India's demographic dividend - and how it might pay off for UK plc
Nothing certain, they say - except death and taxes. If the future were more clear we would plan and prepare better wouldn't we ? Well here's a racing certainty UK plc should be considering.
Some time in the middle of the next decade India will overtake China and be the nation with the largest workforce in the world, comprising about 25% of the entire global work force. And it will be a relatively young labour force. In 2020 the average* age in India will be 28 compared to 45 in Europe ( and 37 - the same as the United States - in China). Short of some genuinely unimaginable cataclysm that future is quite palpable.
It is what India styles as its ' demographic dividend' and the reason why - on some readings - the tussle for global economic dominance between Asia's emerging giants is already a forgone conclusion.
But at this point the uncertainties and opaqueness of crystal ball gazing intervene. As India is well aware the demographic dividend also holds within it the real threat of demographic disaster. If the country's young people cannot be equipped with real and relevant skills that can contribute both to national and global prosperity then the opportunity that population growth presents could as readily be a cataclysm for India.
India's higher education system seems to have stood the test to date with a capacity to deliver graduates in maths, computer engineering and associated disciplines that have helped propel companies such as Infosys and Wipro to become global leaders.
The urgent and compelling need now is for training and development at a much less sophisticated level than this but consistent with the size of the fundamental demographic issue it is the scale of the challenge that is almost inconceivable. India has set itself the target of providing some 500 million people with appropriate vocational training by 2022.
With that in view India is energetically pursuing partners across the world to contribute to that process. As part of that process group of business leaders and government officials from the sub-continent were in Burton on Trent only last week to gather some insight into innovative approaches that have been developed at Burton College into training trainers but also to lay the Indian opportunity clearly in front of the UK's further education sector in particular.
One message that became abundantly clear from their presentation was that this is a truly global engagement from the Indian side; David Cameron's visit to India in the first days of his premiership did cement a commitment to collaboration between the UK and India in this sector - and the UK India Skills Forum which brought the delegation to Burton is charged with moving this forward. But there are similar partnerships with Germany - and to date a much more evident presence on the ground across all of India from their German partners. More worryingly perhaps there is a view at the highest level that the German approach may be best suited to India's needs in developing vital manufacturing skills But make no mistake - other countries including the United States and even Switzerland are looking to capitalise on the opportunity .
The Indian Government is devoting massive resources to the task and there is a clear business opportunity for the UK training industry in this. Taking fullest advantage of it however requires our education sector to radically rethink its international business model and to focus less on recruiting students to study here in the UK and much more on the development and delivery with Indian partners of curriculum, well trained trainers and the accreditation of qualifications at common international standards. The Indian visitors were also candid that though the business opportunity is real is payoff is long term and requires patient funding is it is to be secured.
The real opportunity is for our further education sector - for far too long the Cinderella of education - and they are looking to seize that opportunity. Burton's hosting of this event highlights their commitment; Bourneville College who participated prominently have already established their own bridgehead in Kolkotta; Birmingham Metropolitan College are actively engaging on this front.
Their efforts are to be applauded and encouraged. The prospective ultimate pay-off for UK plc is that training the next generation of technicians and managers in what may be the world largest economy in a few decades and creating a bedrock of relationships on which future purchasing and investment decisions will be made surely cannot be overstated.
And It's a virtual certainty that's surely a bit more uplifting than death and taxes.
(* strictly speaking its the median age but I hope any statisticians will forgive the shorthand).
(The Indian High Commission is holding a India-UK Skills and Training Partnership Conference at University College London (UCL) on 28th May 2012. For details contact firstname.lastname@example.org)