January 19, 2019

Speaking at CII-Workshop on Jobs & Livelihoods, in Mumbai

It’s really delightful to see such good participation at such short notice and certainly speaks well for all of you in this team. Aseem you were wonderful, thank you very much. And I think the one thing that you will observe after hearing him is that this particular subject has been given serious focus, both by the central government and by many of the state governments. I must compliment Devendra, my very dear friend and colleague, for taking this subject seriously.

Very often in the past, we found skill development and subjects related to little bit non-core activities of government where you don’t give out licences, you don’t allot land, you don’t approve funding in large measure, are not given to very bright officers. But I must compliment Devendra for having chosen Aseem, it was a pleasure to hear him. And I am sure with this kind of a focused approach and a very systematic approach, we will see some good results, particularly in Maharashtra on this subject.

Thank you Ms Sandhya for helping us organise today’s interaction and deliberation, and a very good morning to all of you and thank you for participating at such short notice. I would like to start, of course, by apologizing I got late, but I don’t mind despite the cameras being there sharing why I got late.

When we reached home last night, about midnight or so, after the day’s engagements, my wife persuaded me to sit in the balcony and she said let’s absorb the Mumbai moonlight. We haven’t had that kind of an opportunity for a very-very long time, and we started breaking into songs despite a very croaky voice. You would all run away from here, if I was to sing, but she was tolerating me till about 3 last night.

And I don’t remember how many months or years have passed since we have had this kind of a break-out session between my wife and me, to be able to just brainlessly sit and enjoy a little moment for ourselves. So, my real apologies, I got a little late in the morning, but I think it was worth the family time that I got last night. So, my apologies to all of you for having made you wait for me. I am totally at fault, and I will hopefully make up some day for that.

But it’s great that CII has taken this subject so seriously. It actually just started with some small conversations where we realised that there is possibly some sort of a disconnect in many ways between the effort that we were putting in on skill development. And it’s the first time we have actually had a skill development ministry being set up, hoping to connect the dots between employment opportunities and employability of our people. And, over the years, we have given a lot of focus, both at the centre and many of the states, to see how we can prepare the India of tomorrow for the jobs of tomorrow, for the work of tomorrow.

And, therefore, this ministry has been something which has been very important for Prime Minister Modi’s own efforts towards preparing India to integrate with the rest of the world. In fact, I remember when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had actually done a study of how many skills are required in the entire ecosystem. And the findings of that study were amazing. That study had shown that from the time you conceptualise the human being, and I am sure, you all understand, I am talking to even pre-birth – until a person passes away and the last cremation, and the 14-day mourning period or whatever. From an end-to-end perspective, while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat and he tried to do a study of how many vocations engage with our lives. It showed that it was more than 5000.

I mean, it comes as a little bit of a surprise sometimes when we look at that different kind of engagements, but literally from the person who must have put this white strips to get the carpet in order and put in all the underground cabling, or the person who must have maintained this room so beautifully, so that we can’t find anything out of place anywhere.

In every respect, when you add up all the possible dots on vocations required in a lifetime, it’s amazing. The kind of story that comes out is amazing. And where we as a nation have missed out is that attention to detail, is that training to prepare our people for the detail. And sadly, this ‘chalta hai’ attitude has somehow got into the system a little more than one would really like to have. And while Singapore may be a small country, almost a city-state or a city country, somebody who had sent people to India to learn from India, about 50 years ago, who had sent teams to different cities and different industries. I wouldn’t be surprised if they must have visited Tatas also, because this is way back in the 60s, to study the way India is progressing and developing and then look at the transformation journey of that country.

Now, one can say it’s a small country, it’s easier to manage and all those things. But we can also look at ourselves as maybe 200 Singapores or 500 Singapores, and reinvent ourselves. And that was really the beginning point of our thinking that we have to engage with industry, focus on skill development across the country and that’s why we created the skill development ministry. And I am delighted to see that Devendra has really appointed a good officer to head this ministry with passion.

And I am very confident that going forward, this is going to define the future of employability in India, and this is going to define how we are going to prepare our youth for meeting the challenges of tomorrow. Thank you CII for partnering with this initiative and it’s really an effort we are trying to do to understand the ground reality on livelihoods, on jobs, on working opportunities, on entrepreneurship, more so because off late we have been hearing a lot of noise about lack of jobs.

While on the other hand, I find that there is a lot of problem in finding the people that we are looking for. And the genesis of this dialogue and this series of discussions that the CII and we have initiated together, is a conversation I had at Sahyadri guest house in Mumbai, about 25 days or a month ago, when I was interacting with about 70-80 young people, young in the age group of 20 to 40 or thereabouts. Many were entrepreneurs, many were in jobs, and when I flagged off the issue of unemployment, you will be amazed that almost all the 70-80 people in that room – I think Anuj, you were there with me that day at Sahyadri guest house – almost all of them had a story to tell of the problems they are facing in getting people, and how many opportunities each one had in their offices, in their factories, some of them were also start-ups, in their start-ups, but were not getting the right talent, but were not able to really connect the dots between the need and the availability.

And that’s what set my mind thinking to look at where the disconnect is between demand and supply, and from there we discussed with CII. And I am delighted that CII has taken this up in mission mode and we had a very good engagement in Delhi with a similar small group, a very focused group. And the same pattern, we broke out into different sessions where deliberations were held and a report in a closed door was discussed with the whole group.

So, really, it’s a great effort, a great opportunity. In fact, honourable Prime Minister had deputed me to study the Singapore model on this, and I was amazed to find that their assessment of the need for a particular talent or particular skill is so precise that at the beginning of each year they assess that we may need 2,381 shop assistants – just in the malls, the shop assistants. The assessment is so precise. And they were taking exactly that number of students into a programme for skill development, that skill development is not one-month, two-month, four-month or six-month. Even a shop assistant in a mall has a two-year or a three-year training programme. Minor details they go into, a holistic 360-degree training programme, and probably also funded in a big way, and what comes out is a resource which makes Singapore what it is today.

And the transformational journey that we observe there – and honourable Prime Minister actually told me to go there and assess the entire story – even though it was not my department, this is about two years ago – to understand where we are going wrong. And one of the things that came out stark in that was the disconnect in skill development between industry and government, or skill development departments. We have been trying to rightsize that over the last couple of years.

We are trying to assess how we can upgrade our skill development programmes through industry and government partnerships, which Mr Gupta highlighted briefly to all of you. Unfortunately, data is not really very-very sound or very complete to be able to assess the requirement and correct the dots, as well as being able to do it in other countries. The data on skill requirements, the data on skilling needs, the data on job availability or potential requirements. And somehow, we also have to see how we can channelize the energies of the youth in the right direction. The direction that really requires that youthful energy.

Unfortunately, over the years, we focused too much on a degree, a college degree. We believe that our youth of tomorrow have to have a graduation on their biodata or on their resume. Our conditions set up for employability focus less on vocational skills or training, more on certificates of school or college, and I think that is changing across the world and India’s dimensions are also changing, simultaneously.

For example, if I may take an example from an industry where under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership we have had rapid progress. Take the generation of electricity, solar power – now we were making an assessment that if a coal-based, thermal-based power plant is set up. Let’s say of a 1000 megawatts or 4000 megawatts. The number of opportunities that are provided for people to work directly and indirectly. There will be people in the power plant. There will be people in the coal mines, transporting the coal and all the associated activities with that, washeries and transmission of that power and stuff like that.

As against that, we did an assessment of the opportunities being created through renewable energy. I am not even going into the benefits that we would have in terms of environment by moving out from thermal to promoting more of renewable energy. That’s by itself big enough to justify. But when we did the assessment of opportunities that are going to be available in the whole value chain over the period of, the lifecycle of let’s say a power plant, 25-year assessment or something, we realised that we would actually give opportunities to anywhere between 12 to 15 times the number of people for every unit of electricity that is generated through the renewable energy sources, even though when it comes to the formal employment or the numbers that are reported in any NSSO data or any job data that comes out.

Probably, you won’t capture even 2 or 3 or 5% of that, because the nature of a job in an NTPC or a Powergrid, or a Coal India Ltd, one of those companies which is in the formal sector in the value chain of the thermal power generation, is not available when you are looking at renewable sources which are distributed in large measure all across the country, smaller units – maybe not as much formal as much as informal jobs being created.

But the number of people engaged are significantly more when you are generating – and in every respect you are protecting the environment, you are cutting down on waste, you are getting more jobs on the ground. And when you look at the entire benefits on the ecosystem, it’s phenomenal. And I think that’s the changing nature of the landscape that somehow is not getting captured or assessed in whatever datas or whatever studies are being done so far.

And that’s why we thought we will engage with some of you in different parts of the country. We have had a similar engagement in Delhi. And fortunately, we had a very-very good, very useful interaction in Delhi. I am hoping to have a similar outcome from your breakout sessions today. But if I may submit the few broad areas where I would hope to hear from you or learn from you is as follows. First, how do we define employment? Can we continue to define employment the way we do it now? And with that definition of employment will be how will we capture that data? How do we make the data more robust to understand what’s the employment situation?

Sometimes, if you exaggerate a problem, also you make mistakes. If you say the heavens are going to fall on us every day, you are going to be scared to do anything in life. Something like the Asterix, comments we used to read in childhood. He is always going to be scared that the sky is going to fall on his head, if any of you remembers Asterix and Obelix, and all of that. If you are all the time going to be scared the sky is going to fall on your head, you are going to do nothing in life.

Similarly, the difference between the formal and informal employment; I think all over the world, the nature of employment if changing. The formal jobs where you have a structured 9 to 5 job, a payroll being drawn up. A lot of it is changing into entrepreneurship. A lot of the youth of tomorrow are looking at creative ideas. The other day, I won’t quote any more details in specifics, but the income tax people actually found a dosa seller in Ghatkopar, since we are in Mumbai, my home city, found a dosa seller in Ghatkopar. Anybody here from Ghatkopar?

So there is this dosa seller, I believe a year/year and a half ago that the income tax observed for a month or so, and calculated how many dosas he is making multiplied it by the cost of each dosa and found that his turnover would be about 2 crore rupees. No formal shop, no nothing. बाकड़ा है, स्टेशन के पास है शायद, probably, I don’t know exactly. That’s right Rs 200 per dosa. And I would love to go and have that dosa rather than having it here. Anybody from Taj, pardon me.

So, it’s this formal versus informal sector disconnect, which we are not able to capture in data. And sometimes, when you act on wrong data, and all of you business leaders know that, you land up making wrong decisions. Good data is prerequisite to good decision making, and that’s one area which we have not been able to really comprehensively assess and that causes a lot of discern and it causes a lot of discontentment all over.

Very often, for example, when I have the railway recruitment. And it’s exaggerated, or let’s say it’s reported in the newspapers that 15 million people have applied for a 100,000 jobs. But the corollary is not that 15 million people are sitting idle, but that’s how we get scared and we make wrong decisions. But the reality is that given the current Indian situation and the way we have over the years evolved government jobs, job security, nothing can happen to you, you caught with your hand in the till also the process will go on. And there are enough and more layers to protect you that by the time.. I often get files which were of some case which started 20 years ago, and a Rs 1000-5000 case after 20 years comes up to me for either closure or action.

But, unfortunately, systems over the years have become so complicated and so many redressal mechanisms that the job security one finds in a government job beats everything else. So you may be earning a lakh of rupees but you will be happy to do a Rs 30,000 government job for the job security it provides for all the – I will refrain from saying anything.

Another serious issue is the understanding of the nature of jobs of tomorrow. I don’t know whether we have been able to assess how much really is required in which area with a degree of precision which is required if you want to do skill development in a very serious fashion. And that’s another pain point for policymakers and that’s what emerged when I had this discussion with the 70-80 people at Sahyadri, almost unanimously everybody said that forget shortage of jobs, हमें तो आदमी मिलते ही नहीं हैं.

Almost unanimously, there was a lady who said in my team I need 40 people, am running it with 17 people, I am not getting the right skill sets. And, frankly, this whole concept of a skill development ministry started with this understanding, with this appreciation that Prime Minister Modi had in his Gujarat days that we need to prepare our youth to become employable, to really be focused on the skills which the industry requires, rather than just rush for graduate degrees and post graduate degrees.

Something like Germany, I think very early on they move into vocational training and prepare their children for specific outcome-oriented training for jobs or for the requirement of the industry. Again, this underemployment is one thing which certainly we are grappling with. We have a lot of people who would probably if trained well be able to increase their productivity, their output. We could also see some shift if we had more consolidated landholdings or more cooperative effort on the farming side, on the agriculture side. You would see farming income also increasing, and you would see some shift to probably newer areas of work, even in the villages.

Of course, the challenge in that is how do we take industry to the villages, how do you take opportunities to the rural areas, instead of just burdening the cities with more people. Or alternatively, create new cities, expand existing and create new cities.

The nature and landscape of jobs are changing. I think there is a focus on newer sectors like tourism, for example, huge potential. India still has probably less than a crore of tourists – 10 million tourists or thereabouts, whereas the places like Italy or France can boast of nearly 6 or 7 times the number of tourists, despite the opportunities that are available in India. Very often, we are criticized that we focus too much on Swachh Bharat, for example. We are criticized for focusing too much on Jandhan Yonana, for example.

But people don’t appreciate the deep thinking that has gone into… on Prime Minister Modi’s mind, the thinking that unless we have a clean India, unless we can make cleanliness into the DNA of our country, you are not going to be able to promote tourism – the largest job creating sector anywhere in the world. I am told some assessments that for every lakh rupees or something of investment you create 78 jobs – I don’t know how old or new that assessment is, but maybe Mr Gupta someday we should relook at that number also and see how in the landscape where we can reach.

But that’s an area where we should be looking at rapid strides, that’s the new-age India that we can create. Similarly, healthcare, now with Ayushman Bharat, we have an opportunity, we are going to have nearly 500 million people, many of them would never have got healthcare in this country, never have been able to afford quality healthcare.

But under this scheme, our own assessment is we already have 15,000 private hospitals signed up. And my own guess estimate is and that’s what we have been deliberating to put a fit to that number, we believe that there is an opportunity for at least a 100,000 more healthcare centres in this country. And, very often, one can say that quality of healthcare has not been up to the mark, but my sense is as there is a domino effect, as there is the competitive spirit emerging in the country and private and government hospitals both will compete for patients under one programme. We will see the quality of government healthcare also being upgraded and doctors becoming more conscious of their responsibilities.

Similarly, we will have to address the issues of what will be the new strategies for employment. With automation coming up, the landscape of jobs is changing across the world. We need to have greater focus on skill development to be able to actually get the best out of our people, the millions of children who are coming out of schools and colleges and see how we can prepare them to fit into the job profiles, which will also mean better assessment of where the jobs are in the country, what are the skills that we need in this country to prepare our children for being employable or for entrepreneurship or whatever path of life he chooses.

Of course, skill development is a focus area of this government. Mr Gupta very nicely brought out how they are focusing, how they are going systematically in this. A lot more needs to be done. We believe it’s still a nascent programme, but with government and industry partnership, we can truly transform skill development and make it the defining feature to prepare our youth of tomorrow for being more employable and getting the best out of them.

And I do hope we all recognise that we still have to put in a little more focused effort to empower our women, our sisters to make them also come into the market for entrepreneurship, for jobs. Take a look at this room, ideally we will have 50% women participating in this workshop. And that’s the aspirational goal that we should all strive towards. I think most of us in this room would be ensuring quality education for our girl children. We will be looking forward that after college, after school whether they are getting a good job, they are making a life of their own.

My wife, for instance, has told my daughter that you become self-sufficient in your income, you stand on your own feet till that time you study, you pursue your skills, you are not getting married. Now this is the changing dynamics or emerging India of today. And with no disrespect, my mother was a homemaker, my wife is a homemaker, and suddenly in the kind of stressful job that we are in, I think she has more work to do than me sometimes – handling the number of people and this and that. So, it’s no disrespect to that. Every profession, every vocation has its importance. Homemakers are very important also, but I think we need to prepare our citizens in every vocation and bring that confidence in the citizens of India that we are all contributing to a better tomorrow. This 1.3/1.25 billion population has to be leveraged to take India to greater heights, to greater glory. We need some innovative ideas to improvise on all the programmes, be it the skill development programme, be it the assessment of requirement of skills in the country, be it the correct data.

Sometimes, wrong data can be very detrimental to good planning, and if we land up with wrong data we are going to land up doing bad planning, and which all of you in industry, in business will appreciate. It’s a garbage in, garbage out theory. So, unless we know really what is the skill sets that the nation requires and what is it that we need to do to train our people. Can we move the country, just like Germany has done in some sense, out of the race for just a degree or a graduation into more of skill development, into preparing them to become productive citizens of tomorrow. Not running after government jobs, but running after empowering themselves to become good citizens of this country.

I think that’s what we have to look forward to. Obviously, there are jobs out there in the market. I come across so many people who say we are not getting people despite needing it. There is dignity to every job. I think somebody who assists me in my home or assists my wife in my home also leads a very dignified life. He contributes to my efficiency. He contributes to the work that I do. But his dignity is also my responsibility. I cannot take it that what his children do, what his healthcare needs are, what his housing needs are maybe in his village or wherever. I cannot divorce myself from his or her requirements.

So, I think it’s that collective effort we all need to do to recognize that where the opportunities are. I am sure you will all not keep somebody as a cook who is not well trained, maybe you may do that on-the-job training for him. But suppose we were to have good training facilities for cooks in the country, suppose we were to have good training facilities for drivers. There is a perennial shortage of chauffeurs in this country. I don’t know how you all feel but I always found it to be very stressful when we found that you need more chauffeurs and you are not getting skilled people.

And this list will go on and on and on when we get down to detail. And that detail is important, for example, if the people who were managing this show or this room, did not do their job well I am sure CII wouldn’t have the next conference at the Taj or wouldn’t pay top dollar to the Taj. But certainly, they must have trained all the people in the job that they are doing. We train our people in our jobs. But can we as a nation start assessing what jobs are there, what work training is required – jobs, not in the traditional sense of the word – I am not talking of a job as in what Tata Chemicals may give or what the government may give. It’s the work that a person is doing.

That dosa seller also probably learnt on the job, and gives you some delicious dosas that he has a turnover of Rs 2 crore. That’s what I think I read somewhere, that was his turnover annually – 2 crore rupee in a Bakda making dosas. So, all of these are honourable professions. The demographic dividend that we often talk of we need to leverage that, we need to encash that. And that is possible only when we recognise the technological disruptions that are out there in the marketplace.

India is changing, just like the rest of the world is changing. We can’t put a fix to formal employment is the only way forward, entrepreneurship is growing. Children today are not comfortable with only doing a job. They want to experiment with new ideas. They want to look at new opportunities. There is an aspirational India out there. And, certainly, India couldn’t be growing 7 to 8 per cent if there was no working opportunities out there – formal, informal, as a job, as an entrepreneur. Clearly, job are out there. Many times not accurately corrected, not collated as a workforce or an unemployed person, and of course, the elephant in the room then is the under-employment that often doesn’t really get assessed.

So these are the areas ladies and gentlemen. We have a challenge getting accurate data. You talk to anybody, like I said those …. people almost unanimously were complaining we don’t get people, we are working with understaffed organisations, and on the other hand we have a large dialogue about unemployment or underemployment. We really need to look at whether this definition of employment that we have traditionally been looking at or the feeling that a job, a formal job is the only way we are going to be able to meet the needs, the growing needs of the youth of India.

We will have to relook at the employment numbers to get a real fix on both formal and informal employment. There is talk of almost 60 million entrepreneurs or small businesses in the country, probably CII or somebody can initiate an effort to assess how many people are engaged in that, how can we make a difference to their lives, can we bring in some simple mechanisms. And government is open to all ideas that may come from you.

So there’s two schools of thought. In my last interaction in Delhi, one group, breakout group came up with ‘reduce the 20 number’, and another group came out with ‘increase the 20 number’ for provident fund and all of those benefits.

So, it’s a debate that’s not going to end today. But certainly, I do hope that this deliberation will give us a lot of food for thought. And, collectively, government, industry and industry bodies can work towards getting a real fix on what the ground reality is. Often by exaggerating a story you land up making mistakes, and in business we all know that. Suppose we were to start being worried that the sky is going to fall on our head, we are not going to be able to take good decisions. We are going to be a scared lot. But if we assess the situation calmly, we assess where the disconnect is and what needs to be fixed.

And one of the things Prime Minister Modi was very clear is we need to fix the skill sets of our people. We need to make them more employable, which is where the original idea of skill development as a separate ministry, skill development and entrepreneurship. But whether that programme is on the right track, what could be done better. I was very impressed to hear Mr Gupta talk about the way they have gone about engaging with industry, to make this programme a success.

I am delighted at the success of the Mudra Yojana. We have had nearly 35 million first time borrowers, and over 130 or 140 million Mudra loans, small loans up to Rs 10 lakh have been given out to entrepreneurs. There is some very-very exciting success stories out of the Mudra Yojana. MSMEs, which are a driver of growth and a driver of job creation, but very often unrecognised and unreported. How can we capture that data, how can we recognize? And if at all there are challenges in that sector, what can we do to address those challenges.

Certainly, skill development and training is an area, is a focus area of the government, any ideas to improvise on that programme are welcome. And how we can make the entire bureaucratic system simple, so that entrepreneurship is encouraged, people get opportunity before any of you come up, the issue about …. Tax is already probably in public domain, a lot of work has gone on to rightsize that problem.

But you will also have to balance the interests of correcting a problem, but ensuring that misuse doesn’t take place. We have an ingenious country, many of you are aware of how capital used to be created in an eastern capital, state capital. I mean, none of us is divorced from that reality also. So, government’s job is to balance the misuse and ensure that the genuine persons don’t suffer, so the smiles on some of the faces tell me that I have been able to convey what I am trying to do.

But it’s a reality, it’s a harsh reality. You go to do good, there’s always somebody, and, I am a chartered accountant so we have enough ingenuity in my profession to be able to tell you how to misuse that ingenuity, how to create capital, how to issue shares at huge premium and what not have you. So, we will have to balance all of these conflicting requirements, yet government cannot become an impediment to flourishing entrepreneurship, to promoting entrepreneurship.

And I do believe this interaction will help us policymakers, whether the bureaucrats or us in government to see how we can do our job better, how we can leverage on the opportunities in the tourism sector, in the healthcare sector, in the transport sector. How we can make it easier to do business in India. How we can bring down the logistics cost, a real area of concern where often we lose out on competitiveness. How we can ensure that inflation remains low which this government has focused, and probably we have seen the lowest levels of inflation for any 5-year period ever in this tenure of Prime Minister Modi’s government and how all of these can be coupled with more opportunities on the ground, more livelihood opportunities.

How we can ensure innovative ideas are welcomed, how innovative ideas are taken to fruition. And this kind of public-private partnership will certainly help us policymakers to do our job better and hopefully help us get you in your work a far better set of people, who can work for you, who can engage with different professions and help India achieve the glory that I personally believe we are destined to achieve. Thank you very much for participating today. In the second half when I join in, I am going to be listening, you are going to do all the talking. And I promise you I will speak less. My wife always complains I talk too much. But I do hope in the second session to hear from you and understand how we can do our jobs better and how we can give glory to our great nation.

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.

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