“Nineteen-thousand graduates, post graduates, MBAs and B.Techs apply for 114 sweeper jobs offered by Amroha Nagar Palika in Uttar Pradesh” – Times of India, January 21, 2016.
Despite a common awareness of the preference for government jobs in India, this jarring headline still caught the attention of many inside and outside of Uttar Pradesh (UP) last year.
Working across Tier II and III cities in UP, this headline didn’t come as a surprise to us, but we often hear the shock when people from major cities interact with our students here: “I knew government jobs were popular here, but I didn’t realise just how much people are obsessed with them!”
To better understand this scenario, why it is troubling, and what we can do about it, let us look at the ‘mujhe sarkari naukri hi chahiye’ phenomenon through the eyes of young people in India’s most populous state.
Why government jobs?
Security, stability and status
“Jo value sarkari naukri ki hoti hai, woh private job ki nahi. Jab aap government job karte hai, toh log aapko maante hai, aapki respect karte hai.”
(“The prestige that a government job has is much higher than that of a private sector job. When you work as a government employee, people listen to you, they respect you”), says Neelam, an alumna from Medha’s employability education program, which improves career opportunities for youth.
“Sarkar ghar deti hai, pension deti hai, puri family ka muft ilaaj bhi, kitni bachat hoti hai!”
(“The government gives you a home, pension, free family healthcare–you save a lot!”), says retired government official, Mr. Ansari, who wants his daughter to pursue a career in the public sector.
Amroha Nagar Palika offered a salary of INR 17,000 per month to its sweepers. An entry-level sales or service professional in the private sector earns INR 7,000–10,000 per month, mostly without benefits or even a contract. In some respects, it’s a simple cost/benefit analysis.
Moreover, as another Medha alum Akanksha points out,
“Private mein sirf MBA ya phir achchi angrezi waale chahiye!”
(“The private sector seeks only MBAs or English speakers!”) Government jobs, with their standard selection process and basic undergraduate requirement are open to all, especially those from low-income backgrounds who cannot afford advanced degrees.
“Sarkari Naukri aasaan hai”
For most government employees, compensation is seniority-based, and terminations are rare. This gives many the impression that public servants have it easy. Like Raj, who explains,
“Job aisi honi chahiye ki traas na ho, aasaani se, izzat se dher sara paisa mile.”
(“A job shouldn’t bring stress; it should bring me a lot of money, easily and respectably.”)
The harsh realities
These perceptions are not going away anytime soon. Neither is the reality that less than one percent of aspirants secure that coveted government job.Less than one percent of aspirants secure that coveted government job.
With the number of government jobs declining, supply is rapidly outpacing demand. This causes:
- High levels of underreported unemployment–government statistics do not classify ‘job seekers’ as unemployed.
- Widespread corruption in public sector hiring–there are commonly known ‘prices’ for different positions.
- Low productivity and GDP loss–young people often spend years preparing for a government job, becoming virtually unemployable in the private sector over time. Many end up getting employed at the same coaching institutes they studied at because they have no other skills.
- High levels of disenfranchisement and frustration that leads to violence–the Jat community-led riots in Haryana for government job quotas is a fresh example.
What we can do
One of the key drivers of this phenomenon is a lack of quality private sector jobs. In major metros where the private sector has grown in the last 20 years, this trend is less pronounced.
And while there are several initiatives and policy recommendations to grow and improve the private sector, for this discussion we will focus on some of the interventions that can have a positive impact in the short/medium term, given the constraints:
Increase access and exposure to private sector jobs
For many young people, ‘career guidance’ typically comes from two sources: teachers and family. Through our employability education programme, we add two new sources to the list: their student relationship manager and, more importantly, their own experience.
We organise industry talks, exposure visits and internships to broaden their perspective on the private sector. In our experience, 30-40 percent of internships convert into full-time job offers.
Create more flexible work opportunities
This allows students to pursue a government job while simultaneously gaining experience and skills in the private sector. Through our work structuring internships with hundreds of employers over the last six years, we have realised that opportunities for half-day shifts, peak season hours, and long-term on-the-job apprenticeships can allow students to study for a government job while building valuable experience in the private sector that will help them in the long-run.
‘Nudge’ employers towards formalisation and better work environments.
A lot of employers are not ‘informal’ by choice, but because they don’t have the resources and/or capacity to become formal.
Basic support like providing employment contract templates and recommending small changes to HR policies can have a big impact on their ability to attract and retain candidates.
While here at Medha we work with all three stakeholders—students, employers and academia–we can all do our part to change a system that clearly isn’t working.
If you work with young people, encourage them to explore all potential career paths, not just the ones they’re familiar with or ‘told’ to pursue. If you are an employer, think about what you can do to make your company a better place to work (there is plenty of data that supports this is good business too). And if you work in academia, think about the skills young people will need in their lives, not just to pass the next exam.