The loud proponents of jobless growth are doing their bit to ensure we don’t ask the right questions about the Indian economy.
“Always predict the worst, and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.” Musical humorist Tom Lehrer’s quote aptly sums up the never-ending debate in India about ‘jobless growth’.
In the last four years, India has grown at an average of 7.3 per cent. Growth in GDP is a result of growth in inputs and productivity. Even at the best of times, productivity growth does not contribute more than three percentage points to GDP growth.
Therefore, it is clear that the Indian growth story can only be attributed to increase in inputs (capital, labour). Since growth in capital has slightly decelerated, it is mathematically impossible for labour growth to have slowed concomitantly. In simple words, it is not possible for India to grow at 7.3 per cent with decelerating growth in capital and labour.
The number of jobs have actually increased, and the recent Das & Das study corroborates this. This professor-banker duo leveraged Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) data to prove that India is adding 15 million to the labour force every year. And this is excluding all jobs created by the platform economy. To give you a sense, there are more than one million Ola and Uber drivers in India.
The proponents of jobless growth often quote the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) conducted by the labour bureau, which is voluntary, unverified, and limited to enterprises with more than 10 employees in only eight sectors. According to the QES’s logic, founders of many private equity shops and disruptive technology companies with small core teams are unemployed. If WhatsApp were made in India, its founding team would be considered unemployed almost until it got acquired by Facebook. Relying on QES to reveal the number of jobs is like relying on a rickshaw to take you to Mars.
Now that we have put the jobless growth rhetoric to rest, let us address the main challenges to skilling India.
First, underemployment, which translates to multiple workers performing tasks that can be done by a single worker.
Second, our systemic failure to create high-productivity, high-wage jobs for unskilled/semi-skilled labourers through effective reskilling programmes.
Third, lack of effective public-private partnerships. The entire notion of government creating jobs is misplaced. Government can and should create the right ecosystem for entrepreneurs, small and medium businesses and enterprises to create meaningful employment opportunities. There has been a lot of talk about public-private partnerships but action has been limited.
Fourth, industry needs to do much more – apprenticeship programmes, reskilling initiatives, inclusive hiring. Corporate social responsibility won’t be enough. Reskilling India needs to be part of corporate strategy.
Fifth, unpreparedness for jobs of the future. The World Economic Forum estimates that 85 per cent of the jobs of 2030 haven’t been created yet. Automation and other applications of Artificial Intelligence will redefine workforce. Routine, repeatable, boring jobs may be lost to robots, but there will be an abundance of new kinds of jobs that require empathy, creativity and innovation. Reports suggest that for every job lost there will be five new jobs created. These jobs will require preparation: our schools need to re-pivot and focus on ‘why’ instead of ‘what’, college curriculum needs to be continually updated, and we need to bridge the boardroom-classroom divide by creating a better connect between industry leaders, mentors, job creators and job seekers.
The loud proponents of jobless growth are doing their bit to ensure we don’t ask the right questions. They focus on evocative media reports instead of logic and hope to shape the skilling strategy of India.
Lewis Carroll’s words from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ sum it up: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.”
Utkarsh Amitabh works at Microsoft, is the founder of Network Capital, and is a ‘Global Shaper’ who represented the community at Davos. (Views are personal)