Low participation by women in the labour force is a major challenge in India. Out of a total labour force of 39.52 crore, only 9.16 crore are women. With an overall figure of 23.3%1, Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) rate is lower than that of males across age groups. Comparisons with other countries also show India fares poorly on this parameter (global FLFP 47.9% as per data from the World Bank).
By empowering women and making them employable, skill training can be a powerful lever to raise FLFP. An analysis of Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-2018 data shows that FLFP is higher among formally trained women (48.5%). Fletcher, Pande and Moore (2017) highlight a similar finding based on NSS 68th round household survey data: Women who have attended skills or vocational training (formal or informal) have higher levels of FLFP. The paper recommends that initiatives focused on skilling should be better leveraged to increase women’s economic activity.
In this context, it is useful to note the following points. First, skilling interventions that are delivered digitally can offer valuable opportunities for making women employable, as can training programs that prepare them for online work or for entrepreneurship (including opportunities that can be taken up from home). Consider that among the reasons for non-participation by women in the labour force, the predominant one is domestic work. 17.73 crore (three-fifth of the 30.15 crore females who are not in the labour force), report their activity status as ‘Attended domestic duties’2.
Secondly, the country’s diversity calls for targeted analysis and strategies to strengthen the role of skill development in enabling women for work and bringing them into the workforce. It is pertinent to note that FLFP varies widely among the states. Bihar has the lowest FLFP (4.1%), lower than that of Yemen, which has the lowest FLFP (5.8%) among all countries. Other states with low FLPP are Tripura (12.5%), Assam (12.7%) and Uttar Pradesh (13.5%), NCT of Delhi (14.3%), and Haryana (14.3%). Among the states with the highest FLFP in India are Meghalaya (51.2%), Himachal Pradesh (49.6%), and Chhattisgarh (49.3%)2 – comparable to countries such as the US- 56%, UK- 57.1%, Germany- 55.25%.
Thirdly, patterns can be seen in gender-related outcomes of skill training programs, which speak to the need for differentiated strategies by characteristics such as age to drive women’s participation in skills training programs. Under PMKVY-STT, about 49.9% of the total number of trained persons, 51.5% of the total certified, and 51.9% of the total placed are women. Looking at the data age-group wise, we find that the ratio of placed to certified persons is higher for women than for men in age groups above 25 years and that the ratio of placed to certified women differs by age group3.
Fourth, it is important to identify target segments of the population for greater effectiveness and impact of skill training programs. For instance, consider that 31% of India’s working age population is ‘Not in Employment/Education/Training’ (NEET), of which 51% have education level of 10th standard & below and 96% are women4.
Finally, if there are specific reasons (such as social norms) for women to not participate in the labour force, then those same reasons may hold them back from accessing training programs. It may therefore be useful to also design interventions that are targeted to overcoming specific barriers. Field, Jayachandran, Pande, and Rigol (2015) find that behavioural interventions such as counseling can help especially in cases where there are social norms that restrict mobility.
A study by the IMF suggests that a 1 percentage point increase in the labor force participation of women with an advanced degree would raise Canada’s overall labor productivity growth by 0.2-0.4 percentage point a year. Loko and Diouf (2009) find that increasing the share of women in the labor force has a beneficial impact on total factor productivity growth. Clearly, while the intrinsic desirability of gender equality is not debatable, there is also evidence of economic gains. There is both a social and an economic case for a level playing field.