Barely one in five Indians in the labour force is “skilled” according to the just released Human Development Report (HDR) 2020. With the figure at 21.2%, India is 129th among 162 countries for which this data is available.
The countries closest to India in sharing this dubious distinction are Ivory Coast, Sudan, Liberia and Cameroon, most of which are classified in the low human development category. Others with similar level of skill in their labour force are mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
The United Nations Development Programme’s HDR ranks countries according to a wide range of human development parameters apart from core economic factors like GDP and per capita income. The report defines skilled labour as people who are 15 years or older and have “intermediate” or “advanced” level of education as classified by the Unesco.

Nearly all countries at the top of this list are advanced economies with very high Human Development Index. Japan, which tops this list, is ranked 19th in the overall HDI ranking and has 99.9% of its labour force classified as skilled. Belarus, the US, Lithuania and Russia have over 96% of their labour force classified as skilled.
Apart from the US, Japan and Canada, most countries at the top of this list with over 90% of their labour force being skilled are from eastern Europe. For advanced economies in western Europe like Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, France and the UK, the proportion ranges between 80% and 90%. In India’s neighbourhood, only Bhutan has a lower proportion of skilled labour than India.
In Nepal and Sri Lanka, nearly 40% of the labour force is skilled, while it is 28.1% in Myanmar, 27.8% in Pakistan and 25.8% in Bangladesh. Bhutan’s 19.5% is lower than India’s proportion. Data for China was not available. India’s labour force is also characterised by a high proportion of employment in agriculture and the informal sector with nearly half of its workforce classified as “working poor” — employed people who live on less than $3.20 a day in purchasing power parity terms (about Rs 70 a day at the 2020 rate).
While they are above the international poverty line defined at PPP $1.90 a day (about Rs 42), these people are vulnerable to fall below it. According to the report, about 42% of employed people fall in this category in India. Although this is slightly lower than in Bangladesh, all other countries in the neighbourhood have a lower proportion of such employment. The share of agriculture and the informal sector in India’s employed people is comparable with its neighbours, but other large economies have a minuscule proportion. In Japan, for instance, only 3% of the workforce is in agriculture. For the US, Germany, France and the UK, the proportion is even lower.

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