Employability, the biggest challenge

In my second part in the series, I share what Manish Sabharwal spoke at our annual strategy input conference. Manish Sabharwal is the Chairman and co-founder of TeamLease. Manish wanted to start a new company that was profitable, fun, and good for India. He co-founded Team Lease, a staffing company, and in six years his company has grown to 80,000 employees and $250 million company. It was great fun listening to Manish again this year.

According to Manish, vocational training has to come with a job. There has been an employment failure. No one is really willing to pay for training. The employers are not willing to pay for training but for trained candidates. Candidates are not willing to pay for training but for a job, and financers are not willing to lend for training but to a candidate with a job.

Manish is working towards making labour markets more inclusive. The labour market has seen many transitions lately:

  • Farm to non-farm
  • Rural to urban
  • Unorganized to organized
  • Subsistence self-employment to decent wage employment
  • School to work

Commenting on the economic conditions, he says while there may be a slow down but there is no shutdown. Manish’s company still finds it difficult to find people for jobs. They have more than 4000 open jobs on any given day that need to be fulfilled. The problem is not that there are no jobs, the problem is that the workforce is not employable. And rural India doesn’t have the same choices as the urban India in terms of the jobs they might qualify for.

The way he sees the current situation, in the immediate term the immediate strategy is that of Matching, which is matching the workforce to the right jobs. Medium term the strategy is to reduce the mismatch. He calls this ‘Repair training’, skilling the existing workforce to close the skill gaps. And long term, the strategy is to build the pipeline, preparing the workforce for the jobs. He calls this ‘Prepare training’.
Manish laments to the poor education regime in India. There is low penetration of education, low returns to education, uneven quality of education, and while the system is accreditation heavy the outcome is light.
Manish also talks about the poor employability and employment regime. He describes the entry and exit gates (e.g. IIT, CA exams) in the education systems not meeting the requirements of the employment available in the market. He feels the current assessment systems are just not suitable and cannot really identify the right candidates. In spite of various assessment systems, the actual performance at workplace still seems to be the luck of a draw. Manish would really like to see more apprenticeship, more learning by doing, and the government policies current don’t encourage that.
Manish talks about lopsided GDP. Very few people contribute to a large part of India’s GDP and he would like more people employed and contributing to the GDP. He also feels that we are missing the middle – there can only be a hero or a zero. He wants us as a society to accept the ‘middle’. Not everyone is a hero and not everyone is a zero.
It was also interesting to know that employment exchanges in India are in a really bad state. There are 4 crore people registered and only 2 lakh jobs provided across India. The Delhi employment exchange gave 500 jobs last year at the cost of Rs. 2.5 lakh each! (1 lakh = 100K, 1 crore = 10million)
For building a pipeline, Manish feels quantity comes first and then quality. He feels we should get the critical mass and then refine the process/delivery as we go along; the good is not the enemy of great, e.g. not looking for Einstein for Front Office Sales; we are not trying to be right, we are trying to be successful. He urges the education system to include softskills and communication skills in schools and colleges.
It was interesting to hear him say that knowledge of English language is a must. He says English is like Windows, it is an operating system. We can like it or hate it, but we need it.
According to Manish, we can’t have employment and employability conversations independently. To increase employment, we have to improve the employability. Skill deficit is worse than the infrastructure deficit, and an unemployed or unemployable India is not free India.
Finally let me leave you with this interesting quote:

Entrepreneurship is the art of staying alive long enough to get lucky