who received formal training (mainly in poly-techniques), the majority of boys were trained in engineering fields compared to girls. Boys also dominated occupation like driving and mechanic. The boys chose more technical subjects. Majority of girls were trained in textile related activities, which could be weaving, tailoring and embroidery. Next popular training for girls was in health and paramedical services, so we see a lot of girls working in hospitals and clinics. One profession where there was gender equality was in computer related occupations (nearly 30 percent of youth). The choice of trades may be dictated by what society thinks girls can or should do, but more likely to be the perceived demand for these activities.

A failure of the educational systems is reflected in the strange phenomenon of skill mismatch. There is high unemployment among the educated and uneducated youth, while the employers say that there is a labour shortage. This is because the employers do not find the youth employable or there is a skill mismatch in what the skills the employer is looking for and what the youth has to offer.

One reason for this is a quality skill-gap which occurs when firms hire apparently qualified workers, but complain that the quality/skill is inadequate for the job. The firms then have to invest significant amount in training of the employees adding to the cost of the firms. For example, graduates in commerce have to be re-trained by companies in the accounting procedures of the firm.

Over-education is a form of skill mismatch when persons are hired for jobs/activities that do not require such high qualifications. For example, a technically qualified person is hired for non-technical jobs. For example, an engineer is hired as the Director of a marketing firm. Such skill mismatch is costly to the employer and inefficient to the employee. The returns to the investment in education for the worker are lower when there is such an education-occupation mismatch.

An example of what our education system lacks compared to a German education system is noted in the case described below[4]. A German software company had an Indian arm of the same company. The strategy of human resource management in Germany and in India was different. In the German company in Germany, the workers were well qualified and worked with the development of the software from start to finish, a highly skilled job. The company strategy was of upgrading of qualification profiles of the workers. In the Indian arm of the German company the IT workers did not come with sufficiently profound and deep technical knowledge, a failure of our technical education colleges. Within the company in India the workers were shifted from one section to another and were expected to become “jack of all trades and master of none”. The Indian company undertook support and maintenance projects, not core development of software as in Germany. The company had to prepare its employees for quick changes between projects, technologies and clients. Hence the qualification profiles needed to be standardized and as broad as possible. With this kind of training and need to support a larger joint family in India, the workers also looked for quick moves in order to obtain a rise in salary or a more important position. This combination of the engineering education, the strategy of IT firms and the choice of workers, did not allow for development of deep knowledge or upgrading of qualifications in the Indian system. Obviously the Indian workers in India were paid a lot less than the German workers in Germany in the same company.

So what is it that a New Education System for the Youth should provide? What kind of skills is important and required in the world today? Definitely good technical and practical knowledge is essential. But there are other important skills that our universities and colleges can and should impart.

Analytical and Data skills: Information is the key to progress in today’s world. The programmes in the University need a strong emphasis on developing analytical and data skills. This is the route to understanding and processing information. Mathematics, statistics and econometrics are crucial in today’s world. Besides gaining the ability to apply these methods, the students should become proficient at analyzing large datasets/ ‘big data’ with use of software packages. Engineering students would of course learn new computer languages.

Working in Teams and multi-disciplinary perspective is the next important skill. In most good jobs today, the employee does not work alone. She works with a team. This team could consist of people from different disciplines. The team could have an engineer, an accountant, an Economist and a Biologist depending on the project. Educational institutions should encourage students to work in teams and develop a flavor of multidisciplinary work. Universities could encourage students of engineering to register for courses in social sciences and vice versa and encourage group assignments and projects. Both these unique features will help students to gain not just theoretical knowledge, but also learn to understand appreciate other disciplines, and learn to work as a team. All companies check for the team spirit in candidates while hiring.

Languages and communication skills: Other important skills are capacity to communicate, presentation skills and use of language. The vernacular language is very important, but it is good idea to develop proficiency in another language as well. German, Chinese and of course English are very valuable language skills to cultivate.

And my final thought for students, both girls and boys, is to develop some hobbies. It could be reading, writing, poetry, art, drama, cricket, hockey or other sports. Spend some time every day on these hobbies and stay away from your smartphones. Meeting people and socializing in the real world is a skill, an art actually, which we are fast forgetting in this era of the virtual world.

[1] This is part of a popular talk I delivered at an Engineering College in Anand, Gujarat organised by their Women Development Committee in celebration of Women’s Day, March 27, 2019

[2] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-is-set-to-become-the-youngest-country-by-2020/article4624347.ece (accessed June 13, 2017).

[3] Unni, Jeemol, 2016, Skill Gaps and Employability: Higher Education in India, Journal of Development Policy and Practice, Sage Publications, 1(1).

[4] Nicole Mayer-Ahuja and Patrick Feuerstein, 2017, ‘Jack of all trades and master of none: The development of IT qualifications between state, company and individual career planning’, in E. Noronha and P. D’Cruz, edited, Critical Perspectives on Work and Employment in Globalizing India, Singapore, Springer.


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