The sectoral geography of work
The key challenges for this geography are low manufacturing employment and high agricultural employment. Both are closely related because the migration from farms is retarded by the lack of nonfarm jobs, and the poor cannot afford to be unemployed so they are self-employed. Agriculture is not a solution because of low productivity; 240 million Indians produce less food than four million Americans. It is also important to recognise that not everybody can be an entrepreneur; our 50 percent self-employment is mostly working poor who cannot find wage employment. Most self-employment in India is self-exploitation. We don’t think India will ever reach the peak of labour force in manufacturing that Britain, China or the US did at 45%, 31% or 28% but surely 11% of our labour force working in manufacturing is the wrong number. An agenda for manufacturing jobs includes the infrastructure of ports, roads, electricity and de-bottlenecking land acquisition. But it will also be substantially driven by the ease-of-doing-business initiatives.
The education geography of work
This geography has three challenges that are contradictory: quality, quantity and inclusiveness. We are still fighting yesterday’s war of enrolment in school education (even though enrolment is more than 110% in most states). The Right to Education Act needs to be replaced by a Right to Learning Act that focuses on outcomes.
We also need to create new pathways to higher education; the 105 lakh and 80 lakh kids who fail the Class 10 and Class 12 exams every year fall off in the rigid and mostly physical 10+2+3 system of today. In pursuing the Twelfth Plan goal of a 30% GER (gross enrolment ratio of kids between 18 and 25 in college), we must remind ourselves that college is not what it used to be. Fifteen percent of high-end security guards in India now have a college degree and electricians get paid more than engineers. So we need new forms of colleges.
We need to move from periodic interventions to architecting a self-healing structure. Our skill system needs to be better aligned with what employers want. Young job seekers are unable to get a job without experience, but it is unclear how they can get experience without a job. That is why Apprenticeships are important. If we had the same proportion of our labour force as apprentices as Germany does, we would have 15 million apprentices who would be getting training and experience on the job. The proposed National Skill University is important to create new connectivity between skills and degrees. A skill university prays to the one god of employers, has only five percent of kids physically on campus (the rest in apprentices and distance education), and only five percent of kids are doing degrees (the rest are doing certificates and diplomas with modularity to go all the way to degrees).
The Right to Education Act needs to be replaced by a Right to Learning Act that focuses on outcomes
The Ministry of HRD must recognise that massifying higher education requires separate regulatory regimes for small research universities (whose target would be global rankings) and large vocational universities (whose target is volume and employer connectivity). This needs vocational universities which offer academic modularity (mobility between certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees), flexible delivery, and a new apprenticeship regime. We need to deregulate distance education because global MOOCs (massive open online courses) like edX, coursera, udacity, and so on cite India as one of their largest markets, and yet Indian universities are not allowed to compete nationally or innovate.
The labour law geography of work
Our labour law regime ensures that 90% of our labour force works informally. The biggest problem is a benefits regime that confiscates 49% of low-wage worker salary, a toxic trade union regime, and the criminalisation of politics, and an employment contract that is effectively marriage without divorce. We need to give our employees three choices in how they are paid their salary: opt out of their 12% employee contribution to Provident Fund (EPFO); choose to pay their 12% employer contribution to EPFO or NPS (National Pension Scheme); and choose to pay their ESI contribution to ESIC (ESI Corporation) or buy health insurance regulated by the Insurance Regulatory Development Agency. Today, ESIC and EPFO do not have clients but hostages.
Manish Sabharwal & Sonal Arora, Chairman & Vice President, Teamlease writes this piece for FICCI publication “Economy of Jobs”. Post continues on Page 3.