With half of India’s population expected to be in rural India by 2050 and the bulk of workforce emanating from rural India accounting for 70% of the total workforce, there is an urgency to rethink the education-employment conundrum, particularly in the rural sector. Skill development programs and vocational training being imparted have met with limited success.
Only around 20% of such trained youth find employment opportunities and even amongst this segment, there is high attrition—one in five candidates tend to drop out of jobs within the first three months. Quality of school education, counseling and nature of skills training imparted based on the match of strengths and aspirations of candidates with employment requirements have to be addressed urgently. Besides these, it is also important to plan for local employment opportunities.
One initiative aimed at creating local employment has been through the BPOs being set up by some NGOs and business firms in rural or semi-rural areas. Most of them have been providing services to larger business houses in urban locations and have had limited success. We now have an opportunity to review these models and consider setting up the integrated digital services centres—that are not modelled around common service centres but are aimed at meeting the requirements of the economic well-being of the rural population.
Digital services and solutions these centres could offer, may be centered around rural health, tourism, culture, agriculture and education. With connectivity set to improve and extend to interiors of the country, there would be enhanced demand for content of various kinds—news, entertainment, health, education, etc., in local languages.
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These projects could come from aggregators or from the government agencies and could provide an avenue for the employment of hundreds of youth who could be engaged in translating as well developing original content supported by web graphics, video, and animation specialists.
Except for around 50 persons who would form the core of the team, all the rest could be engaged on a one-year internship thus providing them with the valuable experience in specialized areas through the integrated digital services centres.
Training should include advanced areas such as AI, VR, AR and IoT which are normally provided only in urban locations. There should be closely working with the local government agencies to identify problems that could be addressed with these technologies and involve the youth to create the solutions.
One good example can be found in Umreth near Ahmedabad at Dewan Mehta Kaushalya Kendra where students are being trained for IT skills for employability. Several women candidates who have undergone training are today employed in desktop operations support and fixes for software applications in Umreth, Anand, Nadiad, Baroda and for both the employers and women this is a win-win proposition as the travel distance is within 50 km radius.
The aspiration of the youth in rural areas is no longer to earn around 10,000-15,000 per month and in order to help them earn higher amounts, rigorous training needs to be provided to develop their skills in the cutting edge digital technologies.
Top 1000 candidates in each district could be selected to undergo a two-year program in digital technologies leading up to one-year work experience in the rural digital centres. Thus we would be able to not only expand the talent pool in the cutting-edge areas by harnessing the potential of the rural youth but also contribute to local development and income generation capability.
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