Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Shadowed aspiration­s


Against the backdrop of India’s towering economic aspiration­s lies a grim narrative, one that the India Employment Report 2024, released by the Internatio­nal Labour Organisati­on (ILO) and the Institute of Human Developmen­t (IHD), brings to the forefront with unsettling clarity. The rising tide of youth unemployme­nt, with an astounding 83 per cent of the unemployed workforce being young people, coupled with a dramatic rise in educated but jobless youth from 35.2 per cent in 2000 to

65.7 per cent in 2022, sends out a clear message— India’s demographi­c dividend may also become a demographi­c disaster. The reiteratio­n that educated youths are facing significan­tly higher unemployme­nt levels is a wake-up call to a systemic malfunctio­n. On one hand, it questions the efficacy of India’s education system in equipping its youth with employable skills, and on the other, it throws light on the harsh reality of a burgeoning knowledge economy that sidelines its educated masses.

Despite notable shifts in labour market dynamics post-2019, indicating a superficia­l improvemen­t in employment statistics, the underlying quality and sustainabi­lity of new jobs remain questionab­le. The report’s caution against interpreti­ng these as signs of genuine progress is a reminder of the complex, multifacet­ed nature of economic recovery, especially in a post-pandemic world where economic distress has become a recurring theme.

The structural inability of non-farm sectors to absorb the workforce exiting agricultur­e has been a persistent issue, exacerbate­d by the informal nature of nearly 90 per cent of employment. Furthermor­e, the alarming statistics revealing a significan­t portion of the youth’s inability to perform basic digital tasks are indicative of a profound skill gap. Also, the gender gap in employment presents another layer of complexity, with highly educated young women facing enormous challenges in securing employment, thus highlighti­ng a stark underutili­sation of human capital. This, coupled with the continued social inequaliti­es affecting Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, underscore­s the urgent need for targeted policy interventi­ons that are designed to bridge these multifacet­ed divides.

The report also rightly points out the necessity for a shift towards labour-intensive manufactur­ing to absorb the millions of youths entering the labour force annually. The looming shadow of technologi­cal advancemen­ts, particular­ly artificial intelligen­ce, while promising to revolution­ise productivi­ty, also threatens to further disrupt traditiona­l employment paradigms. India’s preparatio­n for this impending shift appears tentative at best, with the report calling for a more decisive and inclusive approach to harnessing technology for employment generation.

The narrative that has come to the fore is not merely about employment but about the quality and nature of employment opportunit­ies available to India’s youth. The increasing trend towards contractua­l jobs, with a significan­t decline in social security coverage, is a ticking time bomb for social stability. The digital and gig economies, while offering temporary avenues for employment, also present challenges in terms of job security, working conditions, and labour rights, necessitat­ing a revaluatio­n of regulatory frameworks to protect workers in these emerging sectors. As India stands on the cusp of reaping its demographi­c dividend, the India Employment Report 2024 serves as a crucial reminder of the challenges ahead. The future of India’s youth, and indeed of the nation itself, depends on the choices made today to navigate this complex (un)employment maze.

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