By Deepak Garg
By 2020, India is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64 per cent of its population in the working age group. The average Indian would be 29, compared to 37 for China and the US, and 45 for Western Europe. This demographic dividend offers India an unparalleled opportunity to rev up the growth engines of our economy with abundant capital liquidity for India (due to global macroeconomics), large domestic market and pro-reform legislations including GST
The same demographic situation, is also an unprecedented threat if India is not able to create meaningful jobs and access to opportunities for the 100 million people. It will not just derail the economic growth but threaten our internal security and our political stability. For true Independence, India must create 100 million jobs in the next 6-7 years to enable economic, political and social stability.
While we need to create jobs, the dilemma is that 48% of Indian employers find it difficult to fill jobs. The gap between demand for jobs and supply from employers is not due to skilling, but a complex interplay of factors for that particular job category.
There are two key reasons why the gap between supply demand exists. First is geographical mismatch, jobs get created in areas where there is lack of supply of manpower. In China, it is celebrated to go away from home village to find work and there is pride associated with it, but this is not the case in India. So, supply of available labor to the place where the demand is remains a challenge.
Second key reason is social stigma, most of the jobs created are where manual and laborious work is required such as construction workers, factory workers or truck drivers. These jobs are at the bottom of the social ranking which leads to lower propensity of them being taken up. These two reasons widen the demand supply gap and contribute to growing unemployment, as well as shortage of available workforce for laborious industries where the demand exists.
Let us look at the case of truck drivers which is almost 10% of India’s employment problem. Every year, India needs more than a million truck drivers. It is second largest skill gap in the country after construction workers. Every transporter or a logistics company cites shortage of truck drivers. It is estimated that 25% of the trucks are idle in our country because of lack of drivers. With such a large population coming to workforce every single year, it’s a pity that we are not able to fill in this gap
Conventional wisdom has led us to create large number of driver training institutes and incentivised corporates and OEM’s to skill truck drivers. These have proven to be unsuccessful in solving the shortage in supply of drivers. This is because the root of the problem lies deeper. A truck driver on an average spends 25 days in a month away from his family and that too in harassed conditions. Most get to HIV+ or start substance abuse as a result of this lifestyle. A large percentage of them don’t get married. They lose social respect, leading to them being called the "37th caste" in the Indian village. The problem is not in truck driver’s income or skill gaps, but the problem is deep rooted in his terrible lifestyle away from his family leading to social disrespect and stigma. India needs more than a million truck drivers, it is a herculean task to find even 10 new ones. Shortage of drivers is one of the biggest threat to growth of this economy, it is a threat to logistics infrastructure, the freight rates, the cost of running business and it also has the potential to wipe off the benefits which GST promises to bring.
Undersupply of truck drivers is a challenge faced globally by most countries. US channels its ex-prisoners to this trade through incentives and training, South Africa promotes spousal driving, Australia and Canada pays truck drivers more than white collar corporate employees to cover up for the massive gap. These solutions are still not innovative enough to solve the terrible lifestyle faced by truck drivers, as most of them still live away from home on roads most of the time.
India can provide a unique solution to the world by disrupting the job role from a "away from home job’ to a "day" job. Indian railway follows a unique driver "relay" and "changeover" mechanism where the driver changes over after a few hours of journey and gets rostered on the train in the opposite direction. This can be applied to truck drivers successfully, as has been proven by Rivigo’s unique driver relay model, wherein they change over the drivers after every few hundred kilometres. Relay of drivers ensure that they come back home the same day, spend less time away from their families, leading a meaningful and a balanced life. The use of technology (smartphone app) gives his previous job additional respect in the local circles. Relay truck driving has several other advantages. These drivers can be local which addresses the geographical displacement challenge. The drivers change over so they are not fatigued which ensures road safety. It also guarantees lesser turnaround time and connects India faster. Relay driving is the only real solution to the global truck driver problem and has to be adopted by the entire ecosystem to ensure full benefits flow through the nation.
Therefore, if India has to create 100 million jobs, we have to go deeper to understand the underlying issues of jobs where skill gap exists, not just create a high level skill map and incentivise training. The risk of incentivised skilling is that we’d run into another scam where the money gets distributed in wrong and unproductive hands.
India is not far from true independence, we just require a mix of "real" problem solving, obsessive technology usage and bold execution to reap the full benefits of India’s demographic dividend.
The author is founder of Rivigo services private limited