06 Jun 2019 18:17 IST

Look at job opportunity versus job growth

Alarm bells have been ringing over India's unemployment figures — but change the metrics and there’s hope

India has been swinging from pessimism to utter despair ever since the National Sample Survey Office’s survey on jobs mentioned that unemployment was at a 45 year high in 2017-18. The gloom intensified when it emerged that the rate of unemployment was higher among educated.

According to reports, in 2017-18, 2.1 per cent of illiterate urban men were unemployed, while 9.2 per cent men with at least secondary education didn’t have a job. The skew is higher among women with 20 per cent of those with higher education qualifications not employed whereas only 0.8 per cent of uneducated women were jobless.

For those entering the job market, the situation looks grim. Especially if you listen to economists. Where are the jobs is a common lament. Automation and AI will take it all way from humans is another fear.

On the other side

But talk to industry people who have been observing the changes in the nature of jobs and are in the thick of hiring and firing, and the picture is a bit different.

At the SHRM HR Tech conference in Hyderabad, which I attended recently, and which saw a congregation of over 1,500 HR practitioners, the mood was not at all pessimistic. Rather it was prescriptive. Many felt we were looking at the issue in a rather linear way.

Anand Shankar, Partner and Leader HR Transformation of Deloitte Consulting, said the simple way to look at jobs is if the economy grows, the jobs will grow. It’s a cause and effect. So, if there are 1,000 people making widgets today, when the economy grows, you might expect 2,000 people to do so.

However, he questions, should you really be looking at net new job creation? “The metric has to change from employment growth to net new opportunities,” he feels.

Innovation is the key

This is a forward looking measure, he explains. “Net new job creation would have happened as a lag measure.” By creating new skills, new products and services, you are creating new opportunities. If you don’t innovate, then there is no job, he says.

Certainly that’s an interesting way to look at it.

Sharad Sharma, co-founder of iSpirt (Indian software product industry roundtable) Foundation, the people behind the India Stack had a similar message. He described the way many sectors are undergoing orbit shifts. “Orbit shift is when a certain sector changes in a span of seven or eight years,” he explained. This happened in telecommunications, this happened to television and this is now happening in the payments industry. When orbit shifts happen, some jobs become obsolete, new jobs are created, and those who reskill manage to nab the new opportunities.

UPI era

“The non linear change needs a new mindset,” said Sharma, giving the example of UPI, the unified payments interface that has changed the face of banking in India. In India in one day, UPI does more transactions than American Express does globally.

All the UPI transactions are happening because of the innovation architecture. A digital public infrastructure has been set up that is open to all. Private players are building on top of it, figuring out how to make it work, and getting customers to it. Many will fail, but many will succeed leading to a completely new way of banking. According to some, the Whatsapp moment in banking has already happened and the old banks caught unawares, and scrambling to catch up.

So you will see a slowdown in growth in the old banking jobs but here’s great new opportunity unfolding and exploding around you, if you go climb the new innovation bus in banking.

After payments, the India Stack — the open API technology stack — will disrupt the healthcare sector next. The National Health Stack is a digital system that is cashless, paperless, presenceless with a consent layer. You will need players to help digitise medical records, store the records, entrepreneurs could make apps that digitise x-rays. The opportunities are huge.

Similarly, in many other fields, the game is changing. The key is to spot these changes, pick up the skills and grab the opportunity. As Sharma summed up, “You have to embrace risk and move from the safe zone of wanting to be part of large organisations thinking they will never fail.”