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Making the most of gig economy

Equipping gig workers with employable skills or with the skills which are in demand in rural and urban areas is the best way to capitalise on their potential

Making the most of gig economy
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Making the most of gig economy

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According to NITI Aayog report, the gig workforce is expected to expand to 2.35 crore or 23.5 million workers by 2029-30. Presently about 47% of the gig workers are in medium skilled jobs, about 22% in high skilled and about 31% in low skilled jobs. Skill is apparently a major problem

The NITI Aayog recently released a report on India's gig workers, who are normally engaged in earning their livelihoods outside the traditional employer-employee arrangement. They are platform and non-platform based workers. Platform workers get jobs through apps or digital platforms. It is fairly assumed that gig workers have the potential to give a big boost to the economy at the primary level and they can also improve the ease of their lives by enhancing their regular income if their potential is well utilized. The fast penetration of mobile phones, increasing expenditure and large number of youngsters stepping out of schools or colleges every year are rightly seen as multiple cheers for the gig economy.

The NITI Aayog report highlights opportunities and challenges of this emerging sector and also presents global best practices for social security and delineates strategies for skill development and job creation for different categories of workers in the gig sector. According to NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Dr Suman Bery, the report is a valuable knowledge resource in understanding the potential of the sector and driving further research and analysis on gig and platform work. Many experts are rightly bullish about the job creation potential of the gig sector in view of the rising urbanization, widespread access to the internet, digital technologies and smart phones in India.

The report estimates that in 2020–21, 77 lakh or 7.7 million workers were engaged in the gig economy, constituting 2.6 per cent of the non-agricultural workforce or 1.5 per cent of the total workforce in India. The gig workforce is expected to expand to 2.35 crore or 23.5 million workers by 2029–30. Gig workers are expected to form 6.7 per cent of non-agricultural workforce or 4.1 per cent of the total livelihood in India by 2029–30. The report says that presently about 47 per cent of the gig workers are in medium skilled jobs, about 22 per cent in high skilled and about 31 per cent in low skilled jobs. Skill is apparently a major problem.

As of 2018, the total number of enrolled students in government schools in the country was pegged at 131 million while there were 119 million students in private or privately run aided schools, thus having over 250 million students. According to the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) report 2019-20, Indian schools taught 265 million students in 2019-20, at least 4.2 million more than the year-ago period, while the number of teachers rose by 250,000 during the period. India has more than 1.5 million schools, of which almost two-thirds are government-run. Of the total schools, the UDISE report said almost 421,861 are either run privately or are privately aided schools. The overall enrolment of students from the pre-primary grades to Class XII in more than 1.5 million schools across the country was 264.5 million in 2019-20, declining to 264 million in 2020-21. Total enrolment in higher education stood at 3.85 crore in 2019-20 as compared to 3.74 crore in 2018-19, registering a growth of 11.36 lakh. Total enrollment was 3.42 crore in 2014-15. The gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education recorded at 27.1 per cent in 2019-20, slightly higher from 26.3 per cent in 2018-19. It is clear that an overwhelming number of students do not get into colleges after completing their school education.

As per the Economic Survey 2018-19 report the share of India's young population, that is, zero-19 years is projected to drop from as high as 41 per cent in 2011 to 25 per cent by 2041. On the other hand, the share of elderly, 60 years and above, population will continue to rise steadily, nearly doubling from 8.6 per cent in 2011 to 16 per cent by 2041. The working age population will grow by roughly 9.7 million per annum during 2021-31 and 4.2 million per annum during 2031-41. Talking about the implication for the working age population, the Economic Survey stated: "Its size plays a key role in determining the size of the labour force and direction of inter-state migration. It further states that depending upon the trajectory of labour force participation during 2021-41 additional jobs will need to be created to keep pace with the projected annual increase in working age population."

The states with rising working age population could meet the labour deficit in many ageing states. The current migration trends broadly follow this pattern. The change in demographic break-up has several policy implications such as those on elementary schools, health care facilities and deciding the retirement age. The data strongly suggest that India is going to have a huge young human resource, equipped with minimum education of Class XII or even graduation, notwithstanding the fact that number of school going children in the country has been estimated to decline by 18.4 per cent between 2021 and 2041. If so, then the number of schools per capita will rise significantly across all major states even if no more schools are added.

The best way to make the most of potential gig workers will be to equip them with employable skills or with the skills which are in demand in rural and urban areas. Trained electricians, carpenters, plumbers, mansions, mechanics for two wheelers, cars, home appliance mechanics and painters are always in a big demand but so difficult to find them. By and large they are found out through hardware, electric shops or through acquaintances. There is a huge gap between skilled workers and those who need them. They have the phones but they are not one call away. They need to be brought on online platforms so that they are easily reached by the needy people.

In most cities, some online service providers are available but not yet fully institutionalised. Our startups should be encouraged to come forward and partner with skilled workforce in getting assignments for them. At a time when the Central and State governments are promoting startups so vigorously, there is a great opportunity for them in the gig sectors as well. The NITI Aayog report has also pointed out skill deficits among them. It is another area that our startups can cash in on by helping them get the required skills so that they make the most of opportunities available in wider markets in towns and cities!

(The writer is a senior journalist, author and columnist. The views expressed are strictly his personal)

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