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Demographic what?

Omkar Goswami


In international workshops and conferences, we who are revelling in India’s growth  invariably speak of the country’s enormous demographic advantages. The argument is simple: in 2005, India’s population between the age of 15 and 44 was 510 million, or almost half of the nation’s people; by 2030, this will have risen to 676 million, or more than 55 per cent of the population. No country in the world, not even China, has and will have at its disposal such a huge mass of young people. Therefore, India is better poised than any other country to leverage both consumer demand and labour supply represented by this young workforce. When presented with the right kind of data and the power of conviction, the numbers leave most listeners spellbound.


This upbeat story takes a sharply different turn in the private confines of offices. In the last year and a half the universal refrain throughout corporate India has been that it just can’t find the right kind of people. Even with salaries reaching levels that were unthinkable a couple of years ago, every member of India Inc. is moaning about the impossibility of getting the right kind of people.


This contradiction between the power of India’s youth of tomorrow and the acute shortage of employable people today hit me with telling force during the last week. Like many other Indians, I had completely forgotten that without fitting our TVs with set top boxes, we would be able to see virtually nothing from the first day of 2007. So, like thousands of others throughout the country, we got into a frenzy in getting these boxes installed and the TVs reactivated.


The first problem was the long hiatus between purchasing the set top boxes and actually getting them installed. I was relatively lucky, for it took nine days. As I write, the lead time has extended beyond 20 days for the major service providers. Second, and more telling, was the quality of the people who came home to install the boxes and activate the systems. Neither did they have any customer facing skills worth the name, nor were they adequately trained in the rudimentary technology of installation. These were young people in their 20s whose objective was to maximise the number of connections that they had activated in the course of the day. Quickly install the dish; drag the cable into the house through the shortest route however inappropriate that may be; hook up the systems; get the forms signed and rush off to the next customer. Basic politeness, making an effort to explain what they are doing to the customer and trying to understand the client’s needs especially with multiple installations were not their business.


After they left – having blown up one television because of jiggling with multiple plugs while the power socket was on – my wife, Radhika asked the simple question, ”What has happened to basic training?”


There lies the rub. Demographic data point to the millions of young people who can enter India’s job markets. The numbers do not tell us how many of these potential entrants are trained or trainable. You can always pick hundreds of young guys and train them for a couple of days on how to quickly rig a dish and activate set top boxes; but you never bother training them on how to speak and interact with the customers in whose homes you are doing the installations.


This lack of training extends across our educational and vocational institutions barring a few. Ask yourself the question why Infosys has to invest in 12 to 16 weeks of intensive training of its entry level recruits even before they write the first line of code for a client. Or why service quality levels at help lines and customer care centres are not up to the mark. That’s why CEOs of corporate India are collectively be moaning their inability to find people. Now combine lack of training with high income and consumption aspirations and you have big issues on hand. That’s the matter for my next piece.


Published: Business World, January 2007


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