The Challenge Of Skills And Jobs

  • The scale of the skilling challenge that India faces, and the urgency involved, have been palpable for some time, but new official data put into cold numbers the extent of the problem.
  • Fewer than one in 10 adult Indians has had any form of vocational training, and even among those who have, the type of training is not the sort of formal skilling that employers seek – the majority had either acquired a hereditary skill or learned on the job. Just 2.2 per cent in all had received formal vocational training. In comparison, 75 per cent of the workforce in Germany and 80 per cent in Japan has received formal skills training.
  • Even among the BRICS countries, India lags behind – nearly half the Chinese workforce, for example, is skilled. Very few Indians get a technical education in medicine, engineering or agriculture; fewer than one in ten Indians is a graduate, and among those who are graduates, the majority get undergraduate degrees in arts, science or commerce.
  • The problem is more acute in rural areas and for women. Without access to affordable and appropriate skills training, young people, particularly those leaving rural areas and small towns for big cities, will be stuck in low-wage, insecure jobs that will leave them in want or poverty.
  • The Narendra Modi government has made skills and jobs one of its focus areas from the beginning of its term. In July, the Prime Minister launched an ambitious mission to impart skills training to 40 crore people by 2022, and the new government has a dedicated Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
  • The problem is that the previous government talked the same talk on skills but was able to achieve precious little; the proportion of young adults who had received vocational training was virtually unchanged between 2004-05 and 2011-12. There isn’t any clear evidence yet that the new government is charting out a radically new path on skills.
  • There remain multiple decision-making authorities on skills and little clarity about who exactly will do the work. Promises of corporate and foreign partnerships on skilling are pouring in, but how these mass skilling programmes will take off is unclear.
  • Employers complain that job-seekers do not have the skills they look for; there is little evidence yet that curricula with these objectives in mind have been designed, or that new and affordable training institutes have been set up on a mass scale.
  • Job creation has not kept pace with India’s demographic momentum, and that will in the coming days pose a problem for a skilled workforce. But let’s not put the cart before the horse – a poorly trained young workforce can neither bring workers out of poverty nor help a country grow quickly.

Two in one

  • The formal merger of the Forward Markets Commission (FMC) with Sebi on Monday is significant. India’s regulatory architecture has so far been fragmented, with multiple oversight agencies sprouting after each reform announcement.
  • Such fragmentation has given rise to turf battles between sectoral regulators. Policymakers have for long recognised the case for convergence between the securities and commodity derivatives markets. As finance minister, P.Chidambaram had proposed this in the 2004-05 budget, only for the move to be scuttled. But the Rs 5,600 crore National Spot Exchange scam, coupled with the FSLRC’s recommendation, provided the government the opportunity to finally go ahead with the merger.
  • Most countries, barring the US and Japan, have a unified securities and commodity market regulator. There are good reasons to justify this design in India. For long, the FMC was forced to function like a subordinate office of the ministry of consumer affairs, without statutory powers.
  • It was handicapped in terms of the regulatory and manpower resources required to police this growing segment. A merged regulator would not only enhance the integrity of financial markets, but also boost liquidity and improve the price- discovery process.
  • A unified regulator may also have a salutary impact on the spot commodities market, while strengthening it with the transparent systems in place in the securities market. It helps that Sebi has evolved as a credible regulator in the last two decades.
  • But the merger will also pose challenges for Sebi. Among these are the jurisdictional powers of the state government over agricultural marketing and the political sensitivities involved with farm commodities. Price volatility in these cannot be compared to that in stocks or bonds.
  • The growth of the commodity derivatives market has also been hobbled because of the lack of institutional players to impart greater liquidity in trading. But now, with an empowered regulator for the commodities market, there is a strong case for allowing these organised funds.
  • Next, the government should look at merging the insurance and pension regulators, which can then be the precursor to a unified regulator for the financial market as a whole.

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