The Delhi job fair was a sad reminder of India’s deepening unemployment crisis.
Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi government had said the mega Delhi job fair at the capital’s Thyagraj Stadium would provide opportunities to more than 12,500 job seekers. But if you are not an IIT or an IIM graduate, all that the two-day fair could offer you was the job of a telecaller, security guard, or sales representative.
So I decided to visit the fair, where I discovered a woeful dearth of jobs that could fulfill the aspirations of a young and qualified India, and instead saw another manifestation of India’s colossal unemployment crisis.
Not Ivy League? No jobs
As I spoke to some of the job seekers at the fair, I heard successively despairing responses.
One of the first people I met was a 24-year-old electrical engineer from Haryana, who came to the event as a last resort having looked for employment for the last two years.
Intrigued about his background as an engineer who graduated from Maharshi Dayanand University, I asked him about his classmates. He lamented that many of them had given up looking for stable jobs, while a few others had taken up seasonal work on short-term government tenders for public projects in Rohtak.
Naturally, his top choice was an engineering role so he could put his degree to use, but he found that none of the companies at the fair were looking for freshers.
The job profile that came closest to match his qualifications was that of a sales representative at a solar power company, which he did not want.
India’s deepening job crisis – a reminder
This brings me to the bulk of the positions that were offered at the fair: telecallers, salespersons and security guards.
I estimated that more than a thousand sales and telemarketing jobs were up for grabs at the participating firms, from Indiabulls to JK Business School.
And then there were a few manufacturing jobs like making kulhads for Profit Partners India Technologies, or working as a carpenter for Homesukh Services, but I did not see any factory-based employment – the kind that was guaranteed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s widely-publicised ‘Make in India’ scheme.
Even Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali was at the job fair, offering aspirants a ‘golden opportunity to contribute in nation building’ through its marketing internship that came with a stipend of Rs 5,000 a month. The Patanjali booth–surprisingly or unsurprisingly–was one of the least crowded.
The job fair was a sad reminder of India’s deepening unemployment crisis. The job seekers were largely graduates from colleges in Delhi and Haryana, and many had enrolled in open learning programmes. Most were looking for data entry or accounts-management roles so that they could further develop their computer skills.
I spoke to an instructor at the Air Force Vocational College who had accompanied some of her students seeking jobs at the fair. She told me that her mission was to help her students find jobs that would give them the ‘exposure’ needed for future career goals.
She wanted her students to get full-time positions for managing data, but was met with severe disappointment since the young applicants realised there were only a few jobs they qualified for-and the firms looking for IT professionals asked for work experience, which the freshers did not have.
The firm Securitrans was hiring 250 people for the ‘ATM Custodian’ position, and another called ‘Disha for Success’ was hiring a thousand security guards. However, no job seeker that I interviewed was excited to apply for any of these opportunities.
It was also particularly disheartening to see how many positions were not actual jobs, but commission-based roles that required one to sell insurance or other financial products.
People who opted for these jobs would not get regular salary, but only a share of the sales made on the products they sold. It goes without saying that such opportunities don’t qualify as gainful or stable employment.
Although the Delhi government made an effort to help the youth find employment, some factors are beyond its control. With practically everyone on the political spectrum sounding the alarm on India’s jobs crisis–from Swarajya editorial director R. Jagannathan, who recently wrote the book The Jobs Crisis in India to every other leader in the opposition–it is becoming increasingly clear that India is in the throes of a colossal unemployment crisis.
While official figures are hard to find, preliminary data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), one of the better sources for employment numbers in India, revealed that 11 million (or 1.1 crore) Indians lost their jobs in 2018-of this, around 80 per cent were women, a staggering 8.8 million.
This is why it shouldn’t be surprising that The Washington Post recently reported that 19 million (or 1.9 crore) people had applied for 63,000 jobs in the Indian Railways.
What is more, the private sector in India — from the corporate to the MSME levels — is simply not wide and vibrant enough to provide meaningful employment to the millions of youth entering the job market every year.
This is an updated version of the article.
Vivan Marwaha is a policy consultant and the author of a forthcoming book on the economic aspirations, social views, and political attitudes of Indian millennials. He can be found on Twitter @VivanMarwaha