As number of jobless Indians grows, so will anger

Amrit Dhillon says with growth slowing, it's a problem the government ignores at its own peril

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:48am

Talk to any Indian CEO in any industry and the same cri de coeur emerges - the impossibility of finding skilled manpower. Talk to any ordinary Indian youth and the talk is of desperation to find a job.

What was being touted a few years ago as India's "demographic dividend" - its large population of working-age people - has gone horribly wrong.

The government failed to realise that for young workers to become productive assets, they need both education and vocational skills. Of the one million young Indians who join the workforce every month, many have neither.

A recent government report on a survey carried out during 2009-2010 of 460,000 people revealed that only 2 per cent of India's youth and 7 per cent of the working-age population have received vocational training.

Unlike China, India's boom has been jobless. The figures make for stark reading. Between 2005 and 2010, fewer than three million jobs were generated. During China's boom years, around 130 million jobs were created. In 2012 alone, China created 12.7 million jobs.

Now, with the Indian economy growing at around 4.5 to 5 per cent - half the rate seen during the peak years - there is not much hope for job creation. The government knows that the working-age population, between 15 and 64, will rise by more than 120 million over the coming decade.

Some of them will obviously be at school or in higher education. Some will be women who will marry and stay at home. Nonetheless, a large chunk of the 120 million will be looking for jobs that don't exist.

The government has made no effort to devise policies to tackle the problem. China's growth was powered by a manufacturing expansion. India's manufacturing is stagnant. Never mind foreign investors, even Indian industrialists quail at the idea of setting up a new factory.

Each step is torture - years to acquire land, more years to get clearances and then when it is finally operational, antiquated labour laws make it hard to run the factory. That's why many are voting with their feet and expanding their businesses in Africa and Latin America instead.

To add more gloom, the government's statistics for 2012-2013, published in May, show that economic growth has slowed to its lowest level in a decade. But the government doesn't possess the will to introduce reforms to dispel the gloom. Its only concern right now is winning next year's general election.

But woe betide the party that rules this country if the unthinkable were to happen - tens of millions of unemployed youths roaming the streets, rampaging against a society that gave them no future.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India