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Murugan Vasudevan leads the Social Innovation Group for Cisco in South Asia

This blog was written by Murugan Vasudevan, who leads the Social Innovation Group for Cisco in South Asia. His team is responsible for directing Cisco’s social investments around human capacity building, workforce development, and community enablement. This includes programs such as the Networking Academy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) investments.

Even before the pandemic began in March 2020, the Indian skill-learning ecosystem was confronted with a formidable challenge — the rate of job creation had decreased to 2-3 percent with over 4.5 million youth set to enter the workforce every year. Since 2018, fewer placement opportunities with employers and greater competition between candidates had been the trend.

The pandemic has only quickened the pace of this cycle; with the youth unemployment rate in India estimated to reach 32.5 percent in 2020, as 6.1 million individuals between ages 15-24 are expected to lose their jobs and re-enter the job market. Undoubtedly, the road ahead may appear daunting for many young Indians graduating from vocational and training institutions today.

At the same time the Indian job market has been evolving, driven largely by the emergence and dominance of platform companies that employ gig workers. These firms are job creators at a time when job growth is low and unemployment is severe. Companies working across sectors like e-commerce, ride-sharing, food delivery, logistics, home services, and elderly care have exhibited growth even during the coronavirus pandemic. Further, platform companies are likely to see increased adoption and continued growth in the post-pandemic world, as consumer habits that were formed during lockdown become the new normal.

The gig economy’s impact

In a report recently published by the Cisco CSR team in India, in partnership with Quest Alliance and Tandem Research, India, China, and the United States, will continue to dominate the gig economy. This gig economy will grow, at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17 percent, to $455 billion by 2023. This boom should bring with it a host of employment opportunities for Indian youth.

So now we’re left to ask what skills do young Indians require to leverage this gig economy and secure employment? How can our institutions evolve quickly to deliver needed skills within the opening gaps?

Most of the young candidates graduating from India’s 14,000 industrial training and vocational institutes have prepared for traditional employment and job roles. Their trade skills training builds technical knowledge. But in order to differentiate themselves in the gig economy, they will need to adopt at least one of these additional skillsets:

  • Entrepreneurial skills: As they are non-traditional employers, platforms do not treat gig workers as employees. Instead, it is up to the individual to determine how they capitalize on the opportunity and create a steady demand for their services. This necessitates a deeper understanding of entrepreneurial skills.
  • Communication skills: Most platform-based jobs will require individuals to interact with customers directly without a supervisor. There needs to be an understanding of how they can interact with clients, make decisions, resolve conflicts, and market themselves effectively.
  • Financial literacy: Gig workers are responsible for their own time management and finances; they are not guaranteed a salary and employer-based savings. Financial literacy is critical to ensure workers can manage fluctuating incomes while saving and investing their earnings.
  • Digital fluency: As most platform employers use a smartphone-based interface to track their workers’ performance, they will need to have a digital fluency that goes beyond just digital literacy.

Learning to advocate for yourself

In addition to these skills, it is essential that gig workers have a greater understanding of local and country labor laws and ways they can advocate for themselves.

Today, the industrial training and vocational institutions that comprise the our skills ecosystem are coming to terms with these drastic changes brought about by the pandemic. We need to ensure today’s youth are equipped to make use of these opportunities and have all the resources they need to secure their future. Timely initiatives in skills development can reduce unemployment, raise incomes, and improve standards of living.

Through our social investment programs, the Cisco CSR team in India has invested in countrywide blended learning ed-tech programs and digitally transforming our vocational skills institutions. With the right partnerships through our Future Right Skills Network, a consortium formed with the partnership of Accenture and Quest Alliance, we hope to scale this effort and build a brighter future for Indian youth.