Opinion: Delulu Is Not The Solulu

If you haven't come across the newest Internet rage-delulu-you will, sooner rather than later. If you are a young job seeker in India, you may even want to embrace it. 

Delulu is short for delusional but its meaning is inverted to mean daring to do something risky. Young people are using the term to describe how they challenge themselves, often trying to score jobs that they have no idea about. A delusional aspiration but positive nonetheless. Hence delulu is the solulu, or solution.

India is the fifth largest economy in the world with its gross domestic product set to cross $4 trillion in 2024 if it grows at the current rate. The value of its stock market has already touched $4 trillion. Morgan Stanley says this decade belongs to India and Standard & Poor's estimates India will be the third-largest economy by 2030.

Yet, it may be delusional for young people entering the market to aspire for high-quality jobs. 

For the record, unemployment is at a six-year low of 3.2%. However, Azim Premji University's report, State of Working India 2023, states that unemployment for graduates who are not older than 25 is a whopping 42%. The overall unemployment rate also shrank because the share of self-employed rose by more than 5% in six years to 57.3%.

The immediate future is looking grim too. For the past 25 years or so, information technology companies had a voracious appetite for young job seekers, especially engineers. Executives from human resources departments of IT companies fanned out to campuses every year to scout for ace coders and future marketing geniuses. Not this year. Net hiring by IT companies shrunk for the first time in 2023, meaning the sector created fewer jobs than it eliminated. Automation trends indicate the IT sector has perhaps hit peak hiring. 

Former World Bank President Jim Kim had forecast seven years ago that automation threatened about 70% of jobs in India. Artificial intelligence is expected to take away numerous jobs, including programmers. Goldman Sachs estimates that AI will gobble up or degrade 300 million jobs. Alexander Sukharevsky, senior partner and global leader of McKinsey's AI firm QuantumBlack says 50% of tasks done today by workers will be automated in 20 years. Mind you, these are well-paying white-collar work, something that is in short supply in India anyway. This is at a time when Indians are set to overtake the US as the largest developer community-currently numbering 13.2 million on GitHub, the prime destination for open-source software programmers. 

While that is at the highest end of the job market, the biggest job creators in the country, small-scale industries, are also buffeted by headwinds. More than 40,000 manufacturing companies disappeared from the list of taxpayers' after the pandemic. 

India needs to find high-quality work for its young people and well-qualified workers for emerging industries. For the past three decades, India has tailored its policies to push the private sector to create jobs and livelihoods. Massive skill development initiatives that began under Manmohan Singh's prime ministership and reinvigorated in the Narendra Modi regime in anticipation of private sector demand have hardly made a dent. 

The demand for skilled workers could increase as more and more foreign companies look to set up shop in India as part of their supply chain de-risking strategy. With over 40,000 employees, iPhone maker Foxconn will rank among the top non-conglomerate private sector manufacturing firms in India. The company has plans to double the headcount by next year. Another 40 hardware makers have also applied for production-linked incentives to start making in India. Yet, as Foxconn found out when it started making iPhones in India, companies will have to invest heavily in training and developing skills. 

The central government recently announced that it will feed 813 million people free food for the next five years at a cost of Rs 11.8 lakh crore. That means only the rest of the country's population of less than 600 million people can afford to buy food. It would also be reasonable to believe that a large number of even those would barely be able to make ends meet without some largesse. Irrespective of how positive delusions are, they cannot work in illusions.

(The writer is editor of The Signal and author of The RSS And The Making Of The Deep Nation.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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