The job crisis and solutions

Whichever way one looks at it, the creation of new jobs has been a problem — not just in India but worldwide over the last few years. Sluggish economic growth, the huge onslaught of automation in the manufacturing as well as the services sectors and the rise of assistive, augmentative and autonomous artificial intelligence (AI) have all taken a toll on existing jobs and reduced job creation. And while we keep comforting ourselves that every new technology revolution has threatened to take away jobs but ended up creating multiple new ones, it would not be wise to be optimistic about the future without preparing in a real sense for job creation. What are the possibilities for new job creation at the scale our country needs to keep a million people a month engaged as they enter the workforce?

A recent discussion with some industry leaders at NASSCOM pointed the way to three avenues — India could become a technology production and support hub for the world and create millions of jobs in building hardware, telecommunication equipment and even mobile phones. Innovation-driven entrepreneurship could also lead to large scaled enterprises that use their mastery of new digital processes like supply chain optimisation and even augmented AI to serve global customers with large numbers of people assisted by technology. A case in point is Shenzhen in China where many electronics production facilities, earlier fully manual, are now staffed by hundreds of robots managed by fewer employees. And across the spectrum of manufacturing and services, there will be opportunities for millions of micro-enterprises to operate from special manufacturing and services zones, each employing a few dozen well-trained people with low-cost automation and robots to produce world-class products and services as well as artifact, clothes and other goods for personal and home use. Preparing people for new job and entrepreneurship opportunities and challenges will need three areas to be focused on. The first will be to build compelling training content in each area where future opportunities lie. The traditional industrial training institutes and skills institutions will need to focus on new areas for job entrants and re-skilling and up-skilling youth in organisations and even adults looking for new careers. The new generation is no longer content with standard books and videos and truly compelling content will be needed to engage and ensure learning.

The second area of focus would be to deploy technology in the learning process. E-learning has got a bad reputation in its first implementation with single digit
percentage course completion rates and the general apathy towards learning without physical or live interventions. Blended learning has been the panacea to this ill with innovators like Fuel 50, CareerWaze and Skills Alpha using contemporary technologies like AI, learning analytics and adaptive learning to customise learning methods and outcomes.

The advantages of platforms like Skills Alpha are three-fold. First, they are able to move the learning and development discussion from training and content consumption to motivated learning and context creation. Second, the use of new technologies like interactive video, augmented and virtual reality and the use of a digital platform to adapt the content that is served up to the student’s learning style makes the whole process pleasant and experiential. Third, the application of cognitive tools, starting with a “bot” and extending to a host of assistive technologies, improves the efficacy of learning and organisation development, resulting in engaged learners and better outcomes.

The third area of focus has to be to build an environment of sustainable livelihood creation in the country that can support better “agency” building in youth and empower them to chart their own destiny with skills as a by-product of this journey. Too often, youth have been stuffed into classrooms for a course chosen by some funder without consideration for motivation or aptitude. Youth will aspire to jobs and stay in them only if they want to, irrespective of the economic strata they come from. There are some successful experiments in this area that have resulted in placement and retention levels at least three times the normal average. This is a critical year — for the world, for India and for all Indians and as new opportunities emerge, we need to focus on making livelihoods happen.