The World Economic Forum's recent Human Capital Report 2017, reads: “How nations develop their human capital can be a more important determinant of their long-term success than virtually any other factor.”

However, the knowledge and skills people need to enable them to create value in the global economic system is something that today is not well-taught in classrooms.

The formal education system in India is producing enough engineers and doctors to cater for the growing needs of the 1.3-plus billion population. Sadly, many of these highly trained people do not end up practising what they are taught, because of the lack of core jobs available.

The hungry IT service sector has been quick to bring people into its workforce by providing so called “job-security” and a “fast growing” job environment. This longstanding trend is, however, changing fast, as shown by massive layoffs in the last few years. These have mainly been due to jobs relocating to regions with lower labour costs, and the rise of automation in the fields of IT testing and programming.

Skills mismatch

Hundreds of thousands of Indians now find themselves back on the job market, with skills many employers do not want. There is an urgent need for these young people to upskill themselves to stay relevant in today’s fast-changing workplace.

Growing interest among companies in investing in fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, 3D printing, robotics, automation and data processing, mean that there are enough new job opportunities for young people in India, which now has an average age of below 25.

However, the challenge is that those skills that will be critical to most jobs in the future, are not what the country’s young people are currently equipped with.

There is an abundance of young minds in India and they are looking for new opportunities. When empowered with the right skills and jobs, they can propel India to be a global economic and knowledge power.

The United States had to bring in the best minds from across the globe to help it become a world leader in science, technology and innovation. India’s job is simpler. Many bright minds are already here, waiting for the opportunity to contribute to India’s growth and success. The government needs to nurture them with the right environment and opportunities to succeed.

Challenges

The challenge then is to upskill the existing Indian workforce and prepare the future workforce with the skillsets needed to be a part of the disruptive industries of the future.

The German Apprenticeship System is one successful approach.

The German education system is designed to identify and segregate at a very early age those students who would be better off in vocational jobs, and those who go to university.

The government runs different educational programmes for nurturing different specific vocational skillsets in students, and these targeted programmes have paid off. Today, Germany is a world leader in the automobile and heavy machinery manufacturing sectors, employing millions of highly skilled workers who collectively have helped build the export manufacturing sector of the country. Such programmes have been mostly funded by the government and have led to the creation of jobs in core areas such as manufacturing, while also creating enough employable workers coming out of the non-formal educational system. This is a bold and strategic move with long term payoffs, and it could be ideal for the Indian government to emulate.

Bold goal

The Indian government has a bold target of creating 100 million new jobs by 2022, and ensuring the manufacturing economy contributes to 25% of the country’s GDP.

Currently, about one million people enter the workforce every month in India, but only around 10,000 new jobs are created. The manufacturing sector currently contributes to about 16% of the country’s GDP, but has the biggest potential to create value-added blue- collar jobs that can strengthen the economy and help achieve India's goal of being a manufacturing superpower.

Globally renowned automotive, aeronautics and aerospace companies are already working towards setting up key manufacturing units in India to cater to the growing needs of the country and the South Asian region. Favourable foreign direct investment policies and government policies have already attracted key global private-sector job creators. It is now time to upskill and reskill the Indian population, so they make the best of this upcoming opportunity. Importing key talent like the US did in the late 20th century is not an option, since India is already overpopulated and we need to provide enough opportunities for the large national talent pool.

Innovation

The Department of Science and Technology, India, has embarked on the journey to create a favourable environment at the university level to kindle the maker spirit, and ensure young students find innovative solutions to local problems specific to the Indian sub-continent. By setting up makerspaces and incubation centres, the government is focussing on maximizing the potential of young minds.

The government’s vision for “Make in India” is a positive step towards helping the transition from being an IT-service-powered economy, as the world sees it, to a manufacturing hub producing quality products for the world. There are approximately 200-250 government-funded incubation centres across the country, and there are plans to scale this up to 350 centres by next year. The goal is to nurture many more younger entrepreneurial minds across the country. These centres, along with the availability of seed investment grants, could help turn many risk-averse Indians into entrepreneurs, who could, in turn, power the country’s young and growing economy.

Unique approach

The uniqueness of Indian innovations is the approach of building solutions at low-cost, while ensuring high durability.

The Jaipur Foot, a low-cost prosthetic, indigenously developed in India for the world market is one such example. It was voted as one of the 50 best inventions in the world by TIME magazine in 2009, and has allowed millions of below-the-knee amputees around the world to walk again, all thanks to a prosthetic leg costing less than $10.

Indigenous products developed in India have been unique and focussed on solving problems for the developing and under-developed countries. Such innovators need support from the government to scale a product into a company; and support from the local fast-growing manufacturing industry here in India would mean they could manufacture at scale, and at an affordable price for the world market.

India is currently at number 101 among 130 countries in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Human Capital Report 2017. The report mentions 62% as the world average for human capital developed.

Human capital

With a young population and favourable government policies promoting entrepreneurship and skill development in place, the effective execution of existing on-ground programmes could help India grow its human capital pool. Maximising the utilisation of our human capital, while also providing local opportunities to grow people's careers in India, is a win-win, that the central and state governments should collectively work towards.

Unique and affordable healthcare devices to help provide quality healthcare to the hundreds of millions living under the poverty line around the world, and innovative products and solutions to educate many millions that lack access to a school or university, can be India’s biggest contribution to the world. They can also help prepare Indian citizens to capitalise on the Fourth Industrial Revolution era, as well as help make the world more socially inclusive.

The author is thankful to inputs provided by Dan Stiver, Lockheed Martin USA; Dr. Anita Gupta, Department of Science & Technology, India; Dr. Mehta, Tata Trusts.