knowledge needed for job creation
October 29, 2018
By Pradeep S Mehta
We need to get down to the ground, at an enterprise
level, to assess what works and why, and what it is that make
enterprises value human resources.
Every government faces challenges and there are some more
prominent than others. Job creation is perhaps the most
prominent of them all. In the face of declining agriculture
opportunities, tough industrial competition, rising
protectionism and reshoring, the inevitable realities of
artificial intelligence, digitalization and automation will keep
the productivity clock ticking. The trade-off is that some of
these technologies will replace some mental tasks, some physical
ones and some that are both. So we are in a way on the cusp of
decision-making about providing meaningful and sustainable jobs
to millions of India’s youth over the next many years.
The pressure is enormous, but even in a relatively benign
environment, India registered a sustained period of jobless
growth. There is enough evidence now to show that starting from
the reform years in the 1990s down until now, decades of jobless
growth has become a norm.
Anurag Behar of Azim Premji University writes in his candid
foreword to the recently released State of Working India report
that industries have for years minimized the labour component,
not so much because of draconian labour laws or shortage of
trained labour, but simply because of the better quality,
productivity, and safety of automated systems.
So, how is one to ensure growth with jobs when the complexities
have increased manifold? To answer broadly, one would need to
spur the growth of means of generating income with labour, and
then ensure that other social benefits also accrue to the
worker. Ideally, such vocational avenues should also allow
workers to learn and earn more. The combination of these aspects
will ensure continuous and higher human capability which can be
harnessed for higher productivity.
The hard part is how to get this done for millions of people
with low and medium skills who form the ‘majority’ of job
A job that does not provide adequate spending power is mostly
meaningless for only a pittance gets recycled back into the
economy. Such jobs also put limits on the development of human
capability as workers are in continuous ‘survival’ mode. With so
many other leakages in the system, what is needed is a much
faster and a more robust framework.
Digitalization answers that question but only in part. Think of
it through an example of taxi aggregators. In the initial days,
they promised high incomes but in less than a decade’s time,
they have become labour-exploitative. Then there are other
models facilitated by technology that allow ‘gig’ work to
flourish. In other words, the person can be a cab driver for a
few hours, a delivery boy for a few others, a security guard by
the night and run a tea stall in the morning if he still has
time and energy. The worker’s spouse may too earn additional
Put together, they result in higher incomes but only
cumulatively. In other words, staggered ‘productivity’ may
result in somewhat commensurate income, but that leaves no time
to the worker for his good. Therefore, despite higher incomes,
they still can’t be called ‘good’ jobs i.e. jobs which imply
higher and rising productivity and entail necessary support,
safety, security and incentives for the workers to grow and
However, there can be a contrarian view too. For instance, a
combination of similar or some other jobs may even result in
acquiring new skills and honing existing ones, thereby adding to
individual capabilities which can be ploughed back for higher
The debate on these issues will continue for as long as there
will be new disruptions. But one thing is clear that given the
telling effect of new tech, the traditional approach of worker
welfare i.e. where enterprise remunerates and the state partakes
in fuller development of human capabilities through regulation
of social benefits, may not be the only criteria to judge if we
are indeed headed the right way.
It is, however, clear that not just jobs but ‘good’ jobs will be
needed for a healthy economy. This effectively means dignified
work leading to higher incomes and better family welfare. Low
and medium skilled manufacturing may hold one part of the answer
while services may hold the other. The key may be in clustering
many small enterprises and ensuring that we have the right
policies for cluster development and concomitant facilities.
For services, clustering may need a different form. Rather than
clustering enterprises, this may be physically far more
dispersed. Could clustering of ‘jobs’ per worker be an option,
with social benefits built upon the cumulative incomes arising
from different avenues?
These ideas are rudimentary, but a different approach is likely
needed to work along with the traditional ones in almost all
areas including social security, access to credit, taxation and
lifelong learning systems, to name a few.
As a first step, we need to get down to the ground, at an
enterprise level, to assess what works and why, and what it is
that make enterprises value human resources. If we have a fuller
understanding of that, we may have some answers too, which can
be best implemented with a whole-of-government approach.
Abhishek Kumar, director of CUTS contributed to this article.
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