India’s railway network attracted 19 million applications for just 63,000 vacancies as part of a national drive to recruit helpers, porters, cleaners, gatemen, track maintainers and assistant switchmen.
The railway’s recruitment effort is a potent symbol of India’s employment conundrum. The country is one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world, but it is not generating enough jobs – let alone good jobs – for the increasingly educated young people entering the workforce. By 2021, the number of people in India between the ages of 15 and 34 is expected to reach 480 million. They have higher levels of literacy and are staying in school longer than any previous generation of Indians. The youth surge represents an opportunity for this country of 1.3 billion, economists say, but only if such young people can find productive work. Recent employment trends are not encouraging.
An analysis of government data by Azim_Premji_University showed that unemployment rose in nearly all Indian states between 2011 and 2016. Jobless rates for young people and those with higher education qualifications increased during the same period, in some cases sharply: the unemployment rate for university graduates jumped from 4.1 percent to 8.4 percent, according to Santosh Mehrotra, a labor economist. For many young Indian people, finding a job is an all-consuming task. An entire industry has sprung up offering “personality development” classes – a combination of basic English, social skills and interview preparation advertised as improving employability.
Job scams are common, with fraudsters preying on the aspirations of those seeking work. The railway jobs on offer – sometimes referred to as Group D positions – are junior but offer security and a comparatively good salary. The starting pay is 18,000 rupees ($259) a month, plus there are perks such as free train travel.