True independence is a 100 million jobs away

By 2020, India is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64 per cent of its population in the working age group. An average Indian would be 29, compared to 37 for China and the USA, and 45 for Western Europe. This demographic dividend offers India an unparalleled opportunity to rev up the growth engines of its economy with abundant capital liquidity (due to global macroeconomics), large domestic market and pro-reform legislations including the 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 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 demand and supply exists. First is the geographical mismatch. Jobs get created in areas where there is lack of manpower supply. In China, it is celebrated to go away from their home village to find work but this is not the case in India. So, supply of available labour 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 work, factory work or transport operations. 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 the second largest skill gap in the country after construction workers. Every transporter and logistics company cites shortage of truck drivers as a big roadblock. It is estimated that 25% of the trucks are idle in our country because of the lack of drivers. With such a large population adding to the workforce every single year, it’s a pity that we are not able to fill this gap.

Conventional wisdom has led to the creation of large number of driver training institutes, and incentivised corporates and OEMs to skill truck drivers. But 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 contract HIV+ or indulge in substance abuse because of their 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 the truck driver’s income or skill gap but the problem is deep rooted in the terrible lifestyle that he leads, resulting in 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 threats to the growth of this economy; it is a threat to the logistics infrastructure, the freight rates, the cost of running business and it also has the potential to wipe off the benefits which the 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 pay truck drivers more than white collar corporate employees to cover up for the massive gap. These solutions are still not innovative enough to solve for the terrible lifestyle led by truck drivers, as most of them live away from their homes majority 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 railways follows a unique driver “relay” and “changeover” mechanism where the driver changes over after a few hours of the journey and gets rostered on a train in the opposite direction. This can be applied to truck driving successfully, as has been proven by Rivigo’s unique driver relay model, wherein drivers change over after every few hundred kilometres. Relay of drivers ensure that they come back home the same day, spend more time with families, leading a meaningful and 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 too. 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 must be adopted by the entire ecosystem to ensure full benefits flow through the nation.

Therefore, if India must create 100 million jobs, we must dig deeper to understand the underlying issues where skill gap exists, not just create a high-level skill map and incentivised trainings. The risk of incentivised skilling is that we would run into another scam where the money could get 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.