Closing the Skills Development Gap for Women’s Empowerment

By Anu Jain and Ahmad Bari

As India has become one of the youngest nations in the world, with a median age of 28, the global community has hailed the country’s youth as the most beneficial demographic dividend today. Recognizing that a younger workforce translates to faster economic development, the Indian government has accelerated spending on skills development initiatives and employability training. Especially for women, the government has played a crucial role in creating instruments that enable women to become empowered.

Alongside the positive action adopted for vocational trainings, the National Policy for Skills Development and Entrepreneurship, 2015 has also paved the way for creating more places for women and mainstreaming gender in the provision of skills development content. To promote entrepreneurship and skills development among MSMEs, the government has increased expenditure from Rs 556 crores in FY 2021-22 to Rs 718 crores in FY 2022-23 while cutting around 25,000 compliances for women’s high governance. The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 is also a step in the right direction with the latest term of the National Curriculum Framework being a stepping stone towards holistic school education and entrepreneurship.

However, despite increased prioritization via progressive regulations and increased spending, women’s participation in the Indian economy is absent. The Labor Force Participation Rate study shows that the presence of women in the labor force has consistently varied from 18% to 21% between 2017 and 2021. In 2021, India hit an all-time low with only 23 % of country’s skilled workforce participating in formal employment. Even though progressive actions are observed, marked differences in the uptake of skills development programs among men and women still prevail. For example, national vocational training institutes for women only offer 21 courses, while generalist ITIs, where men predominate, offer 153. Even among the 21, stereotypical courses in female occupations, such as cosmetology , fashion design or interior design predominate. . Finally, female enrollment remains low despite growth from 6% in 2014 to 21% in 2018.

In this context, if half of the country’s population does not actively participate in growth, the demographic advantage will remain latent.

Why are there not enough women in the labor market?

India faces unique yet multi-faceted challenges regarding the negligible representation of women in the economy. The government has increased spending on women’s literacy by 11% through campaigns such as Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao and gender mainstreaming in the 2022 budget. through effective employment. While continuous measures have been taken to ensure a higher rate of primary, secondary and higher education for girls, on the contrary, there is a huge proportion of female graduates who are unemployed.

Stereotypical gender bias and lack of formal work for women, among other ills, disadvantage women in accessing employment. A major factor is the time spent by women in unpaid care and domestic work. While men spend an average of 2.5% of their time doing care and domestic chores, women spend up to 25% of their time doing the same1. Most women in India work in low-paying jobs with no social protection or job security. Especially among rural women, limited access to resources, lower levels of education and deeply entrenched gender norms confine them to lower-paying jobs with few prospects for skills development and training.

It is well known that skills development programs and awareness of non-traditional occupations have the potential to solve the unemployment puzzle. Skills development plays an empowering role in creating livelihoods, sustenance and scaling up women-centered jobs and women-led businesses. Skills development not only helps with this, but also creates better agency, digital and financial literacy, while building leadership. Thus, there is a need to create and integrate measures through various stakeholders to enable women entrepreneurs and stimulate uptake of skills development programs.

What more should be done?

First, with the Industry 4.0 revolution, it has become extremely important for women to keep up with technology and the future of work. The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the digital access gap for women, with only 25% of women owning a mobile phone compared to 41% of men. Without access to smartphones and the internet, India would have lost the opportunity to capitalize on its female demographics. The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed technological advancements and new ways of working, causing employees to adapt to new roles and work models. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 14% of the global workforce is expected to change jobs or learn new skills by 2030 due to automation and artificial intelligence. So, creating technologies and solutions that increase opportunities for women to access new skills and go “online” will result in better scenarios for women recovering from COVID-19.

Second, organizations like EdelGive and Barefoot College International are playing a huge role in bridging this skills gap by offering courses like ENRICHE training to enable the development of life skills, financial and digital skills for rural entrepreneurs. Thus, additional spending by the Indian government and other stakeholders should focus on promoting women’s empowerment. A hub and spoke model, as in the case of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra, can be adopted in rural areas and villages to create last-mile connectivity to skills development among women on the periphery of society. Additionally, fee-based skills development courses are to be subsidized by the Indian government, to enable greater adoption of industry-led vocational training for women. The focus on instilling leadership and financial literacy as skills will also ensure empowerment.


Women and girls are among the most powerful agents of change in the global drive to achieve most of the SDG goals. Supporting women in mobilizing their potential leads to a positive impact created by these vectors of change and has a multiplier effect on generations to come. A direct result of skills development is women’s financial independence and access to entrepreneurship, which results in 100% agency and confidence. Thus, the overall success of these interventions depends on how we address the visible and often invisible socio-cultural influences embedded in a woman’s life course.

The authors are ENRICHE Director, Barefoot College International and Senior Women Empowerment Officer, EdelGive Foundation respectively.

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