Kerala faces two big challenges: the large number of people listed on our employment exchange and the return of people in bulk during the pandemic, especially from the Gulf
In the wake of the Kitex controversy, a question on top of everyone’s mind is: where will the future jobs come from for the state’s highly literate youth?
There are a few things that need to be looked at. First, Kerala needs to improve the ease of doing business in the state. But, more importantly, it has to start looking at new areas of job creation. Instead of thinking about how many jobs we can bring from other cities like Bengaluru, we need to create jobs that suit the state; in fact, at Kitex, a majority of the workers are from outside the state.
Where Kerala stands to win is areas that need skilled, educated and qualified manpower. For instance, Kerala has a large number of people who catch fish for a living. In the past, children of fisherfolk would also opt for fishing. But that is not the case anymore as these children have attained high levels of education. However, they continue to have a sense of attachment and love for the sea. They can use the fishing boats of their parents, take tourists along with them, catch some fish and come back. Similarly, many of them can become diving instructors or take tourists along with them for snorkeling. The income from this would be much more than what their parents earn by fishing. Experiential tourism can generate employment for these educated, English-speaking youth.
There is no point in saying that Kerala is going to create a lot of jobs in the IT sector. We have to think beyond white-collar jobs; jobs that help increase the income levels as well as provide the youth of the state an opportunity to work in an environment they understand and enjoy. Tribals, for instance, can be employed as forest guards or forest guides.
At one point, agriculture was the mainstay of Kerala. A lot of young people will be again interested in this sector if we can create high value-added agriculture and bring in mechanization. These jobs will not be labour-intensive and would require oversight.
Indeed, agriculture can become a value-added job-creating sector. We tend to carry a lot of old baggage with us and I see no reason why Kerala cannot manufacture alcohol. The state can allow breweries to come up in certain areas—wineries using pineapple as the raw material or cashew apple as we have seen in Goa—and these can create massive job opportunities for the state’s youth.
We have large tea and rubber estates in Kerala, but they are running in losses. The state’s landholding rules do not allow the estate owners to do any other kind of agriculture, else the government takes over the land. Why don’t we let them grow vegetables and fruits? Give the farmer the freedom to cultivate what they think is appropriate for their land. And, you will automatically find these estate owners employing more people.
Invest in emerging sectors
Kerala faces two big challenges: the large number of people listed on our employment exchange and the return of people in bulk during the pandemic, especially from the Gulf.
Once the state reforms the landholding laws, some of the people who are returning from the Middle East will be happy to buy an estate of a few acres and start agriculture in a small way. We must know that many of these returnees are probably moving out of the working-age group—lot of them are coming back after spending 20 to 30 years abroad—and will not be able to work in labour-intensive sectors.
Yet another thing the state can think of is: focus on one or two areas where Kerala wants to register high impact in the next five-10 years. One example can be the microbial protein industry. It is increasingly becoming difficult to produce enough protein for the global population; therefore, protein is being developed in labs using microorganisms and highly specialized equipment. This is an employment-intensive sector and can produce many jobs in the future.
Alternatives to fossil fuels can be another area Kerala can look at. It can become the electric vehicle capital of India. But to do that, Kerala would need massive and swift changes in the higher education system. The current system of affiliated universities must go. We need autonomous institutions—like IITs—that can have a broad syllabus where the faculty ultimately decides what the students need to learn. Various departments in universities should not be constrained by the quality or inefficiency of faculty—we need more professionals in the faculty who are aware of the latest trends in the industry.
This is what Kerala should do:
1. Clearly define its job creation strategy
2. Decide which industries and businesses it wants
3. Have a transparent system that clearly stipulates what each business should comply with and there should be no individual discretion in approvals
4. Clearly define and finalise minimum wages sector-wise as well as the formula by which they will increase over the next decade
5. By doing this, Kerala can create an environment that is predictable for the investor and ensure there are no ambiguities that normally lead to corruption or harassment
I think the government of Kerala has already started moving in that direction.
The author is the founder CEO, Technopark, Thiruvanthapuram and a former member, Kerala State Planning Board. Views expressed are personal.
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