Everybody agrees that the only hope for India’s still burgeoning population is self-employment, having missed the age of large scale industrialisation. This is, actually, a blessing in disguise as employment potential in this sector is tapering off owing to automation and the growth of the service and IT sectors. The so called demographic dividend that India enjoys is actually a misnomer because, while there are a large number of young people, their skills largely remain third-world, quite unsuitable for the needs of today.
This is partly due to a traditional disregard for intermediate levels of technical training provided in the ITIs and a fascination with the IITs. As the high-skill levels of the IIT graduates could not be fostered in Indian conditions, there has developed a tradition of migrating abroad where their aspirations are better fulfilled. On the other hand, the many areas that could have been developed through enhancement of skills at the intermediate level were grossly neglected. A large number of technical works are done here through the inter-generational handing down process and not by formally trained personnel. Efforts have been made to upgrade and increase the relevance of technical courses, but these have been largely half-hearted and without understanding the reasons and urgency.
So, the required pyramid with a broad base at the grassroots and reaching into the heights of excellence has large slices of it missing, both, vertically and horizontally. Economic activity has to build itself up through unpredictable paths largely as a random effort, which is why ‘self-employment’ becomes difficult to teach. There is not enough cumulative experience of successful paths passed down to teachers so that patterns of behaviour can be formulated for ‘success’.
So, it is easy for politicians and economists to talk about self-employment, but it is difficult to practically implement at present. What it requires is identification of processes that make entrepreneurship easier at all levels by changing processes and regulations. The wisdom of those with actual experience in Indian conditions, the business community, has to be tapped into instead of taking ideas from imported intellectuals with degrees from foreign universities. Everyone doing courses in business management should be asked to study and document, firsthand, the experience of local business leaders. The knowledge accumulated from this should be internalised and introduced into the system so that a synergy comes into being at every level between government and the aspiring entrepreneurs. This will take time, but the sooner it begins the quicker will the goal be achieved.