Symbiosis School of Economics hosts 2nd International Conference on FECO 2023
In the conference, gracing the dais, several leaders from academia brought out a vivid picture of the employment scenario including Alakh Sharma, Director of the Institute of Human Development; Satoshi Sakari, Deputy Director, ILO; and Santosh Mehrotra, Visiting Professor at the University of Bath
India, 30th January 2023: Symbiosis School of Economics (SSE), a leading centre of higher learning in India, recently organised the 2nd International Conference on the Future of Employment: Challenges and Opportunities (FECO 2023) on 18th and 19th January 2023. With the aim to explore insightful discussion on issues around employment in India, the conference brought together leading academics experts and other leaders, associated with renowned institutes, who engaged in in-depth conversations on pressing topics such as Macroeconomic Implications of Employment, Employment in the Informal Sector, Women and Employment, Labour Market Practices, Policies, and Reforms, and COVID-19 and the changing employment scenario.
In the conference, gracing the dais, several leaders from the academia brought out a vivid picture of the employment scenario including Alakh Sharma, Director of the Institute of Human Development; Satoshi Sakari, Deputy Director, ILO; and Santosh Mehrotra, Visiting Professor at the University of Bath, among others.
In the inaugural address, Dr. Alakh Sharma highlighted the challenges for employment in India: increasing educated youth unemployment, declining women's work participation rates but increasing unemployment, low levels of education and skills, and uncertainty brought on by new technologies and digitalization. Building on the idea of sustainable and inclusive employment opportunities, Mr Satoshi Sasaki emphasised bringing about robust policies and investment aimed at protection for women and others, creating a safe work environment, and enhancing representation in the professional world.
Further, in the inaugural session, Dr. Santosh Mehrotra pointed out that three demographic groups were at risk of a job crisis: small and marginal farmers, youth and women, adding that towards a path of prosperity India needs to realise its demographic dividend by 2040, referring to the fact that the before India, a primarily young nation ages, it needs to become relatively more affluent. Dr. Mehrotra observed that the pandemic has reversed the process of the labour market going from agrarian work to industry-based employment. On a similar note, Dr. Rajani Gupte said that despite the rising number of women in higher education there are fewer women in the workforce.
Dr. Gupte continued her address, mentioning that the shaken trust in job security post-covid will give way to a higher number of job switches and in view of the dynamic industry that is to come, higher education institutes must gear their cohort to be aware of the job scenario and industry-ready.
Taking the conversation ahead, Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar outlined the challenges faced by researchers to identify and quantify factors such as growth, fiscal stimulus, inflation and other macroeconomic indicators, that impact employment. Noticing the rise of technology across industries, particularly in the education industry, she also praised the role AI is envisioned to play in the future while stressing the importance of a traditional, brick-and-mortar education system towards the personality and social development of children.
About the rise of AI, Dr. Jyoti Chandiramani, Director of Symbiosis School of Economics said that as tools such as the latest ChatGPT, come into the market, the nature and cost of labour will change, paving a new dawn for industry and employment, and at such juncture education, especially Humanities education will be important.
Opening the first session, which was on Macroeconomic Implications of Employment, Mr. Mahesh Vyas, Managing Director, CMIE, said that the discussion on employment needs to be at the forefront of financial talks in the country as the employment rates do not paint a nuanced picture. Making a note of the dearth of employment opportunities, especially jobs for women and overall high-paying jobs, he discussed the rise of the working-age population, the shrinking job market, and the inability of companies to provide quality employment despite soaring profits in the pandemic, due to stagnant capital assets.
Similarly, while speaking on Macroeconomic Implications of Employment, Prof. Amitabh Kundu, Distinguished Fellow, WRI, New Delhi, observed that the unemployment rate was around 5% between 1990 and 2019 but the crisis regarding jobs peaked by over 3 % due to the pandemic, which currently stands sharply above 8%. He further talked about how urban centres are failing to create jobs, the rise of new towns due to urban-rural migration, and the need to create jobs in peri-urban and semi-urban areas. Also, Prof. Kundu added that it is necessary to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable while formulating policies for urban employment in alignment with the principles of SDG 11.
While speaking in the second session about Employment in the Informal Sector, Dr. Saikat Sinha Roy, Professor and HoD at Jadavpur University, expressed the need to study the impact of deregulation of the informal sector, demonetization, the introduction of GST, and the prolonged effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the widening gap between informal and formal wages in the informal sector which covers 90% of employment in the Indian Economy.
About the expansive informal sector, Dr. Uma Rani, Senior Economist at the International Labour Organization (ILO), observes that the labour in this sector is often misclassified, primarily includes young men, lacks employment benefits, and is outsourced work. She concluded by stressing that platform workers must be given formal employment status and that platforms must be transparent and accountable, and these workers must be given the right to bargain collectively.
On this issue, in his address titled “Employment, Formal Sector, and Formalization”, Dr. Ravi Srinivasan, the Director of the Institute of Human Development explains the themes of formal and informal workers in the formal sector, total employment in the formal sector, the percentage shares in total employment, the percentage shares in total non-agricultural employment, and the employment by enterprise site. The address ended with Dr. Srinivasan speaking of the long-term employment crisis despite the overall increase in employment. He emphasized that we need strategies and policies that will provide more space for smaller, labour-intensive enterprises to grow and formalize.
Further, Dr. Kalyan Shankar, Assistant Professor, Symbiosis School of Economics, ventured into the relatively stigmatized issue concerning the three highly marginalized segments of female labour in the informal sector in India: sex workers, farm widows, and waste pickers.
Talking about Female Labour Force Participation (FLFPR), in the session on Women and Employment, Dr. Ashwini Deshpande, Professor at Ashoka University, defined the term reproductive labour which includes household work, child caring and other traditional domestic female roles. The session focused on the gender disparity in income avenues and the norms around domestic work. Her research indicates that despite patriarchal issues and other hindrances, problems around female employment, which has never crossed 40% of the total female population, lie mainly in the availability of work. She attributed the 76% decline in FLFPR to the supply of suitable jobs, saying that Indian women are willing to work if jobs are available near their homes and are compatible with their domestic chores.
Following Dr. Deshpande’s speech, in her keynote address Dr. Ritu Dawan delineated labour-related problems in the country which include the impact of the demonetisation on labour, the long-term effects of the nutrition gap in low-income families in terms of their ability to participate in the labour market, and different labour codes and policies that need improvement.
In the fourth session, which explored Labour Market Practices, Policies and Reforms, Dr. Radhicka Kapoor, Senior Fellow, ICRIER spoke on the dynamics of labour laws, laying nuanced observations on the impact of the growth in contractual labour, forms of labour exploitations, and other critical issues. On the issue, Dr. Sandhya Iyer, Associate Professor, TISS, weighed in and demanded a need for a well-formulated modernised social security.
In the concluding session, of this intellectually-challenging conference, titled “COVID-19 and the changing employment scenario”, Prof. Lisa Magnani stated, “Many of the sustainable development goals were shattered during the pandemic”, while Dr Mrinalini Jha noted, “The drop in the urban income was far worse than the rural income during the pandemic period in comparison to the pre-covid era”. Additionally, about the far-reaching effects of the crisis, Dr Rana Hasan said, “The learning losses due to the pandemic can have a long-term impact on the employment scenario of this generation.”
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