Soft Skills: The Key to Future-proofing Jobs in India

Dec 18, 2018 11:00 AM ET

As the Indian economy rapidly embraces new tech, skills such as management and creativity become essential. We need to ensure low-income earners get necessary training, says Ivan Lukas.

Thanks to a training course provided by Indian social enterprise Empower Pragati, Himani Chauhan, a young woman from a small village in Meerut, India, was able to escape a cycle of domestic abuse and take control of her life. These days, Chauhan is a qualified beauty therapist at a local salon; she earns her own salary and supports herself.

Empower Pragati provides training to vulnerable youths, women, people with disabilities and students who did not finish school or college in both rural and urban India. It offers courses covering everything from retail to IT, tourism, telecommunications, healthcare, banking, finance, agriculture and more.

With the rapid digitalisation and automation of the Indian economy, it is increasingly difficult for vulnerable women from rural India, like Chauhan, to find a decent job. For a large portion of the population in the global south, substantial reskilling is a must in order not to be left behind. The jobs in high demand in the future will likely be those that machines cannot replicate, such as sales representatives, software system developers, physical therapists, specialist physicians, nurse practitioners or school teachers.

Unfortunately, in India, as in many other countries, vocational training or educational courses do not always match the demand of the labour market. According to a study by the UNDP Istanbul International Center for Private Sector and Development, Indian education institutes typically do not prepare students well for the new kind of jobs that exist in this era of digitalisation.

The study notes that the quality of applied training is below the required levels, which is also due to a disconnect between industry, and education and training institutions. Skills training programmes in India often neglect the soft skills – such as planning, creativity, judgment or management – and this can be detrimental for job prospects. To a large extent, it is the poorest, most marginalised and vulnerable groups, who have limited access to formal education or reskilling training, that are most severely affected.

With this in mind, the Indian government established several public-private partnerships to address the skills gap, engaging enterprises and institutes such as Empower Pragati, Centum WorkSkills IndiaIndiaCan Education and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories. In addition to Empower Pragati, several Business Call to Actionmembers are also providing training to disadvantaged people through their inclusive business models in India, actively addressing the future needs of the nation’s labour market.

Skills development company Drishtee helps low-income earners set up their own businesses, teaching entrepreneurial and management skills. Rupa Devi, a single mother of two from Chanderei village in Bihar, completed a Drishtee training programme in stitching after being left by her husband to raise her two daughters alone in 2011. In February 2012, she became a producer for the Drishtee Rural Apparel Producer Organization (DRAP). As her skills developed, she became a DRAP employee, and her next milestone is to become a production supervisor, training more women producers.

“I want to make this production centre bigger, both qualitatively and quantitatively, along with my fellow producers. We wish to increase our productivity and earning. Moreover, I would also like to learn how to run a similar kind of production centre and [to better] understand the market,” says Devi.

Thanks to Drishtee, Devi has been able to grow her soft skills, meaning she is not under threat of being replaced by automation.

Supporting individuals like Devi to move into full employment in fields that are not at risk of being phased out is one of the key objectives of public policies in India and other emerging countries - a productive and well-functioning labour market is a must for economic growth and social peace. The private sector globally depends on having a labour market that has sufficient numbers of people equipped with the right kind of skills to meet demand. Any initiatives, public or private, targeting skills development are an investment for the future. And the smartest way of doing it is investing in those skills that correspond with the changing trends of the global economy.

People living at the bottom of the economic pyramid represent a massive pool of potential employees who could benefit from training and education opportunities. As such, the returns on investment for both public and private actors can be enormous. To maximise this potential, it is important that private sector activities do not take place in isolation, but are embedded in an ecosystem approach, created through partnerships between private sector, governments, NGOs, research centres and academia.

Ivan Lukas is the outreach and membership lead at Business Call to Action