In this guest article Ms. Sunita Sanghi, Senior Adviser, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) and Mr. Sidharth Sonawat, Senior Consultant, MSDE, share their views on the importance and need to reskilling as a part of livelihood continuity plan amid COVID-19 crisis.
Preliminary estimates by various industry bodies indicate that a large proportion of workers both in the informal and formal sectors may either lose their jobs or shall encounter a significant change in how their jobs were done post-COVID-19. The sectors which are most adversely impacted are Tourism and Hospitality, restaurants, organised Retail, Media and Entertainment, Logistics, and Real Estate among others. The workers in these sectors could seek re-deployment into other sectors or alternative livelihood opportunities due to COVID-19 induced economic downturn.
The travel and tourism sector in India alone accounted for an estimated 12.2% of the total employment opportunities generated in the country in 2017. As per the national federation of 10 tourism, travel and hospitality organisations of India, FAITH’s initial estimates, the overall value of the losses could be in the range at Rs 5 lakh crore. Given that almost 80% of the Travel and Tourism industry is composed of small and medium enterprises, it is possible to have 25-75% of employment churn in the short to medium term. In addition, the quantum of economic loss in sectors like IT/ITeS and textiles/apparel both labour intensive and dependent on the fortunes of the global economy is not clear yet.
Reskilling for livelihood continuity
Given the strong headwind to economic growth, a huge section of informal and a small section of the formal workforce shall, therefore, seek re-deployment into relatively resilient sectors of the economy post-COVID-19 situation.
The reskilling of such workers can make the churn smoother and less disruptive for these vulnerable categories. Various reskilling interventions can be taken up in phased manner by initially targeting section of migrant workers who have returned to their source states. In addition, workers from different sectors who could not come back after lockdown due to compliance norms of social distancing could be included.
We could target at least 25% of the at-risk workforce which is seeking re-deployment and can be made relatively productive through re-skilling. This Vocational Education and Training (VET) intervention could be seen as a livelihood continuity plan for a period not extending beyond a year since most of this workforce would hopefully get back to their first occupation/location once the situation improves in the medium term. This is of course assuming that we do not have a seasonal recurrence of the COVID-19 issue beyond a year.
Which sectors can take up more jobs?
As in the supply equation, the demand situation can be divided into three main genres. First, domestic consumption facing sectors including those in the gig economy could temporarily support lost livelihoods in most impacted sectors. As existing healthcare resources are under stress in managing COVID-19 issues, there is a huge demand for not only COVID-19 related healthcare personnel but also workers in general patient care, diagnostics, health-tech, and counsellors. In addition e-commerce, telecom, financial services, etc. are some relatively resilient sectors that can absorb manpower.
Second, for reverse migrants who would not return in the short term, training can be provided for entrepreneurship, self-employment, and opportunities likely to come up due to economic revival focused on the rural economy (rural roads, houses, and light manufacturing). Since agriculture remains the mainstay for rural India, a section of the migrant labourers could be reskilled in high-value agriculture such as horticulture, livestock, sericulture, aquaculture, and plantations.
Finally, for more advanced VET, courses relevant for Industry 4.0, automation, and additive manufacturing may form a significant part of the re-skilling exercise.
Also read: Skill Index for Differentiated Policy Response – more here: https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/skill-index-for-differentiated-policy-response/
Modalities of digital skilling
This reskilling plan shall present huge challenges for the entire skill ecosystem as it would require remodeling the entire skill value chain. Candidates have to be motivated to undergo remote counseling and prepared for a predominant digital delivery mode of learning. Since vocational training is by definition more hands-on, advanced digital technologies like AR/VR powered simulating training has to be integrated with video based teaching. In addition to delivery of content, learning tools for feedback, self-monitoring, self-explanation have to be integrated in online training.
The assessment has to transition from one event to a series of regular process-oriented measures after conceptual training. Trainer capacity has to be enhanced to provide more online training. Most importantly, a mindset change at all levels of skill delivery, administration, and governance has to be enabled for a new mode of learning.
Even with the best of the delivery mechanism, teaching aspects of teamwork, workspace camaraderie and sharing of ideas and motivation in a digital-first environment shall remain a challenge On the flip slide, this digital infrastructure created for mounting a time-bound re-skilling effort can be seamlessly integrated into the long term plan of ‘digital-first skilling’. This shall ensure continued progress towards blended learning and bringing the digital agenda forward by many years.
A reskilling program run in mission mode to overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19 or similar natural disasters shall not only strengthen the vocational education ecosystem in India but also greatly improve its aspiration value and linkages with employment and livelihood. Basis its success, VET shall be seen as a gateway to securing livelihood in the Indian economy, a goal for which tireless efforts under Skill India have been channelised over the years.