India's G20 leadership has strategically shifted focus from basic job creation and labour rights protection to a more pressing concern: Is our workforce prepared for future jobs? The ongoing deliberations around this subject stress the importance of upskilling, reskilling, and continuous learning, addressing structural transformations driven by trends like rapid technological advancements, big data, climate change, and the gig economy. Unlike linear progressions, these transformations exhibit exponential growth, necessitating a collective examination of strategies to bridge emergent gaps.

India needs to act swiftly, emulating the proactive measures of developed nations like Germany and Finland which have integrated Artificial Intelligence (AI) into vocational training and skill development. Germany's INVITE competition funds AI-based vocational training projects, while Finland's ‘Headai’ received government support for an AI-based skill anticipation system. Given India’s large workforce, these initiatives underscore the urgency to act with the aim of fostering innovation and readiness in the workforce for the challenges of the digital era. 

Considering India's forecasted economy reaching $10 trillion, it is crucial to leverage its strengths like the 'youth bulge' and adopt a multi-faceted approach suited to the Indian context. First and foremost, government-led initiatives should be implemented to create a conducive environment for upskilling and reskilling. This involves investing in digital platforms, similar to INVITE, that facilitate continuous vocational training. Collaborations with private sector partners and innovative organisations should be encouraged to bring in diverse perspectives and resources. Furthermore, India can take inspiration from New Zealand's Institute of Skills and Technology, Te Pūkenga, as a successful model. This involves not only incorporating digital technologies but also reimagining strategies and structures for a more effective and relevant Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system. 

India’s response to job market megatrends requires a proactive and collaborative effort, by learning from developed nations and implementing tailored strategies, to drive industry growth and lift millions from poverty to prosperity.

The demand-supply mismatch

India, set to have the largest workforce in the world by 2030, faces a critical challenge: aligning its workforce's skills with the evolving demands of a dynamic economy. Currently, the nation is witnessing a decline in youth engagement in learning and skill development, with the employability of its young population at only 45.9%, as per the 2021 India Skills Report. This issue is compounded by outdated educational curricula, inadequate teacher development, and an overemphasis on early-stage skill acquisition.

Moreover, the World Bank's 2016 report indicates that about 66% of jobs in the developing world, including those in India, are at risk due to technological changes. The gap between the skills of the existing workforce and those required in the modern job market is widening. To address this, India must focus on cultivating a workforce with diverse technical skills and proficiency in critical 21st-Century competencies like critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication. Addressing these challenges necessitates a shift towards skill-based hiring practices, a deep understanding of emerging job market requirements, and strategic decisions regarding upskilling and reskilling. This approach should be supported by agile educational models that integrate new technologies and involve a broad range of stakeholders, all guided by adaptable and progressive policy frameworks.

These new jobs often require skills that were not previously in high demand. For example, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has created roles like ‘AI Ethics Officer’. The challenge here is in preparing the workforce for these roles, which often necessitate new educational and training pathways. Simultaneously, established job roles are undergoing transformations due to technological advancements, particularly with the influence of automation and AI. For instance, automation and AI are changing roles in manufacturing, logistics, and even in professional sectors like law and healthcare. Workers may need to develop new skills to interact with technological systems, analyse more data, or adapt to more collaborative, interdisciplinary work environments. The specific challenges arising from these trends include a significant skill gap, as there is often a mismatch between the skills that the current workforce possesses, and the skills required for new or evolving jobs. Moreover, traditional education and training systems may not be equipped to rapidly adapt to these changes. There is a need for more dynamic and flexible learning systems that can keep pace with the demands of the evolving job market.

India needs to respond to these megatrends in the job market with appropriate skill development and competency development initiatives, while acknowledging that India’s youth do not form a monolith. There is a need not just to enable new pathways to learning and skilling, but also to make those pathways flexible to ensure access and inclusion.

 Changing Trends in the Job Market
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  • Health and well-being

  • Flexibility and remote work

  • Machine-human collaboration

  • Rise of the gig workforce 

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Big data

  • Cloud computing

  • Internet of things

  • Blockchain

  • Cybersecurity

  • Robotic process automation

  • Communication

  • Collaboration

  • Continuous learning

  • Problem solving

  • Design thinking

  • Digital leadership

  • Negotiating and influencing 

  • Data-as-a-service

  • Smart products and circular economy

  • Women as customers

  • Future role of governments

Bridging this gap will not only set India on the path to achieve its economic potential, but also have a direct effect on curbing rising income inequality and building trust in institutions. In acknowledgement of this, The Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MDSE) placed emphasis on the avenues for lifelong learning in the context of Future of Work at the G20 India seminars held in Bhubaneshwar earlier this year. Underpinned by the 2020 National Education Policy, there is focus on enabling India’s existing and emerging workforce to thrive in their chosen line of work. 

Enabling a culture of lifelong learning 

The rapidly changing trends in the jobs market leads to high skill obsolescence, with a mere 18-month half-life for technical skills and a 3–5-year half-life for business skills. The initial imperative lies in bolstering institutional capacities to provide superior and pertinent technical and vocational education. This foundational step enables the establishment of flexible and responsive training systems, arming individuals to engage in perpetual learning throughout their careers.

This sets the stage for instilling and empowering a culture of lifelong learning while establishing numerous flexible entry and exit points to facilitate this process. It is imperative to establish clear pathways bridging higher education and vocational training, ensuring robust and pertinent skill development outcomes, and thus elevating the value and impact of vocational education.

The National Digital University (NDU) of India marks a pivotal advancement in expanding access to higher education. This initiative significantly differs from traditional private and public universities, which are often limited by seat availability. NDU overcomes this by offering an extensive range of seats in various courses. Its focus on skill development is particularly noteworthy, as it emphasises practical skills that are directly applicable in the workplace. NDU's flexible online model is another key feature. This approach allows learners to pursue higher education degrees at their own pace, catering to a diverse range of individuals with different needs and schedules. Such flexibility not only improves employability but also enables India to offer a wide array of programs in emerging fields.

Another significant aspect of this educational revolution is the SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) project. This government-led initiative aims to democratize education by providing online learning opportunities. Although its primary focus is on higher education, SWAYAM's impact extends to TVET, offering skill enhancement and certification courses. The courses of SWAYAM are designed to meet specific vocational needs, thereby fostering the development of a skilled workforce in India. Additionally, SWAYAM offers a cost-effective solution by making many of these online courses available for free, thus increasing accessibility for a broader audience.

Additionally, the National Digital Library of India plays a pivotal role as a virtual repository of learning resources. This platform goes beyond traditional services, providing exam preparation support and valuable resources for both researchers and lifelong learners. It stands out as a comprehensive resource hub catering to the diverse needs of the learner community. The 'One Nation, One Data' portal is a centralised platform for sharing data among Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). This initiative strengthens assessment and accreditation systems, promoting transparency and uniformity across educational institutions. Furthermore, Anuvadhini, an AI translation tool designed for learning in regional languages, breaks down language barriers, expanding skilling opportunities to a wider audience.

Complementing these efforts, the National Scholarship Portal ensures transparent disbursement of scholarships to deserving students, facilitating their educational pursuits. Simultaneously, the National Internship Portal simplifies the process of finding on-the-job training opportunities for students by providing access to organisations across India. These strategic initiatives collectively enhance accessibility and inclusivity in learning and skilling, fostering coordination among stakeholders in the educational ecosystem. This coordinated approach enables collaborative responses to the evolving needs of the education sector.

The call to action  

The sustainability of India's comprehensive endeavours to optimise education and skilling outcomes in alignment with the demands of the future of work hinges upon substantial investments in both individual and institutional capacity. This necessitates strategic investments in digital infrastructure, rapid augmentation of connectivity, widespread promotion of digital literacy, rigorous teacher development initiatives, curriculum overhaul, active stakeholder engagement, and robust training programs. Concurrently, agile communication with the jobs sector is imperative to stay synchronised with their evolving requirements. Equally crucial is the need to ensure that policy and program responses are agile to swiftly adapt to emerging innovation and technology.

To achieve this, the establishment of unified standards is paramount, ensuring superior quality, transparency, cross-border comparability, recognition, and portability of skilling and learning outcomes, buttressed by sustainable and ample funding mechanisms. Additionally, reinforcing communication and coordination among key stakeholders such as states, regulators, private sector providers, and government institutions is necessary to foster cohesive efforts and outcomes. This strategic approach ensures that India not only addresses labour demands domestically but also positions itself to adeptly meet the evolving needs of the global job market by harnessing the advantageous 'youth bulge' in its workforce.

By fortifying the educational ecosystem at its foundation, we position ourselves advantageously to cultivate an enabling environment conducive to agile and responsible learning opportunities, ensuring continued relevance and success within the swiftly evolving jobs landscape. These pathways not only facilitate the seamless integration of India's youth into the workforce but also support the reskilling and upskilling of current job market participants.

To sum up, the creation and accessibility of these skill development pathways stand as an imperative and urgent investment, to respond to the shifting and emerging priorities of the jobs sector. This necessitates concerted, collective action to empower India's workforce to generate “good work”, enabling businesses to achieve heightened productivity, society to optimise resource utilisation, and citizens to attain greater fulfilment. These efforts are well-poised to catalyse economic growth while propelling societal progress to the forefront and to reach the potential of the $10 trillion economy.

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