Skills and knowledge are the fulcrums to a nation's development and economic augmentation. In today's global scenario, nations and societies possessing higher and better level of skill sets are understood to tune more effectively and efficiently to the opportunities and challenges of economic growth and sustenance. Finding and keeping workforce with right knowledge and desired skills in order to get the job done is a critical factor in today's workplace.
The knowledge-based economy is increasing the demands on a worker's skill levels. A skilled workforce is often the key to regional growth and stability and could be a determining factor in the success of an economy. A positive marker of the regional economic strength and development is the skill of the population and its vigilant enhancement and continuous upgradation.
Business and industry in India is facing shortage of skilled people. This shortage directly affects productivity and growth. The primary challenge faced by Indian business and industry is a shortage of 76 percent of technical and skilled manpower. As per estimates, only 4 percent of population of India is skilled compared to 68 percent in the UK, 75 percent in Germany, 58 percent in the USA, 80 percent in Japan and an enviable 96 percent in South Korea. It has been estimated that 75 percent of fresh graduates from the Indian education system are not readily employable. There is thus a huge opportunity and a challenge in building the required infrastructure for overcoming the shortage of skilled manpower.
Kashmir has witnessed a downturn in availability of local workforce mainly due to the erroneous policies of the government, as skill development and nurturing had never been a point of focus in the regional development policies. Three to four decades down the memory lane I remember Kashmir had its own highly skilled workforce in the traditional manufacturing like machinists (Bandook Khar Mohallah, a famous location in Rainawari for getting any item produced, including guns) as well as service sectors like carpentry, plumbing, masonry etc.
Over a period of time, as a result of increase in the local demand and under availability of local skilled manpower, thousands of skilled, semiskilled and unskilled workers started migrating to Kashmir which includes plumbers mostly from Orissa, carpenters from Punjab, labours from Bihar and so forth. The present number of migrant labourers present in Kashmir during summers is estimated to be between three lakh to five lakh. The number seems to be growing with each passing year.
This easy availability of skilled labour has created a huge gap in the local skill development as well as lack of motivation among Kashmiris to undertake such professions. Unfortunately, most of the unemployed youths are refraining to continue their family occupations after obtaining some formal education and degrees, which ironically have become impediments to undertake such jobs. As a result the society is rapidly moving towards an unforeseen trap of unemployment, idleness and redundancies thus paving way to increase in crime and other offences.
In order to clutch the unemployed youths of the valley from falling into trap of frustration and depression, there is a dire need to think innovatively how to engage them into undertaking professions where skill dominates and becomes a means of earning an honourable living instead of resorting to corruption, immorality and decomposition of human values. Education, diplomas or degrees should never become impediment to take on skilled occupation. On the other hand, the society also has to understand the concept of dignity of work and show honour for all skills and professions. The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in Almighty's creation. But, if the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, and to economic initiative.
To achieve this we need to take a deeper glance at the present skill ecosystem, map it against the future trends, identify future jobs and skill requirements and propose a way to re-engineer the skill ecosystem. There is a dire need to examine the collaboration opportunities between universities and industries for skills development, the generation, acquisition, and adoption of knowledge (innovation and technology transfer) and the promotion of entrepreneurship (startups and spin-offs). Lot of collective initiatives need to be undertaken by government and non-government agencies, institutions and business bodies collectively and separately to achieve these objectives.
Respect skill and let it not get killed to make the society ill. That only will fill the economic gap in a dignified way.
Author is associate professor at NIT-Srinagar, and coordinator for Innovation Forum of Kashmir