It is difficult to estimate the extent of job losses due to the ongoing lockdown in the country, but these are expected to be massive. These will be largely in the small and medium scale industries, as well as across the retail sector. This will be an additional problem in a country that struggles not just with unemployment, but also unemployability – the mismatch between skills (or lack of them) and job requirements. Solutions for the latter were being sought before the present crisis, but at the usual leisurely pace by which the Indian system functions. Now, however, there is need to impart the necessary urgency.
It has never been the case from India’s earliest years as an independent entity that government would provide jobs to all of its population. Very soon after the euphoria of the Nehruvian years and the exponential increase in population, it became evident that enhanced productivity in all sectors, as well as self-employment were the way to go. This led to a revolution of sorts in growth of small scale industry boosted by extensive subsidies, but the oppressive socialist regulatory regime stunted this from expanding along logical lines through diversification and scaling up. Liberalisation and export orientation of policy led to another boost but, once again, crony capitalism and self-serving politics scuttled the process.
Above all, the entrepreneurial culture has failed to get the required boost. Since Prime Minister Modi took over, efforts have been made to address these issues in many ways, but there have not been the number of takers as desired. This is because, apart from brilliantly innovative start-ups, such as in the IT and associated industries, budding entrepreneurs need an initial helping hand. As government remains the single biggest client for many products and services, it needs to devise policies favouring such start-ups in ways that would help establish them in their respective fields. If done intelligently, it would serve as a huge money saver for government as services, in particular, would come much cheaper from the new businesses than from those that charge for brand value and heavy overheads.
Culturally, modern India has not been programmed to be entrepreneurial. Any interaction with students in business schools reveals how few of them intend to start their own businesses – most just want managerial positions in multinational companies. As such, apart from proactive promotion at the policy implementation level, government needs to boost an entrepreneurial culture at every level in society, thereby ensuring a healthy stock of professionally skilled young people determined to establish themselves no matter how much effort it takes. The present crisis will impart the necessary level of desperation; government should just play its role as an effective enabler.