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Every year, nearly 12 million youth are added to India’s workforce. While agriculture and construction industries continue to be the major employers, STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Maths) and allied jobs have significantly grown over the last three years. Cities like Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, etc are becoming hubs for these jobs. However, despite the high aspirations associated with STEM jobs, the sector struggles when it comes to sourcing skilled workers.

The last few years have witnessed an increase in adolescents graduating from schools. Yet, only around 5% of this population is formally skilled and over 80% are eventually employed by the informal economy. The picture becomes a little grimmer when we factor in the declining female labour force participation.

In an effort to combat this aspiration-supply mismatch, the National Education Policy of 2020 has recommended that some form of STEM education needs to be introduced at each level of schooling. But there are several bottlenecks which we need to overcome.

Firstly, implementation of STEM education can be cost intensive and so STEM in schools is yet to evolve beyond the textbook. This is especially prominent in rural India, given that very few schools have the funds needed to invest in the technology that STEM demands. Only those with access to adequate funding have been able to offer students these in-demand skills. As a result, conversations about STEM are often limited to specific demographics.

Secondly, if we need STEM to be more than just a subject in the curriculum then we need to offer youth information about the pathways towards STEM jobs. However, there are hardly any school-to-work transition programs or career awareness counselling opportunities in schools. Due to the limited presence of local role models, especially for young women, STEM is yet to be demystified as a career path within the community. This prevents young people from making well-informed choices about their future careers.

At this juncture, one should look towards another underrated element of the economy i.e. the TVET (Technical Vocational Education & Training) ecosystem.

TVET largely focuses on hands-on learning. The curriculum for most vocational courses has been designed keeping in mind school dropouts, making it a highly accessible program. The tools used for these trades are easy to find and relatively affordable. Moreover, artisans who work in vocational roles are locally available in almost every corner of the country. The downside is that years of prejudice around specific vocations have made them non-aspirational and so they are largely presented as an alternative to higher education. The limited linkages between TVET and school education have resulted in the same information asymmetry challenges that STEM faces.

Interestingly enough, the National Education Policy of 2020 has also recommended that vocational education needs to be integrated into the school curriculum.

Key stakeholders have begun to acknowledge the need to introduce these domains into the school curriculum.

What is often forgotten is that several trades under the TVET umbrella are very closely aligned to STEM. Electrical, electronics, construction, telecom, automotive – are sectors with scientists, engineers, and technicians. However, often the last one on that list is ignored which has resulted in a mismatch between abilities, opportunities, and dreams. But this is also a problem with easy fixes. We just need to move beyond just plug-and-play solutions to ones which make sense for the local context.

STEM and TVET are two worlds which stand to gain from each other. Familiarity of vocational trades can help simplify scientific concepts that learners find intimidating, while the linkage to STEM can make the respective blue-collar counterparts more aspirational. Pooling together the resources from both domains will also allow for more cost-effective solutions. Rather than placing the burden of choice on the learner, the system will then be positioned to showcase the natural progression between the two worlds.

As we work our way towards bringing the youth of India closer to the future of work, we must bear in mind that dignity of labour is the other side of that coin. By bringing together these two worlds there is an opportunity to revolutionise the way youth of India perceive their future.

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.