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MP's youth votes: Examining the employability crisis that sits amidst Indore’s booming education industry

Editor's note: This is a multi-part political diary that features interviews with and observations about young voters in Madhya Pradesh

In April, Indore won its third consecutive award for being India's cleanest city — a distinction its residents are proud to claim. But driving around the city, more than the visible cleanliness, you notice the hundreds, if not thousands, of colleges, coaching centres and finishing schools.

It is fast emerging as a rival to Kota, Rajasthan, as India's capital for coaching and exam preparation. Called 'mini-Mumbai' due to its cosmopolitan culture, Indore's booming education industry is attracting students from all over central and south India. As explained to this writer by the manager of a large coaching institute, the availability of 'big-city' amenities at 'small-city' prices is fueling Indore's rise.

All with good reason.

Indore was the first city in India to house both an IIT and an IIM, developing a reputation as a growing academic centre. It now also hosts corporate campuses for both of India's IT giants: Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services.

However, Indore's prosperity has not translated into widespread employment. It has instead created an important challenge: Aspirational young adults and millennials who find themselves unqualified for the few jobs that are available. Madhya Pradesh's labour ministry data put the unemployment rate in the state at 43 percent in 2015-16, and a 2017 state economic survey found that more than 1.4 million local youth (aged 20-29 years) were unemployed, of whom 1.29 million are educated.

 MPs youth votes: Examining the employability crisis that sits amidst Indore’s booming education industry

Representational image. Screengrab from YouTube.

Having spent an afternoon at Indore's famous Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya (DAVV) campus, speaking to students about their political views and economic aspirations, one thing became clear: None of them were optimistic about their employment situations. "Neither TCS nor Infosys will hire us. They only hire south Indians because they are more qualified, and even if they did hire locally, there are too many students for them to absorb," said a group of engineering students at the college canteen.

"The IT sector doesn't exist in Madhya Pradesh at all," they continued, pointing out the lack of opportunities for engineering and computer science graduates in the state.

These were middle class students from Indore or neighbouring districts, who had resigned themselves to moving out of the state once they were done studying.

To get another side of the unemployment crisis in Madhya Pradesh, this writer approached Pratap Nair, the founder of placement agency First Jobzz, which runs training programs to help people learn technical and soft skills they may have not learned at college.

Nair refuted the problem of an unemployment crisis in the state, claiming it is instead an employability crisis. "There is a gap between what companies want and the skills which colleges are teaching," he said and went on to describe how schools and colleges in Madhya Pradesh, and all over India, are not teaching their students skills that will make them employable. Independent surveys confirm this. In its 2019 report, Aspiring Minds, an employment-assessability firm found that almost 90 percent of Indian engineers are unemployable in the knowledge economy, and around three percent have new-age skills in working with data, mobile applications, or cloud computing.

Public engineering colleges in Madhya Pradesh are teaching from a curriculum developed more than 15 years ago, when flip phones were in vogue and 2G technology was the next-big-thing. Although private colleges have a better track record in updating syllabi, the low standard of entry requirements make it hard to attract and develop top quality talent. Students from these institutions therefore don't have the skills they need to get hired by IT or engineering companies, making them turn to agencies like First Jobzz to become employable.

This is one of the reasons Indore is one of the youngest cities in Madhya Pradesh. Its fast-multiplying exam institutes and placement agencies are attracting droves of youth in hopes of getting an education or becoming employable, responsibilities which the state has inadvertently ceded to the private sector. It is not a city where you will find hordes of young Indians shuttling to office buildings in professional clothing, but students enrolled at coaching centers or engineering colleges spending their free time at kulfi stalls and pakoda sellers.

In December, Madhya Pradesh elected a Congress state government after 15 years of BJP rule. Chief Minister Kamal Nath soon mandated companies which use state investment incentives to hire seventy percent of their employees from Madhya Pradesh. In February, he launched the 'Yuva Swabhiman Yojana' which guarantees 100 days of employment to urban youth from economically weaker sections. Each youth enrolled in the scheme would get Rs 13,500 for their 100 days of work. However, since this programme only covers those from very poor backgrounds, it does not address the 'educated unemployed' crisis in the state.

Successive state governments since 1990 didn't do enough to attract industry or develop a local manufacturing economy. The Congress government led by Digvijaya Singh from 1993 to 2003 focused on social engineering and decentralising power to the district level while presiding over crumbling infrastructure, and the recent BJP government remained in power for three terms by continuously rolling out a series of welfare programs.

This created an increase in rural incomes, which families then used to send their children to Indore's education industry. However, the last piece of the puzzle – on providing employment to these students once they finished studying – which had been ignored for the past three decades, continues to remain elusive.

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Updated Date: May 16, 2019 16:24:12 IST