The continued com-mitment of the government to seriously address the need for employment generation in rural India is a big opportunity for all stakeholders to implement strategies, to give an impetus to providing platforms to rural youth, to find jobs and become self employed. There is general lack of accurate information and data about the types and numbers of the approximate 750 million people engaged in rural sector. The existing labor force is understood to increase by 7 million per year relating to total of 400 million men and women employed; of these 55per cent are engaged in agricultural sector; 13 per cent in manufacturing while 32 per cent in the services sector. Only 6-8 per cent of India’s work force may have had formal training for vocational skills.
In developed countries 60-80 per cent of the work force has received formal instruction. The Task force on Employment Opportunities maps 4200 Vocational Training Institutes including ITI’s. The rate of employment is relatively stable over time. The key issue today is not mere shortage of jobs but availability of employable skills to create self employment and job opportunities for agriculture, industry, services, administration and infrastructure.
During the last three decades, from the seventies, visible and far reaching changes are evident in Rural Mandis, markets, towns and villages, and these have opened up exciting opportunities for rural youth to seek employment. Most of the 643000 villages are electrified, are connected by road, have a nearby post office, village level shops, and growing infrastructure. Banks have opened Rural Branches, Cyber cafes and Photo copying outlets are mushrooming. Shops stocking engineering spares, lubricants, agro inputs, farm machinery, building materials, sanitation items, beverages and provisions, textiles and readymade apparels, shoes and toys, cell phones, Durables’ such as TV and washing machines, cookers and refrigerators, stationary and books, – are visible in most small towns interspersed with two wheelers, motor vehicles, tractor agencies, and petrol outlets and all these employ local people.
Cable TV provides entertainment. Local and regional newspapers and magazines, cinema, video and music shops provide growing media exposure to the local rural population almost everywhere in the country, and are managed by self employed households. The grain markets flourish in the middle and constitute a major catalyst for business activity in rural villages and towns. Nursing homes and health clinics are recent employers. Traders, government employees, agricultural workers, sales people, teachers, doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, dairy owners, government and bank employees, insurance agents, form a colorful tapestry of a humming mixture of skilled people trying to make a living for themselves in the hinterland. Hotels and Dhabas’ do good business. Cottage, small and medium Industries are splattered about. The Rural space in the pyramid for employment potential is becoming live with opportunity, while earlier urban migration was a major concern.
Multilayered programs for providing vocational training and skill building have been launched by Government, NGO’s, and Institutions. Continuous policy initiatives are being taken to make rural schemes effective, such as MNREGA that benefits millions of poor families. There are 190 Rural Self Employment Training Institutes (RESTI) who along with 35 PSU Banks have trained 1.5 lakh people, providing free accommodation and food to selected rural youth on a need basis. Rural Shores, a private company, specialises in employing rural youth in Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) have been set up in many States. In Ranikhet, near Majhkali village in Uttrakhand, Rural BPO comprising mostly of women, provides information and data outsourcing for Insurance Companies. Selected women are given relevant computer training. In the Hills, in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand , and JandK, the youth are getting employed in hospitality ,travel, tourism and infrastructure industries. JandK Government subsidises Industry in Industrial Growth Centers in Samba, Udhampur, Kathua, Baribramhna, and Vijaynagar. Units located here, have to employ 90 per cent of local population. But there is a mismatch between education and job profiles and skills demanded by Industries. This throws up a huge opportunity for Public and Private partnerships (PPP), to impart relevant training to local rural population after mapping the skill requirement on a region-wide basis. National Commission on Farmers, among others, can arrange employment surveys and provide information.
There is no doubt that increasing agricultural productivity through modern crop management practices will increase farm incomes, and this will lead to more employment opportunity. Rising rural income will lead to a multiplier effect in increasing demand for farm and non farm products and services, thereby, stimulating employment. Agrochemical, Seeds, and Fertilizer Companies offer seasonal employment to thousands of high school and Agricultural undergraduate students. Agri business is a great way forward in employing rural youth, as is Retail support infrastructure, including cold storages, transportation, logistics, contract farming, and extension services. Policy measures must aid extension services and information center initiatives like ITC e-Chaupal. Giving impetus to SHG’s to impart advanced technology, publicity inputs, bank credit processing, marketing and crop insurance measures to strengthen farm credit and insurance programmes including linkages between crop loans and insurance, are all part of financial inclusion. Initiatives by Banks to issue Kissan Cards, undertake micro-financing to the mobile trader, are great ways to make last mile connectivity to business and employment generation.
The earlier Green revolution was a result of hybrid seeds for wheat and paddy; today, Hybrid seeds, safe and highly effective crop protection chemicals, bio products, nutrients, GM crops, soil conservation technology, organic farming, post harvest solutions, and agricultural bio technology, will surely combine to usher in another green revolution to meet the Food Security needs of the Country. These activities will generate huge employment potential for skilled and relevant rural youth. More than that, they will need cohesive Management practices, from the policy makers and execution partners. Clearly the education sector, B-schools, training Institutes, NGO’s and SHG’s, must behold a blooming opportunity, to develop employability skills in rural people for employment in different sectors. This is the real challenge, both of governance and management.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The way forward is to structure Rural Value Chains, in States, that have at their core, adoption and spread of technology, skill building, employment generation, and linkage between agriculture and industry. The agricultural horizon is changing. Round the corner are energy plantations to fuel bio mass power plants; bio diesel from Jathropa; ethanol from sugarcane and sugar beet; edible oil from Paradise tree. A hospital near Attari, in Punjab, offers health tourism experience. Mechanics can be employed by Auto workshops; College students can join sales jobs after training; women can become housekeepers in hotels and residences; they can join banks and insurance outlets; electricians can open repair shops; plumbers can get training in pipe technology and find acceptance in petroleum, chemical and Pharma installations. The scope is vast. Shakti Ammas’ from Hindustan Unilever are the proven example, of how women can be empowered to educate, earn from brand sales and spread information and awareness about products and services to nearby villages. IT Companies can and are generating employment through e- commerce spread and practice. Software maintenance will continue to be a job puller. BPO and KPO employing rural men and women offer good cost benefit to Banks, Insurance, Health Care, Hospitality sector, and export sectors.
India will have a population touching 1.5 billion, by the time our present day youth becomes older. There is a need to seriously anticipate changes that will happen in our society and to rural socio- economic demographics by 2025 -50; and then to address and put in place strategies, that will generate balanced employment in Rural India, through linkages, and appropriate skill building employability schemes and plans, with participation by all stake holders. The focus should be on efficient management of the opportunity for employment generation. Demographic Dividend from the bottom of the Pyramid, in the words of C.K.Prahalad, will then become a reality.
I can see around me, as I burn the miles on rural roads, that change in the aspirations of rural youth, especially women, is startling. They are willing and eager to learn to earn more, work harder and apply themselves with new technology, while grappling with English communication and life style pressures. They represent a great opportunity to become partners in the India Growth Story; we all need to extend our hands and fill our shopping bags with employable potential!
(Author: CK Sabharwal, senior professor of rural marketing)