World Youth Skills Day: When Will the Skilling Sector Wake Up to See the Critical Role of Life Skills?


Vishal Talreja is the Co-Founder of Dream a Dream, a registered, charitable trust from India empowering young people from vulnerable backgrounds to overcome adversity and flourish in a fast-changing world using a creative life skills approach. This post focuses on the Indian context but has universal applicability. It is an updated version of an article from Vishals Medium account, which you can follow here.


Recently, Samhita published a “CSR in Skills and Livelihood Report.” This study analyses the CSR efforts of the top 100 companies with the largest CSR budgets on the BSE 500 to identify the gaps and opportunities in the skills and livelihood value chain and provides a roadmap for companies and other stakeholders to overcome these challenges.

The report states that India is currently facing a huge socio-demographic challenge given that majority of its population is in the working age with limited or no skills. As per the Labour Bureau Report 2014, the size of the skilled workforce in India is only 2%, which is extremely low when compared to countries such as China (47%), Japan (80%) and South Korea (96%). It is estimated that by around 2025, 25% of the world’s total workforce will be in India. It has also been forecasted that the average age of India’s population would be 29 in 2021 as compared to China’s average age of 37, thus giving India a unique advantage of having one of the world’s youngest populations. However, a large young population alone does not guarantee India an advantage. The country needs to ensure that its young workforce is equipped with the skills and knowledge required in a workplace so it can reap the “demographic dividend”.

To bring about a focus on skilling and consolidate efforts, the central government has brought all the skilling programmes under the ambit of a ministry created in 2014 — the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). The government has further stepped up its efforts through the announcement of two skill development packages worth INR 220 billion in July 2016 to improve the skills of 15 million people by 2020. While these initiatives are a step in the right direction, a few studies found that they have not yielded the expected results. Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) constituted under the Director General of Training (DGT) have acknowledged their own shortcomings in terms of poor quality training, serious infrastructure gaps, outdated curricula, high dropout rates and minimal contact with industry. Additionally, only 5% of the 17.58 lakh people trained under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) (as of July 2016) got jobs.

As this report explores the solution to this looming crisis, it proposes a value chain approach, which is an attempt to put the “trainee” at the centre of the discussion and view the entire process of skills and livelihood development from his or her perspective. Broadly, these can be classified as pre-training, training and post-training components. Together, these steps help in ensuring that the trainee has a seamless experience and realizes the intended outcomes of the programme.

The study presents some fascinating insights and we hope Companies and NGOs will address these insights in their work with young people.

Some pointers in the report that caught our eye include:


1. Enhancing employability through soft/life skills was secondary to vocational skills.

Firstly, we need to learn to distinguish between soft skills and life skills. Soft Skills are NOT the same as Life Skills. Soft Skills have conventionally known to enhance one abilities and prospects in the job market. They are desirable skills that create a competitive edge.

Life Skills are core foundational skills without which an individual cannot overcome adversity and be prepared for a healthy, productive life as an adult. World Health Organization (WHO) defines life skills as positive and adaptive abilities that enable an individual to deal with the challenges and demands of everyday life. Life Skills help an individual be creative, take initiative, solve problems, overcome difficulties, manage conflict, negotiate, respond with empathy, be self-aware and think critically amongst other things. Without Life Skills, it is next to impossible for an individual to thrive and succeed as an adult, especially in the fast changing 21st century.

Secondly, providing vocational skills without the foundation of Life Skills will have limited impact and thus life skills cannot be treated secondary. Life Skills is not a subject that can be taught and delivered through a 45–60 minute session. Life Skills are developed through a combination of role-modelling by the trainer/facilitator and the use of transformative, experiential pedagogies that understand adversity and ways to overcome it. Life Skills are also developed when there is consistent, long-term engagement in the presence of a caring, empathetic adult.


2. Despite gaining vocational skills, the trainee may not be ‘employable’ due to poor communication skills, a lack of confidence or, poor coping abilities. This would be especially true of trainees from lower socio-economic backgrounds who would have been conditioned very differently due to difficult circumstances.

Firstly, when it is said that youth have poor communication skills, lack confidence and poor coping abilities. These are just symptoms of a deeper challenge faced by young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It is the challenge of growing up in adversity and NOT conditioning (this sounds judgmental). When young people experience neglect, abandonment, lack of emotional care or violence, abuse, it impacts their ability to achieve developmental milestones and engage with the world. Experiences of adversity result in Failure to Thrive describing a situation where a child does not grow as expected on a growth chart. Adversity affects their ability to engage with the world, make healthy life choices and be successful. The impact of adversity can be seen in their adulthood and sometimes throughout life. For instance, not being able to keep a job. The report corroborates this by stating that least 1 of the 4 trainees placed dropped out in the first month according to most of the NGOs surveyed for the study.

How many times have vocational programmes lamented that young people drop out within the first few weeks of the programme or don’t stick to a single job or don’t apply themselves with discipline through the training. These are not because young people are disinterested, or conditioned differently or not serious about their future. They just don’t have the abilities due to failure to thrive.

In 20 years of Dream a Dream’s experience with young people we have seen that when young people develop their Life Skills, they are able to overcome failure to thrive and re-engage with life. Hence, unless we focus on Life Skills as core foundational skills, most vocational training programmes will continue to have limited impact and not achieve long-term positive outcomes for young people.


3. The study found an overwhelming consensus among all stakeholders in terms of the role of soft and life skills in enhancing ‘employability’. Yet there was a disconnect between rhetoric and practice — while all companies were focused on ‘vocational’ skills, only half of them were considering soft skills and life skills as part of their courses.

Some of the barriers identified in the report that limits more corporate participation across the value chain included:

  • Some companies were unaware of the importance of these building blocks, as the wider narrative so far has focused only on delivery of training.

  • Most companies recognized the need for such support, but lacked knowledge of effective models and good practices because unlike delivery of training, the pre and post-training components have not been documented or codified systematically.

  • A few companies reported that they were unable to identify credible implementation partners that could execute these activities at scale, especially around soft skills training.

  • Stakeholder and donor perceptions around what constitutes impact maybe misdirected, especially when their accountability is defined as ‘number of trainees covered’, rather than outcomes such as better jobs, higher retention in those jobs etc. Certain aspects of the value chain, especially supporting the trainer or mobilization efforts could be perceived as ‘unglamorous’.

  • Outcomes of soft and life skills depend on a certain degree of behavioural change that is difficult to achieve in a short duration and difficult to measure and quantify.

Dream a Dream has addressed some of these barriers successfully in our work with over 10,000 young people every year and over 192,500 across 20 years. We have integrated Life Skills as a core intervention and on the foundation of Life Skills — other technical skills are developed. This has resulted in some remarkable wins — we don’t have a challenge of mobilization since our graduates are our biggest champions and do the community mobilizing for us. Our retention is at over 90%. Our graduates make choices based on their aspirations and choose from a variety of opportunities — higher education, vocational training, internships, job placements, self-employment and entrepreneurship. Over the last 6 years, we are tracking over 8000 graduates from our programme and 95% of them continue to be meaningfully engaged with life.

We have also developed and published a standardized Dream Life Skills Assessment Scale (DLSAS), the first of its kind scale in the world that measures life skills. 100% of our graduates have shown an improvement in life skills year-on-year measured using the DLSAS.

Hence, the above barriers can be overcome.

In conclusion, the pace of change in the world is frantic and unpredictable. Young people are entering a very complex future filled with many challenges. The report highlights that the demand for skilled labour and its supply is based on a set of constantly changing variables such as industrial changes, technological advances and people’s aspirations, among others. This dynamic nature of skilling underpins the need to continuously evolve and adapt courses and curriculum to ensure that they are not rendered obsolete.

For instance, it is predicted that 65% of new jobs in the world have not yet been created. Moreover, job requirements are moving from linear repetitive tasks to non-linear, multi-dimensional task requiring a host of different skills. In this scenario, focusing on specific vocations might mean a grim outcome for these young people if those jobs become redundant in the future due to automation.

Hence, an investment and focus on Life Skills will help young people develop the agency and resilience to re-invent themselves in a fast-changing, complex and unpredictable job scenario and continue to thrive.

As I think about how young people are preparing for this new world, I am reminded of a young person who graduated from our programme a few years back. He anticipated this future and worked on developing multiple skills. Today, he works as a Life Skills Facilitator, a Gender Expert Trainer, a Rugby Player and a Rugby Coach. All diverse jobs requiring diverse skill-sets. It was Life Skills that helped him thrive and succeed in each of his career choices and continuing to help him expand his basket of skills. He is geared up for the new world. He is adaptive, resilient and creative. He has self-belief and can reinvent himself in a changing world scenario. Today, he is definitely moving his family out of the vicious cycle of poverty while also having the resilience and agency to face the future with confidence.


To know more about Dream a Dream Life Skills Assessment Scale, explore the innovation page.

Vishal Talreja