Unemployability – A Bigger Problem Than Unemployment

The duality within unemployability is that even if opportunities come about, individuals are not poised to take advantage of most of them. The inability to retain a job over long periods or grow with it is also an indicator of gaps in skill. India has a large, young population that gives us the demographic advantages, however, the unemployment rate in India has always been a concern. The over-stressed fact that academic institutions have not been able to contribute much in solving this problem and have not been able to skill students and make them job ready continues to remain a stumbling block to economic development of the country.

India’s unemployability problem and recent trends

India’s unemployability problem has been a focus of educators and industry leaders more acutely than ever. In the past decade, the encouraging fact has been that the unemployability of India’s educated youth has reduced by 14% according to the India Skills Report survey of 2019. In 2014, the numbers were far less encouraging at 33% employability as opposed to 46% of the entire number of graduates in 2019. This is a survey which involved the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Wheebox, and People Strong.

If anything, in 2020, the focus on making Indian youth more dynamic and employable is only more. There is a marked trend in enrollment of self-paced, personalized courses, workshops, and “learning by doing”. Also, fewer students appear to opt for engineering programs, computer applications courses, and technical modules. Instead, microlearning modules in a number of disparate areas have caught on. Gamification, podcasts, infographics, and mobile-led formats find greater support and opt-ins because they take much less time and are interesting enough to facilitate retention. The ‘bitable-chunk’ sized courses can span several areas including statistics, automation, coding, social media, and courses covering digital platforms among an exhaustive list. The plethora of learning opportunities, when examined closely, are designed to complement employability with individual productivity and the overall efficacy of a business unit.

You might also be interested to read: In Demand Skills In India

Employability in India today

Unemployability in India takes on a deeper shade of gravity in the COVID-19 times when education is affected at every level. All schools are shut down and even the youngest children are obliged to sit through classes online if they wish to avail themselves of formal education. The early learning app by Byju’s, the education firm, partnered with Walt Disney is aimed to make learning more fun and interactive for 6-8 year-olds. It seeks to address the main reason for unemployment at later stages in one’s career – the rigidity of the individual’s learning ability and the reluctance to reinvent oneself to meet changing needs in the job role. Specifically in India, among the classes suffering the greatest unemployability are greatly prone to incapacity, or at least hesitation, toward reassessing themselves and growing in new directions.

Career growth and adapting to new needs in the market also falls under the purview of as per the needs of unemployability. For professionals in the global village, change is the only constant. Keeping themselves current in skills and aware of trends is a mindset everyone needs to cultivate if they hope to remain sought-after in a changing, evolving job market.

Unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment

If unemployment is because of inexistent or insufficient job opportunities, there are reforms initiated by public and private entities to address these concerns in the administrative aspect. Every administrative body from the local self-government to the Indian government angle towards generating employment as a part of ongoing welfare and endowment efforts for the greater good of the nation. 

However, unemployability in India is a whole other, graver problem. Despite the availability of learning opportunities, unemployable people turn into uninitiated workers who don’t upgrade their skills in a fashion that is timely enough for the trends. They would not have used the educational facilities to the fullest for a variety of reasons. They are, therefore, unable to achieve their true potential in the economic and financial senses, among others. This is why unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment.

Ironically, the problem of unemployability is also afflicted by the advancement for which Indian IT and scientific pursuit pride themselves. For instance, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can speed up, scale up, and automate some jobs. At the end of a fruitful research and development (R&D) cycle, this can mean lost jobs. It renders several workers unemployable when an AI algorithm takes over some job families.

Understanding unemployability

At the outset, it may seem that only obscure technical skills, understanding of high-complexity engineering models, or functional knowledge pertaining to specific industries would be rare. However, a quick look at employer surveys reveals that soft skills are rare too. The ability to perform in a team, emotional intelligence, and critical evaluation are some of the most important skills that employers are unable to find in their hires.

The deeply insightful visionary and ex-president of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who was originally an aerospace scientist, identified the problem of unemployment to be supplanted by unemployability in modern times. Priyanka Gupta, in her blog article Improving Employability in India: Need of the Hour observed that India’s young population, which she in 2018 pegged at 64% of the entire population by the year 2021, continues to be relevant. She observes in her other article on Breaking the Vicious Circle of (Un)Employability that problem-solving ability, basic communication and writing skills in English, and an innate unprepared nature for the jobs they’re set to take up hamper India’s youth.

Reasons behind unemployability in India

Some factors of India’s unemployability problem are unique: The caste system and India’s continued dependence on the Farm Economy exert a pressure on compliance with the joint-family system, business models based on the Hindu Undivided Family, and meager education. Growing youth are expected to join the farm-hands anyway, and the skills attained at the school-level are barely enough to carry out gainful employment in the organized sector if needed later in life. Agri-based income contributes to 17% of India’s total GDP and accounts for the livelihood of nearly 60% of the working population.

At the crux of the challenge of unemployability lies a refreshed perspective among both educators, employers, and the talent pool. The shift in business owners’ mindset is palpable. Tech-giants like Tech Mahindra now have on-site learning and development centers. Students supply their share of enterprising thinking by enrolling for self-learning courses on EdTech platforms. Universities, in their turn, forge partnerships with startups and corporates.

This shift in thinking also marks the trend in which the focus of the policymakers moves toward individual strengths and abilities as opposed to mass swathes of unemployable graduates in India resulting in lowered employment figures.


  • Neeti Sharma and Sumit Kumar, Employability in India: Where the needle needs to move in 2020, Financial Express, Nov 22, 2019
  • Neernidhi Samtani, How to address India’s unemployability problem?, The Time of India – The Growth Catalyst, Dec 12 2019
  • Bureau report, India Skills Report finds 46.21% of students employable, The Hindu Businessline, Dec 10, 2019
  • Press Trust India, Employability of Indian graduates jumps to 47% in 2019 from 33% in 2014: Survey, Live Mint, Dec 10, 2019
  • Pooja Mehta, Main Causes of Unemployment in India, Economics Discussion.net
  • OECD, Economic Surveys India, Economic and Development Review Committee, Feb 2017
  • Debasish Bhattacharyya, Unemployability is a bigger issue than unemployment, The Statesman, May 13, 2019
  • Priyanka Gupta, Improving Employability in India: Need of the Hour, EdTechReview, January 2018
  • Kekane Maruti Arjun, Indian Agriculture- Status, Importance and Role in Indian Economy, International Journal of Agriculture and Food Science Technology, 2013

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