Youth Day: Bridging breach between education and employability

On 17 December 1999, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth (Lisbon, 8-12 August 1998) to declare August 12 as the International Youth Day, dedicated to celebrating young people's contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.

While conventionally youth is termed as the period in one's life from adolescence to middle age, UN adopted the age group 15 to 24 for defining youth. In India, however, the Youth In India report 2017 by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India defines 'youth' as people between 15 and 34 years of age. Based on this, the unemployment rate on usual status basis for youth was at 3.7 per cent as per the annual Employment-Unemployment Survey of 2015-16 conducted by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment.

"About 800 million people in India are below the age of 35 years. Their aspirations, energy, enterprise, and skills will be the force for India's economic transformation," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the audience at Tsinghua University, Beijing in 2015.

For several years after the independence, the agricultural sector dominated jobs creation. In 1991, economic reforms emerged as a turnaround strategy. After the opening of the market, job creation was accelerated by the private sector and, particularly multi-national companies. This enthusiasm was primarily fuelled by the availability of cheap labour, relatively lower land prices and abundant local demand for products. As the country marched into the 21st century, Information Technology and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) began to dominate the jobs pool. Very recently, a trend of start-ups has earned huge attention in the metro cities. However, the future jobs market is completely unpredictable and most of the future jobs don't yet exist. Recent breakneck technological advances, such as artificial intelligence and 3D printing, only allow us to drive our imaginations about the job market of the future.

Nevertheless, the underlying noticeable pattern behind various eras of jobs creation is the demand for professional training which meets existing and emerging needs of the specific industry. In the future, whether it is environmental and natural resources management, engineering, health science or data science, the profound importance of inter-disciplinary courses and training cannot be ignored. Incidentally, India already has a few bachelors and masters level inter-disciplinary courses offered by the government and private universities and colleges. For example, the courses offered by the TERI University, New Delhi - such as Masters in Sustainable Development Practice, Masters in Climate Science and Policy, Masters in Water Science and Governance are leading examples of innovative courses that are inclined toward grooming job ready practitioners. Inter-disciplinary courses propel aspirations by exposing young minds to cross-sectorial knowledge and by enabling students to contextualize their future drive. For example, the Masters in Sustainable Development Practice (SDP) course at TERI University exposes students to various emerging aspects of management, statistics, economics, qualitative research, responsible business, social research methods, public policy process, environmental law, food security and professional skills such as proposal development, and policy evaluation among others. Such intensive training enables a student to design business models that lead to jobs creation for addressing the challenge of sustainable development, which is of utter importance for the country.

Unfortunately, while the education system is witnessing a transformation, job providers are yet to adequately acknowledge their efforts. The private sector, in its job notification, emphasizes on specific skill sets that are mostly linked to traditional courses, and the government sector prioritizes specific degrees, which often do not include innovative courses that are approved by institutions such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD).

In order to meet demands of the future, and to propel young people's interest in interdisciplinary courses, there is a need for pragmatic transformation in recruitment policies of the job providers. Also, it is inevitably important for the different nodal ministries to work with the MHRD and its relevant institutions and inform job providers, through relevant notifications, about the newer kinds of courses that are being introduced in the country. The responsibility for creating a wave for interdisciplinary courses cannot be transferred on to government institutions and job creators alone. The universities that are offering inter-disciplinary courses and the graduates of those courses will have to play an instrumental role. Universities must document the impact of those courses and facilitate a strong industry-student interface. At the same time, as ambassadors of their course, respective graduates must jointly work to nurture a demand for their skill sets by selling their success stories.