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“The biggest woe of the nation today is the abysmal rate of new job creation, with the alarming unemployment rate in the formal sector and with employment expectations of fresh graduates becoming weaker by the day. Does the budget address these woes?”

what does one expect of a budget that the Government of the day presents at a time when the economy is at a historic low in terms of growth and job creation and investors are worried about the low demand and wary of investing either directly in production capacities or in companies that might create them? At the very least, a candid confession that with the drop in Government incomes, the fiscal deficit targets will be overshot and a frank assessment of the problem and determination to do away with incentives and exemptions for the haves and focus on fast track schemes to help the cause of the have-nots!

Interestingly, the presentations by two intelligent leaders in the Government on successive days Economic Advisor Subramanian and FM Sitharaman made an attempt to show this focus but left the discerning public less than overwhelmed by the clarity of approach, the direction to be taken and the actions planned for India to meet its tryst with a five trillion dollar destiny in the foreseeable future.

The biggest woe of the nation today is the abysmal rate of new job creation, with reports from Government agencies themselves pointing to the alarming unemployment rate in the formal sector with employment expectations of fresh graduates becoming weaker by the day. As Prime Minister Modi pointed out in his post-budget comments, the main areas with employment potential are infrastructure, agriculture, textiles and technology and “these four areas have been given a lot of emphasis in this budget.”

Interestingly, the Economic survey released the day before the budget flagged exports and a “like China” strategy as the best way to create new jobs in an environment where private sector investments in the country have been woefully low. A mistake of the past has been the focus on capital intensive “Make in India” hype, when the real opportunity could have been in labor intensive assembly, textiles and arts and crafts related work spread across many states and small locations around the country. China succeeded in a big way with electronics assembly and Bangladesh has stolen a clear march on us with garment manufacturing and exports. Beyond Government projects, job creation will happen in SMEs and startups and it is good the Government stays committed to support these entities.

“The jobs of the future will not be what our young engineers have been trained for”

What about jobs? The jobs of the future will not be what our young engineers have been trained for and the country has to invest in preparing both youth and employed folks for new job and entrepreneurship opportunities. If a million Indians entering the job market every month have to find gainful employment or entrepreneurship opportunities, the first goal, which is what we are doing at a local level in Pune City Connect is to map and shape the aspirations of new job market entrants as well as mid-career professionals and build capabilities to skill and reskill them to capture the emerging opportunities. The 3000-crore budget allocation for skills may be much too small for this and it will need a number of Public-Private Partnerships to get the job opportunities and job seeker preparedness to a higher gear.

The second imperative is to deploy technology in the learning process. E-Learning has got a bad reputation in its first implementation with single digit percentage course completion rates and the general apathy towards learning without physical or live interventions. Blended learning has been the panacea to this ill with innovators like Fuel 50, Career Waze and Skills Alpha using contemporary technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning to customize learning methods and outcomes to the specific needs of individual learners.

Finally, initiatives in the social sector like Pune City Connect, Antarang, Youth for Jobs and Mann Deshi have to be support-ed to ensure that urban and rural underprivileged youth are able to participate in jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities of the future. Government needs to support these and more entities which can support better “agency” building in youth and empower them to chart their own destiny with skills as a by-product of this journey. Too often, youth have been stuffed into classrooms for a course chosen by some funder without consideration for motivation or aptitude. Youth will aspire to jobs and stay in them only if they want to, irrespective of the economic strata they come from.

The Government has rightly chosen to focus on the underserved segments of society in this budget and every opportunity to garner revenues including customs duties on imported goods, NRIs being brought into the tax net and accelerated disinvestment and public sector entity listing plans have been considered to ensure the fiscal deficit for 2020-21 is pegged at a decent 3.5% level. Naturally, this has incurred the displeasure of Indian investors, but many of us who are relatively better off need to accept the economic realities of the day and prepare for a hardship year with low expectations of appreciation in our investment portfolios preservation of capital may be the best outcome to look for while we continue to strengthen the hands of genuine policy makers in their implementation agendas.