India’s Demographic Dividend Dream

India’s Demographic Dividend Dream

Unlocking national potential by improving workforce productivity

Background

India is standing at the helm of a huge opportunity – the possibility of reaping the benefits of a bulging youth population.  If properly enabled and utilised, this could mean a highly productive, young workforce chugging away to create wealth and an unprecedented growth in GDP.  The bonus wealth thus created is sometimes termed the ‘demographic dividend’.  It refers to an opportunity for growth of the nation powered simply by virtue of its fortuitous demographic mix.  The United States grew into the economic power house that it is today, by harnessing this ‘Baby Boomer’ generation’s potential.  This youth-powered growth could set in motion the self-sustaining chain reaction of growth feeding more growth which will eventually support the same population when it begins to age.

On the other hand, if  poorly managed, it may create pockets of wealth, leaving behind a mob of able-bodied, but disgruntled youth, who have the capacity to work, but find themselves denied the opportunity and preparation to ride that wave of prosperity.  The same population bonanza could then become a nightmare of mutinous rebels, waiting to set right the gap between the haves and have-nots – a veritable repeat of the French or Russian Revolution, in the extreme, or at least breed a highly corrupt system that takes opportunistic advantage of the wealth disparity.

Such a carrot & stick situation demands immediate, directed action.  The window of opportunity lies between now and 2030, when this population shall start to age.  In this period the population will have to be mobilised into a productive workforce, enabled with the right skills, matched with the right opportunity and provided with the tools to grow, improve and contribute better to the economy and themselves.

The Need

The need is to enable the right skills in the right segment of the population at the right time.  The segment in question is the entire productive workforce – youth, women and anyone else who is being underutilized.  This brings into focus the highly under-productive rural population and women, who, even if literate, are not really workplace-ready.  The time to do the needful is right now.  The skills are the relevant technologies and abilities that may be immediately deployed into the marketplace to build infrastructure and create wealth.  In the information age, these skills are a rapidly evolving entity, which needs constant updating.  Any solution suggested has to be readily deployable with minimum need for research, development , delivery and infrastructure set up.  It also has to consider the fact that the said youth may already be basically employed to earn their living and may only be accommodate any professional development activities after livelihood been attended to.

The dynamism of the demand requires continual evaluation of whether skills being imparted are relevant, sufficient and timely.  This means that the content being taught needs to be constantly evaluated and updated.  The workforce needs to be similarly evaluated for the currency of its skills.  As indicated in TeamLease’s India Labour Report 2008, any mismatch, repair and preparation required for these skills need to be implemented immediately.  The repetitiveness of this exercise dictates that it be easy to deliver and cost-effective too.

This, being a nationally relevant need, has implications on policy.  The exigency  and extent of the need to bring a mass change to the quality of our entire nation’s workforce require tremendous political will and intelligent policy-making to implement.  A standardized system of evaluating, recording and recognising the outcome of continual learning is the need of the hour.  Everyone, then, shall deal in the same currency of transaction in this demand and supply of the skills-market.

Such a system gives clarity to:

  • the job-seeker, on what is expected of him,
  • the job-provider, on what may be expected from the candidate and
  • the policy maker, on how effective the system is and what changes are required.

eLearning as Part of the Solution

This provides the eLearning industry a golden opportunity to contribute to national progress in a meaningful way.  Delivering skills-training to a geographically widely-distributed population in a cost-effective manner naturally points to online education.  In a country where Internet cafes are ubiquitous even in remote areas, and the population is becoming increasingly net-savvy, bringing skill-education to each citizen’s doorstep is a realistic goal.

A hosted learning solution would be ideal in this scenario, both in terms of simplicity of infrastructure requirements and cost-effectiveness.  Where Internet facilities are sparse, traditional vocational training institutions and NGOs can bridge the last-mile with ILTs or blended models.  Content may be tailored to the proficiency and even learning-style of the learner.  The short half-life of content is well-addressed by a hosted eLearning solution, since content update is effortless, immediate and cost-effective.  No printing, publishing and transporting new editions to far away places!  Assessments and diagnostic tests can evaluate the learner’s level of learning and how ready he is to meet the demand.  Historical reports and certificates help keep track of credits earned so far and provide the recruiter an objective idea of where the candidate fits.  A collaborative environment provides far-flung users the environment to discuss content, work as a team and build professional networks.

Hosted eLearning has the additional advantage of being rapidly deployable in terms of platform as well as content delivery. Anyone with access to a PC and the internet – even one in an internet cafe – can get started.  Courses can be short or long duration, as appropriate.  They can be made self-paced, with the ability to pause and resume at their convenience to make them more viable for mothers and youth engaged in other livelihood activities.

While just a small piece of the solution, hosted eLearning solutions may hold the key to unlocking the potential of youth from the farther corners of India.  With their newly learned or updated skills, they may be able to find employment in urban areas, get steady-paying jobs or simply just get back to the workforce (eg: women returning from maternity break or displaced mill-workers).  This urbanisation of the country bodes well in general for the long-term prospects of the economy.  Even the farmer, who stays behind in the village, may take a course on new farming techniques, seed quality and basic agricultural economics, improving his own productivity and retaining more value at his end.  At every level, in every geographical zone, across genders and ages, when productivity thus improves, India stands a genuine chance of enabling its own Baby Boomer generation to actualize the demographic dividend dream.

Welcome!

A blog without posts is no blog at all. So if you are seeing this faster than we could post, apologies. But we have a few posts coming up. Soon. A few thoughts, ideas, and our take on education, online-learning and the fast-changing landscape, interspersed with what we think about it and how we can help.

But, we’ll let our posts talk about our blog.