The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating and challenged us all tremendously. India's rural youth has been severely impacted by the closure of schools and colleges due to the lockdown. The International Labour Organization (ILO) 2020 report shares that one in six young people have lost their jobs since it began. The challenges of rural youth include rising unemployment, the migrant worker crisis, besides disrupted education. To counter this, skilling and entrepreneurship opportunities demand the spotlight to prepare young Indians to thrive during and in the post-pandemic era.
Like our education and work ecosystem are adapting to the new normal, the skilling ecosystem of rural youth also needs quick upheaval. Given changing demand for various skills and periods of uncertainties from the pandemic, it is crucial to reset the skilling ecosystem for rural youth for their secure, sustainable and promising future. There are six tracks to focus on:
Track 1. Skilling through digital platforms: The recent June 2021 report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMA) and a consulting firm shares that the Indian rural internet base is growing three times faster and is catching up with the urban user base rapidly. There is a great scope to explore virtual platforms for skilling rural youth. And we are witnessing many examples around this, despite lockdowns.
Track 2. Reaching out to vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities where connectivity is limited: Where a necessity like water or safe sanitation is absent and rural youth have other daily wage work to do, they cannot travel to skilling centers to learn. They have to support their families in fetching water or spend eight to 10 hours earning a daily wage. To address such constraints, village-level skilling centers, and community change leaders can play a huge role.
Track 3. Modern and sustainable skills: There's growing interest and evolution in the domains of agri-enterprises (in farm-based, off-farm livelihoods like animal husbandry and fishing), as well as with courses on nursing, data entry, digital services, and IT support related in urban areas. The third domain is around entrepreneurship in rural areas. The rural youth understands their communities, needs, challenges and often want to be with their family members while pursuing such skills and related livelihoods. Advanced skilling programmes for such livelihoods can reduce migration.
Track 4. Cross-sector partnerships: The success of the Indian skilling ecosystem hugely relies on all stakeholders—government, business, NGOs, employers, and community change agents. They need to bring their experience, assets, resources and action to weave a strong skilling ecosystem. It's important for corporates to be involved in the skilling curriculum and also provide mentorship to youth.
Track 5. One size doesn't fit all: Due to their circumstances, a huge number of rural youth quit their basic education. For them to thrive, skilling programs need to be tailored. Skilling programs should have two modules: A basic module for providing soft skills and career guidance to help each youth understand market opportunities, their potential and interest; and an advanced module where young Indians can choose the special skill program, including financial literacy and entrepreneurship to get certified. This will build tremendous confidence in the rural youth enabling them to hold their own.
Track 6. Rural entrepreneurship: Given the uncertainty due to the pandemic and changes in demand for services in the economy, there is a greater need for rural entrepreneurship building in rural youth. Sahil Salwarkar, a 22-year-old boy from Shrivardhan, used his skill of welding at subsidised rates to support community members restore their homes which were devastated by cyclone Nisarga. When requests from other villages started coming in, he trained other boys in his community in welding and made them entrepreneurs too. Building such an entrepreneurial mindset is a necessary plugin to all these tracks.
This pandemic has increased the need to invest in our rural youth and prepare them for sustainable livelihoods. These are the times to press the reset button of the Indian skilling ecosystem. All these six tracks can help overcome these challenging times and help rural youth flourish post-pandemic.
The writer is the co-founder, managing trustee and director of the Swades Foundation.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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