Self-Employment and Skill Proficiency

The modern day world is a place of radical transformation and immense growth. Every moment there is a big leap made. Over the same lines, the career prospectus of people have evolved drastically. From being intelligent/bright and then being bifurcated into doctors or engineers to being a gift-wrapping expert making decent amount of money, a dramatic shift has taken place. This has enhanced the capabilities of individuals, lessened the gender and class gap and made office and work structures more flexible. As a result the world has come to a relative convergence of decent earnings and better lives with enhanced capabilities mostly based on different types of skills (formal and informal) than on the market signaling of high end college and university degrees.

Testing the same axiom over this part of the world, we ran an online survey collecting response from college and university students. This article is based on more than a hundred responses which is quite a representative case. The respondents are the young people studying across various colleges and universities in the Kashmir valley. 55% respondents are the college students, 35% university students and about 09% are the doctoral fellows. Pertinent to mention here is the fact that the life-course perspective of each of these groups is very different and their likelihood to have a niche for skill different. While a college going student will think more about learning a skill and making a decent living out of it, a doctoral fellow won’t. 70% respondents are from the rural areas while only 30% live in the urban areas. This again is an obvious fact based on the district wise division and the limited extend of urbanization in the valley. It can be pointed out that the scope for skill learning and successful selling of the skill based products has more scope in the urban regions than the rural ones. However at the same time the region of Kashmir is characterized with the Low Intensity Conflict and high uncertainty. Given insecurity people always try to diversify the options and tend to learn as many basic and complex skills as possible.

Since this article focuses solely on the students, it is important to check if their needs are fulfilled. 81% of the respondents say that they do not receive any kind of scholarship or fellowship. In the modern day world where there is galloping inflation and education demands all sorts of investments, gadgetry and travel expenses a student without stipend is already in a tight and awkward condition. Of the 19% who do, majority claim that it is not enough. It is, however, a known fact that fellowships up to the PG level for the most part are very low and in no manner have the ability to cover the expense of the basic books leave alone something better. 60% of the respondents claim that they do receive the pocket money from their families but again it is just not enough. The whole picture of student stipend in our case is a grim one. The students barely have enough money to buy books, notes or food, limiting the scope that they do learn some skill meanwhile. This further limits the options of the students. Self-learning and creativity tend to be the only options left to develop and excel in some skill though the destitute conditions keep the students stressed and they become unable to focus on other alternate and rewarding developments. At the same time a situation like this demands that some extra buck must be made by selling the skill whatsoever but the vicious circle is already in the spiral movement.

When asked what about the skills the respondents currently possess, the answers were quite disappointing. A majority of the respondents explicitly state that they do not have any skill. Those who affirm, mention all the skills that they have picked up as a hobby or curiosity and then done it so many times that they have become good with it. 07% respondents claim that they are good in gardening. 10% female respondents claim that they are good with sewing, Aari-work and Tilla-work. A handful of people say that they are good in art, portrait and calligraphy. On the monetary lines, 85% of the respondent population says that they haven’t made any money with their skills. While amongst those who possess the skills, 58% think that they can make money from their skill if they try to, given they live in the modern world and everything can be taken online and sold gainfully.

Having been born and growing in the conflict zone the respondent population is well aware about the shocks, uncertainty and fragility. From conflict related incidents to natural disasters they have survived spells of home-lock instances where the actual and virtual communication with the rest of the world pauses and a person is left all but to himself. Given the basic axiom of the ordinary business that each person has to carry on in order to make the ends meet, the respondent population knows the importance of keeping the food on the table and the hard work that it takes to get it there. 87% of the respondent population agrees to the fact that they must learn a skill that is well defined and has a market value. Given the uncertainty about each next day, they believe there must be a thing known to them that is able to sustain them when everything else fails.

Asking about the life-course perspective for the next five years, 75% respondents believe that they will be earning their living on the basis of skill whether as self-employed or hired. The remaining 25% population wants a simple job of any sort that gives them an earning. But the main problem with the skill development as reported by the respondent population is again region based. From conflict to poor state institutions, lack of proper channeling and appropriate market demand, huge information asymmetry exists and eventually half the respondent population believes that they do not find ample opportunities to learn and develop any kind of skill. The other half, however, quite optimistically believes in the wonders of information technology and a positive will. They say that with free information a person can easily identify his string spot(s) and work towards the development of the necessary skill.

It can be picked-up from the mainstream human development and capability approach and applied right in the context of the conflict ridden Kashmir economy that the need and necessity to have both formal and informal skill development amongst the young population is the immediate need of the hour. Given the recurring shocks both natural and conflict related the regular channels of employment are shaken and families find it hard to make the ends meet. A micro-level solution to this problem is the skill development, both formal and informal, that sustains a person all the times through thick and thin.