With close to 67% of the country’s population classified rural, skilling rural India is vital to regional and national development. 

The National Youth Policy 2014 defines ‘youth’ as persons between the ages of 15-29 years. Rural male and female youth unemployment rates were 17.4 percent and 13.6 percent respectively in 2017-18 according to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). Regular jobs with social benefits are hard to come by, especially for rural youth. A buoyant rural economy is key to India’s march towards improved livelihood opportunities. And skills play a central role. 

Key Considerations 

Skilling challenges and opportunities for rural India need to be part of an integrated rural strategy, such as: 

  • Current and future skills gap analysis in both agricultural and non-agricultural roles
  • Measures and methods that work best in extending the benefits of skilling to the greatest number of rural youth
  • Making skilling initiatives sustainable with long-term benefits of earnings matched with decent work
  • Identifying key private, public and social enterprise stakeholders who must be part of the skills design and implementation process
  • Leveraging technology to deliver skills to rural youth
  • Introducing employment-oriented skills training in rural education institutes 

Seeking Out Aspirational Jobs

NSSO data also reveals a strange paradox where unemployment rates rise sharply overall in India among educated youth. Youth with degrees seek aspirational jobs and when unable to get one, prefer to sit it out, or are forced to take up any available work. This predicament deepens in rural India where opportunities are fewer. Why should it matter whether youth from remote villages in India are economically engaged in decent work in a country that churns out millions of graduates each year? Besides a human development argument, rural youth populace in India constitutes 69% of the total youth population, or over 180 million youngsters. With steadily increasing aspirations for white collar jobs, and the local environment not able to provide those jobs, rural youth migrate to larger cities. For instance, in Sirsi in Karnataka, of the 2,000 odd students who graduate from the town’s two popular colleges, a mere 20% land local jobs; the rest head out. 

As rural youth continue to set their sights on jobs as engineers, BPO workers, accountants, retail staff- traditional rural sectors take a hit. Similarly, low-skill level white collar jobs face the threat of automation in industries such as telecom, banking and IT/ITeS. Opportunities are few and far between with reluctance of the private sector to visit rural campuses. Corporates opine that the skills they need are just not there and that higher education and training institutes need to do much more to make skills of youth relevant to the labour market. 

Boosting Rural Economy 

With large swathes of rural youth moving away from farming and agriculture, what should skills training focus on? The Indian agriculture sector is the backbone of the economy, employing over 50% of the total workforce and contributing around 18% to GDP. Youth disinterested in agriculture and farming jobs surely is cause for alarm. Estimates point to a drop to 25.7% by 2050 of total agricultural workers compared to 58.2% in 2001. 

What can be an alternative approach to secure decent livelihoods for rural youth? One that focuses on skills relevant to the rural economy to hold back migration. This means job creation and skilling rural youth in both farming and non-farming jobs that are needed in local economies. Mechanisation and modernisation hold the key in raising the aspirational quotient of farming and agri-based roles. NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar expounds, “A lot can be done to promote skills required for pre- and post-harvest handling to reduce wastage, for better cropping techniques and better water use. Soil health, better irrigation, better post-harvest practices, transport, can be included in this approach.” 

Another area of promise for rural areas is food processing centres. Making up around 32% of the country’s total food market and tipped for a 25% growth by 2025, food processing could drive rural economic growth in India. Says Piruz Khambatta, Chairman & Managing Director, Rasna, “Food processing can do to rural India what IT has done to urban India – bring prosperity and growth. Food processing sector can act as a vehicle for 21st century India. We are an agricultural nation and we can expand food processing. …This sector is a boon for SMEs.” 


Also read: How a decentralised approach to skills training through apprenticeships and other forms of skill-building can benefit youth in their local job markets. 


A Dual Approach

Notwithstanding a host of rural skills training schemes such as the Entrepreneurship Development Programmes and the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana, a two-pronged approach is required to skill rural youth. One, to modernise and leverage opportunities arising from local resources and traditionally strong rural sectors such as agriculture and allied industries, handloom and construction. The other is to simultaneously offer local employment-linked skills training in non-traditional industries (retail, e-commerce, finance, BPO). This strengthens rural economies, raises the aspirational bar of local jobs, and provides more employment avenues thus curtailing unnecessary migration. 

Rural India, abound with natural resources and three-fourths of the country’s populace, has all the ingredients to become a powerhouse of national development. Thus, skilling rural India must focus on building local capacities to boost rural economies. 

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