Singaporean Thomas Ong, a director at a local private equity firm, recently got invited as a guest lecturer at a private college in Jaipur, India. "I had heard stories about India's young people with 'excellent academic and English speaking skills' but what I encountered was the complete opposite," he said.
Not one student in a class of 100 has ever heard of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Most students could not understand, let alone speak fluent English. "The only question they had at the end the lecture was how to find a job at home or abroad," Ong said.
His account is anecdotal evidence of what human resource experts, corporate leaders and countless surveys have been highlighting over the past few years – that despite India's huge talent pool of graduates, few are equipped with skills to be gainfully employed.
According to a survey conducted by Aspiring Minds, an entrepreneurial initiative in preparing youth for employability, as many as 83 percent of graduating engineers in 2013 could not find jobs, given their poor English language and cognitive skills.
In fact, only 2.6 percent of graduates in India were recruited in functional roles like accounting, 15.9 percent in sales-related roles and 21.3 percent in the business process outsourcing sector. "Nearly 47 percent of Indian graduates are unemployable in any sector, irrespective of their academic degrees," noted Varun Aggarwal, co-founder and COO of Aspiring Minds.
The statistics run counter to the perception that India's relatively youthful population could help reap demographic dividends for the country down the line.
In 2020, the average Indian will be only 29 years old, compared to 37 in China and the U.S., 45 in West Europe and 48 in Japan, according to India's Ministry of Labor and Employment. By 2030, India's 1.5 billion population will have 68 percent men and women in the working age of 15-68, compared with 65 percent today.
Theoretically, a nation with young demographic has lower dependency ratio, which leads to increased consumption that can be channeled into higher investment and therefore growth.
For India however, the reality on the ground couldn't be more different. "It is not unusual to see graduates employed as security guards, driver or waiters in restaurants, given the poor standards of education. So what demographic dividend are we talking of? The generation coming of age in the 2010s faces the greatest underemployment ever in history," said Anil Sachdev, a human resources specialist and career coach.