With his twin focus on jobs and growth, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems intent on placing renewed emphasis on skill development in the services and manufacturing sectors. In his Independence Day speech, the Prime Minister spoke of his ‘skilled India’ mission to promote holistic development. There is no doubt that India needs to equip its youth with greater work skills. At present, the country churns out a mostly semi-literate workforce without the requisite marketable skills in a globalised world. According to a report by the Adviser to the Prime Minister on the National Council on Skill Development, among those in the 15 to 29 years age group, only 2 per cent have received formal vocational training, and 8 per cent non-formal vocational training. Against 128 lakh new entrants to the workforce, there were only 31 lakh seats for vocational skill training. As Mr. Modi stressed in his speech, with 65 per cent of the population under 35 years of age, India will have to think of reaping the demographic dividend. However, India ought to set its sights higher than what Mr. Modi envisaged when he lamented the shortage of drivers, plumbers and cooks. The real challenge is not to find low-paying jobs for the unemployed, but to equip those entering the workforce with the necessary skills in a competitive environment.
By promising to enhance the skill development of India’s youth at a rapid pace, Mr. Modi spoke of forming a pool of young people who are able to create jobs. More importantly, he also talked of a workforce that will be in a position to “face their counterparts in any corner of the world” by virtue of hard work and dexterity of hands. Capacity-building was spoken of in the global context as the ability of India’s youth to “win the hearts of people around the world” through their skills. The importance of promoting the manufacturing sector was highlighted both in the context of creating employment opportunities and developing a balance between imports and exports. The exhortation to multinationals to sell in any country but manufacture in India, also came in the context of putting to use the education and capability of India’s youth. For employment-led growth, for the “Come, make in India” slogan that Mr. Modi delivered on Independence Day to have any meaning, the government must invest heavily in education and training, in research and development. Otherwise, cheap labour will remain the only attraction for foreign investment in India. Skill and talent are the results of education and training, and India must lay greater stress on its educational infrastructure before it can attain higher levels of growth. The skill set of India’s youth have to necessarily match that of the world’s best.