Hope needs help

The ambitious National Career Service project is not fully operational

India Employment Window of hope: People waiting to register themselves at the employment exchange in Allahabad | AP

Manjeet Singh, 32, has been visiting the Ghaziabad employment exchange for several years now. He has not been able to find a job, despite having a master’s degree in commerce and a postgraduate diploma in management. After his diploma, he had landed a job that paid him Rs 10,000 a month, but he quit after a few months and has since been seeking a government job. Disappointment and frustration are writ large on his face now.

Satyaprakash Tripathi, 33, has half a dozen degrees and was a university gold medallist. But, his academic achievements have not helped him find a job yet. A resident of Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, he had registered with the district employment exchange in 2006. Frustrated and dejected, Tripathi now wants to start something of his own.

89% Decline in recruitment in Central government ministries (2013-2015)
0.56% Job seekers got placed through employment exchanges in Jan-Sept 2015
2.08% Job seekers got placed through the National Career Service, which was started in 2015
0.2% (per annum) Growth of jobs (2013-14 to 2015-16). Real GDP grew at 7.8%

Unemployment among highly educated job aspirants is getting worse. “The open unemployment rate has increased from 2.2 per cent to 3.4 per cent [2011-12 to 2015-16],” says Santosh Mehrotra, professor at the Centre for Informal and Labour Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. That, he says, shows that unemployment is going up in tandem with education levels. According to an Economic and Political Weekly article by Indrajit Bairagya, assistant professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, unemployment rate among educated youth in India is higher than their uneducated counterparts, and the situation only gets worse with increase in the education level.

The obsession with government jobs is partly to blame. Government jobs are considered safer and less taxing compared with jobs in private companies. This penchant for government jobs is why a lot of youths still register with employment exchanges. The Lok Sabha was informed in March 2017 that there has been an 89 per cent decline in recruitment in Central government ministries between 2013 and 2015. The number is expected to be quite high in states as well, and employment exchanges are mostly defunct.

Faridabad’s district employment exchange is about 30km from Delhi. The stench of urine assaults your senses as you enter the lifeless office—two small rooms on the fifth floor of Faridabad’s mini secretariat. The exchange has 15,000 to 16,000 registered candidates, but not even one has found a job in the last two years. “Most of the registered candidates are seekers of government jobs, and the government is not giving us vacancies,” says S.S. Rawat, assistant employment officer at the exchange.

Testy protest: Police forcefully dispersing people who had applied to join the Bihar Police and were demanding jobs at Patna | PTI Testy protest: Police forcefully dispersing people who had applied to join the Bihar Police and were demanding jobs at Patna | PTI

There are just five employees at the Faridabad exchange, against a sanctioned strength of 15. Rawat also handles three other employment exchanges—Palwal, Hodal and Hathin—in Haryana. These run on a skeletal staff, and affairs are managed by using personnel from Faridabad. The situation is similar in other states, too.

A Supreme Court order of 1996 sounded the death knell for employment exchanges. Earlier, application for any government job had to be routed through employment exchanges, and the government would notify vacancies to the exchanges. The 1996 Supreme Court judgment gave freedom to employers to advertise their vacancies in the open market. It allowed private players such as, and TeamLease to come in, and the recruitment market changed completely. Today, the private players have a significant share of the market. States and Central government bodies have set up their own recruitment agencies such as Staff Selection Commission (SSC), Institute of Banking Personnel Selection and Public Service Commissions.

One of the other functions of employment exchanges was to record employment market data under the Compulsory Notification of Vacancies Act, 1959. The Act made it mandatory for employers to report vacancies to the nearby employment exchange. States would send this data to the Centre, which would then come up with an yearly employment market information (EMI) report. Even though the Act is still in effect, the penal provisions are very low. Companies rarely inform the exchanges about vacancies and get away by paying fines of Rs 500. The last EMI report was published in 2012.

Employment exchange statistics make for a depressing read. As of September 2015, about 4.49 crore job seekers were registered with the 997 employment exchanges in the country, but only 2.53 lakh got jobs in the year. The largest state in India, Uttar Pradesh, had 38.75 lakh registered candidates, but could provide jobs to only 400. In four of the seven northeastern states where employment exchanges are functioning (Sikkim has none) and three Union territories, there were zero placements. West Bengal had 78.49 lakh registered job-seekers, with just 400 placements. But, former director general of employment Prabhat Chandra Chaturvedi says the data on registrations and placements cannot be trusted. “Many of those who register at employment exchanges do not delist after getting a job,” says Chaturvedi. “And, there is no mechanism to check it.”

However, the employment exchange numbers would be much lower than actual unemployment, given that fewer people register at the exchanges these days.

Akshay Hunka, a former IT professional has formed the Berozgar Sena in Madhya Pradesh. Hunka and his followers are demanding a law to guarantee jobs to educated youth. “The government has no plan to address unemployment,” says Hunka. “Latest National Crime Records Bureau data shows that two youths commit suicide in the state daily because of unemployment. In Madhya Pradesh, the suicide rate because of unemployment has increased 2,000 per cent [between 2005 and 2015]. The highest in the country. The chief minister’s expensive investor summits have done nothing to solve the problem.”

According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the rate of creation of jobs deteriorated substantially during the period 2013-14 through 2015-16. Jobs grew at a meagre 0.2 per cent per annum during this period although real GDP grew at 7.8 per cent per annum. Therefore, this period is called the period of nearly jobless growth.

In 2015, the NDA government came up with an ambitious programme to infuse life into employment exchanges—the National Career Service (NCS), an online job matching portal. As of February 2018, 4.03 crore job seekers and 14.87 lakh employers were registered on the NCS portal, and 8.40 lakh jobs have been mobilised.

Besides job matching, the NCS envisaged 100 model career centres, out of which 67 have been opened so far. These centres were planned as models for states to emulate in their employment exchanges. They offer online registration, career counselling and information on skill development centres, apart from job matching. On a visit to the Ghaziabad model career centre, THE WEEK found both the career counsellors were absent. Although the centre had adequate infrastructure and looked freshly revamped, it, too, had staff shortage.

“The idea was very good,” says Neeti Sharma, vice president, TeamLease. “But, any employment exchange or portal has to be a one-stop shop. Right from skilling to resume-building to career counselling to job matching. Currently, it is not end-to end. And, of course, the quality of their data [is not good]. We have been able to hire very few people from the NCS portal.” The transfer of skill development and training to a new ministry has made the problem worse.

The larger plan was to integrate state employment exchanges with the NCS, to form one common portal for job seekers. In fact, that was the most important reason for having the NCS. As of now, the NCS has to request the states to migrate their data every quarter. While the labour ministry is working to get the data interlinked, the states are not very forthcoming. Some states feel that it will lead to loss of control on employment data. In the case of Maharashtra, their own employment exchange portal is much better than the NCS. Since the data on the NCS portal is now migrated from states and not updated by the employee or the employer, there is high possibility of data dormancy. In fact, sources say that only 25 per cent of the registered candidates would be live—updated and actively seeking jobs. The NCS portal, therefore, does not disclose how many candidates were actually placed. It only mentions vacancies mobilised. Whether candidates were actually placed through these vacancies is not known. “The recruitment business is all about having an updated repository and being fast,” says Suchita Dutta, executive director at Indian Staffing Federation. “The government is lacking in both these aspects.”

There is hardly any outreach to target the young population to register with the NCS. In 2014-15, the project was approved with a budget of 0500 crore till 2020-21. Its marketing budget is around Rs 6 crore. For a start-up like the NCS, which needs funds not just for marketing, but also to develop infrastructure, experts feel Rs 500 crore is too little. “The government will have to spend on projects like these,” says Sharada Prasad, former director general of employment and training. “There is no other alternative. The same project was discussed during my tenure with a budget of Rs 1,400 crore. I do not see a lot of scope with the way they are doing it.”

The other big problem with the NCS is lack of adequate manpower. The pan-India project has only 15 people working on it. That, too, not full-time. In fact, there is no dedicated project director or a CEO for this ambitious mission. The director general of employment is supposedly the head, but he has to look after several other schemes.

Sources say that the NCS could get a big push, if a 2016 order by the department of personnel and training is implemented. The order had mandated that all vacancies should be posted on the NCS. This would mean that major government examinations such as SSC could happen through the NCS, giving it a boost. However, it will take time, and is expected to be done only by 2019. As of now, the NCS is surely a case of a good concept implemented poorly.