A trainee learns carpentry at L & T Construction Skills Training Institute in Panvel, India. (Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg)

Handyman Jobs Get a Leg Up as India Tackles Unemployment

(Bloomberg) -- India is seeking to boost the aspirational value of jobs such as plumbing, carpentry and beautician to make more people employable in a market with one of the world’s largest working-age populations.

Changing perceptions toward handyman jobs and increasing training capacity are the objectives of India’s skills program, K.P. Krishnan, the top bureaucrat in the skill development ministry, said in an interview. Ministry officials are visiting institutes to discuss with students the importance of acquiring vocational skills and apprenticeship programs, he said.

Creating opportunities for the young workforce is a key pledge of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he prepares to seek re-election early next year. Failure to do that risks quickly turning the nation’s so-called demographic dividend -- more than 60 percent of the population is in the working age group of 15-59 years -- into a disaster and stalling the current world-beating pace of economic growth.

"‘How many of you have been to convocation ceremony of a vocational college?,’ Prime Minister Modi asked in one of the meetings. Not one had gone. ‘How will it become aspirational then?’, he asked," said Krishnan.

India’s gross domestic product growth, now at more than 7 percent, hasn’t created enough jobs for the 12 million people entering the workforce every year. Part of the reason is a lack of skilled manpower and a reluctance to accept certain jobs which are considered menial by society. Barely 5 percent of its workforce has formal vocational skills, compared with 75 percent in Germany and 96 percent in South Korea.

Handyman Jobs Get a Leg Up as India Tackles Unemployment

“Acquisition of skills isn’t aspirational. It’s a very deep social issue with roots in our caste system. People would rather become clerks, peons in government offices then hairdressers. The paradox is a hairdresser will actually earn more than a peon,” Krishnan said. “We are now carving out educational pathways.”

To make skill training aspirational, the government is opening up avenues for higher education. Borrowing from the community college concept of the U.S., it has created a framework for transfer of credits acquired in vocational training. For instance, it’s working out how a general duty assistant in health care can become a nurse.

India needs to skill and re-skill 400 million people in four years and the government estimates it will spend $79 billion on it. It’s been pumping in money to build training capacity but misuse of those funds makes the task difficult. To stop that and enhance employability of skilled labor, it is planning to set up a regulator, according to Krishnan.

By the government’s own admission, India has a very narrow time frame to harness its demographic dividend and to overcome its skill shortage, as the aging of society means there will be more people older than 59 than in the working-age population by 2040.

The South Asian country’s current capacity at over 14,000 Industrial Training Institutes is about a tenth of the 15 million people it needs to train every year. About 36 million have been trained under various government-funded programs in the last four years. The government said it doesn’t have data on placements as various skills programs have different structures.

“Increasing the scale of vocational training is priority number one. Second is quality. The employability of a lot of our graduates is poor,” Krishnan said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.