The Colour of the Future

'Youth are a country's future', how often have we heard this line? From parents and teachers to politicians and leaders this has been repeated so often its become a litany. It is hardly an unknown fact that India is the youngest country in the world. With 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population, according to the latest census data. And by 2020, India this number will go up to 464 million! But what kind of a future can a country have when the futures of these youth are precarious and uncertain?

Much has been spoken about youth and unemployment India. The situation is serious. Between 1991-2013, where India saw two decades of rapid growth only 140 million of 300 million people seeking jobs found them, according to a UNDP report.  We will need to create approximately 280 million jobs between now and 2050 to meet the needs of the working population that is said to peak around this time.

One of the factors that contributes to the problem is the gap between education and employment that many young people receive, especially in small towns and rural areas. There is a disconnect between what’s being taught in universities and colleges and the skill-sets industry needs. This results in a rather ironic paradox because while 'educated' youth are unable to find employment, employers are unable to find employees that meet the skill requirements to grow their businesses. Education must prepare students with the skills that are required in the labour market. Even in cases where such programs exist, universities/colleges are not talking to students about employability – advising and informing them about the programs that will give them the skills to get the jobs.

Another product of modern education is the issue of educated young people who no longer want to settle for jobs they feel are beneath them, aspiring instead for jobs that may not match their skills. Education is in many cases creating a chasm between young people and traditional employment avenues available to them. For example, take the case of agriculture. A young person who has graduated from college is usually not willing to enter the agrarian sector, seeing this as a step backwards. But in an economy that is majority agrarian, is it not essential for education to help young people look at agriculture as a viable profession and provide skills and create that transform agricultural practice in keeping with the new knowledge and practices in the sector.

And finally when young people do find employment, there arises the problem of retention with many of them leaving their jobs within the first few months. This is especially true for young people from underprivileged backgrounds. One of the major reasons for this is that while they may have the required skills and knowledge for the job they often are unprepared for the 'world of work' and the work culture that comes with this. It is the simple job readiness skills that are missing – skills that may appear obvious but in fact are often neglected. These soft skills must form part of the curriculum as early as school to bridge expectations of employees and employers for mutual benefit.

In conclusion, we go back to the words we began with, 'Youth are the country's future,' but what this future will hold depends on how we meet the how we meet the aspirations and the needs of these young people.