03 December 2009

Labour employability and global movements

An article of mine in the Financial Express this week highlighted the issue of Indian firms employing Chinese workers due to paucity of suitable skilled workers in India.
The government has 'fixed' the problem by insisting that all foreigners enter only on business visas—there are no visas to be given for unskilled/low-skill work, for which Indians are available—the problem actually lies in how ‘skill’ has been defined. Skills are defined typically as occupational skills where workers have the requisite training/qualification for a particular job description. If we look at the problem from the employer’s point of view, it is not a question any more of whether there are Indian electricians or welders, etc in abundance. As an Indian company executive employing Chinese labour noted, the Chinese would complete the job in 15 months while the Indians would take 8 years. The minute the time dimension enters, and therefore cost overruns loom, skill takes on a different meaning. Of course there is the added aspect of quality of output. In short, efficiency and productivity are not a part of the skill sets defined. The sad reality is that even while on paper many Indian workers have the requisite skills, they are just not employable.

My article spoke of the problem of employability in the Indian workforce:
Skill deficits have heavy social and political consequences, which are already being reflected every day on the news.As the India Labour Report 2007 , authored by TeamLease Services and Indicus Analytics, put it, “We believe that the skill deficit is more dangerous than the infrastructure deficit because it not only reinforces inequality but also amplifies it.” The longer it takes for the government to get its act together, the worse the situation will become.

I had not spoken about the migration of skilled labour from the country, given the constraints of the length of the article. The rate at which the country has lost quality work force is a function of  the lack of opportunities within the country. This has been changing in recent times with many Indians returning to take part in the 'Indian growth story'., even as other parts of the world seem less attractive. The latest : the fallout of the Dubai crisis has meant that skilled workers that India had 'exported' are now returning, at a time when the country needs them badly.
The ongoing crisis in Dubai may just prove to be a boon for the Indian infrastructure sector that is on a hiring spree and scouring the world for top and middle-level talent. The infrastructure sector, which includes construction of roads, highways, ports, airports, real estate, transportation, mining, steel, power and telecom, is witnessing a manpower shortage. “The infrastructure sector in India is in dire need of people who can manage projects and ensure their timely implementation. Such skill sets are hard to find here,” said Sanjiv Sachar, partner at Egon Zehnder International.

However, for  the Indian government,  this does not detract from the responsibility of creating an environment where employability of the Indian labour force is raised across the board, in all regions.

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