Jobs at employment exchanges double under Modi govt, but with a flip side

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The number of job vacancies listed at 978 employment exchanges across India has doubled since the National Democratic Alliance government led by Narendra Modi assumed power in 2014, according to information from the Ministry of Labour and Employment. As of February 2018, for the first time in over a decade, the number of job vacancies has crossed the million mark. According to ministry figures, over 1.5 million openings were notified across employment exchanges in India.  

This boom in job vacancies is in contrast to the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government’s track-record on two counts. Firstly, vacancies at employment exchanges exhibited a bell curve trait, contracting by almost a third during the last three years of the Manmohan Singh-led government, after rising during the initial years. Secondly, the number of new job seekers on the live register under the Modi government has declined by seven million since 2014. Under the UPA-2 government, the number of job aspirants thronging these exchanges had risen by eight million people. 

What should probably worry the Modi administration is that most of these job hunters aren’t exactly looking for better work culture or higher salaries by jumping jobs. While almost 85 per cent of the people listed on these exchanges haven’t mentioned their current employment status, among those who have, the number of unemployed seeking employment has doubled from around 3 million in 2015 to almost 6 million as of February 2018. Almost 20 million people, or almost half the number of registered job seekers are between 18 to 34 years of age. And they are not overwhelmingly male. While there are 26 million male job seekers, 14 million women too are in the hunt for a livelihood. 

Most of the job vacancies at India’s employment exchanges do not specify basic schooling requirements for their applicants. Meanwhile, highly qualified jobseekers (especially PhDs) are increasingly joining the ranks of unemployed, seeking openings through these exchanges.

Information from the Ministry of Labour and Employment suggests that as of February 2018, more than 41 million people were competing for 1.6 million jobs posted at employment exchanges across India. That’s 25 people for every single job openly available at these platforms. Among those who have chosen to specify their caste, people from India’s higher castes (christened the ‘General’ category) form the bulk of the job seeking force. The Other Backward Castes and Schedule Castes (the lowest strata in India), who command reservation in government jobs and college admissions, together add up to more than 12 million job seekers.

It isn't clear whether the number of such un-schooled people enrolling for jobs represents a portion of the displaced agricultural workforce owing to the declining importance of this sector in India. “Surveys showing a three-percentage-point decline in India’s overall labour force participation between 2011 and 2015 should not take focus away from the structural shift from agriculture towards the non-farm sector, particularly construction, trade, and transport. During this period, (jobs in) agriculture shrank by 26 million while non-farm jobs rose by 33 million, largely driven by rapid economic growth between 2013 and 2015”, noted a McKinsey report in June last year.

While the numbers may either indicate growing joblessness or better awareness of such exchanges among the jobless, there also seem to be fewer opportunities for the highly qualified. On an average, 14 PhDs competed for every vacancy seeking their qualification in 2017-18. This is much better than the previous year, when more than 2,000 PhDs entered the fray for every vacancy meant for them. The government has listed many of its own institutions as potential recruiters of these PhDs. Among others, they include Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Centre for Materials for Electronic Technology, Defence Research and Development Organisation, Indian Space Research Organisation and National Institute of Malaria Research.

At the other end of the spectrum are the job seekers without any formal schooling, whose number has risen by a staggering 80 per cent since last year. The good news is that the number of vacancies for this less educated class of citizens has shot up four fold. One of the reasons, if not the only one, for the spike in the number of vacancies for the un-schooled population is a massive recruitment drive undertaken by the Modi administration in February this year. Indian Railways posted vacancies for over 90,000 jobs across all its divisions. All of these were for the lowest level of workers in the pay matrix. The maximum qualification required for many posts was a matriculation certificate. Other positions like medical helpers and railway traffic pointsmen did not require formal schooling.

If India’s job growth trends and the track record of placement at these employment exchanges are anything to go by, many of those enrolled might be staring at oblivion without any help from the Indian government. According to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, of 48 million people registered for employment in 2014, less than one per cent managed to get placed by these exchanges. It is also not uncommon in India for the highly educated to apply for lower-level clerical jobs in the absence of commensurate employment opportunities. As a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report noted, “India creates too few quality jobs to meet the aspiration of its growing workforce, leaving many people under-employed, poorly paid or outside the labour force. Despite strong economic growth, the employment rate has declined, the participation rate of women is low and job creation in the organised sector has plummeted since 2010.”


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