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Youth Skills and Aspirations in India

Ragpicker children collect recyclable materials at a yard on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.

SOURCE: AP/ Channi Anand

India needs livelihood- and skills-building programs that will help young people realize both their aspirations and the need for a more skilled workforce.

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Over the past decade the Indian economy experienced an increasing gap between the types of jobs available and the people with skills needed to fill these jobs. The rest of the world, of course, also struggles to create enough good jobs for its citizens, but India is looking at a daunting task of identifying and training 500 million skilled workers by the year 2020.

The reason: A demographic dividend combined with increasing urbanization will lead to fewer low-skill agricultural workers and more workers in industry and services that require specialized training. And these new, skilled workers will need to have “just jobs,” complete with good pay and social protections.

India’s youth are the key to addressing the nation’s concerns about the lack of skilled workers. But as we begin to address this need, it is not enough to apply an assembly-line approach to churning out trained youth and placing them in jobs without taking their aspirations and their professional and personal prospects for growth into account.

India’s National Youth Policy 2012 “seeks to ensure that youth needs and concerns are mainstreamed into overall national development policies, underscoring the need for the wholesome development of the young people and optimum utilization of their potential for national development.” Organizations working with youth must incorporate this guidance into their work. How? By obtaining answers to questions such as:

  • What are the youth of India, especially the most vulnerable, looking for?
  • Does the current strategy for training and placement of youth address some of the aspirations they have for themselves?

Engaging youth in their communities—whether they are in cities, urban slums, or rural areas—is the first step to obtaining answers to these questions. Creating platforms for young people to engage with policy practitioners, nongovernmental organizations, activists, and other stakeholders from their own communities will give voice to the youth’s perspectives and ideas.

Youth meetings, groups, and clubs are an excellent starting point as an informal way to bring youth together. These gatherings can flourish into more organized forms of engagement. Youth do not always have such opportunities, and when they do the meetings are generally designed exclusively for one gender or one particular activity—not for female and male participants and not incorporating the range of subjects that young people might want to discuss.

Creating such platforms for female and male youth—platforms that allow for discussion and interaction on a wide range of subjects—are just a starting point, but they are nonetheless a crucial step toward helping India’s youth build confidence, ownership, citizenship, and an understanding of both their rights and their duties. This will ultimately lead to a trained workforce in jobs that young workers want to be engaged in with prospects for their own development as well as that of the nation.

Saath is a multi-issue nonprofit organization that works with youth populations to help realize their full potential. We work specifically with youth in urban slums. As large numbers of young people migrate from rural to urban areas in search of work, urban slums are a target for many vocational education and skills-training programs.

Decreasing options for higher education, fewer job opportunities in the rural economy, and changing aspirations of youth is causing an unprecedented migration of young people from the Indian countryside to cities. But there are also youth who are concerned about farming and keeping up traditional livelihoods in order to rebuild the rural economy and keep family farms in the family. These youth are hoping to find options that will bring them more money while staying in the village. They would prefer to stay closer to their families rather than moving during the nonagricultural season into cities to make some fast money and then returning.

Over the last several years, Saath has held consultations with youth from over the Gujarat and Rajasthan states that provided interesting insights into the aspirations, influences, and obstacles of youth in urban slums. The consultation revealed that young people are motivated by their desire to:

  • Do something new independently
  • Do something for their communities
  • Achieve a better socioeconomic status
  • Make their families proud
  • Pursue higher education
  • Attain financial independence
  • Develop a distinct identity
  • Get involved in politics and serve their country

India needs livelihood- and skills-building programs that will help young people realize both their aspirations and the need for a more skilled workforce. Indeed, the practicality of securing jobs and developing careers must also be addressed but the two must be integrated. We need more programs that are built by listening to youth.

Keren Nazareth is executive director of Saath and an Aspen Institute Fellow for Emerging Nonprofit Leadership. She recently visited with the Just Jobs Network to talk about her work.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund, women's issues)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention, the National Security Agency)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (energy and environment, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org