New Delhi: Three in five women surveyed in urban Delhi and Bengaluru said they do not have the skills required to get a well-paying, steady job. Further, 57% said they do not have adequate skills necessary for job interviews, and half of all the women surveyed said they do not know how to prepare a resume.

The survey, which included 1,560 women in the 18- to 35-year age group, was conducted in 2023-24 by the Digital Platforms and Women’s Economic Empowerment (DP-WEE) Project housed at IFMR-LEAD and the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI Delhi), and delves into the landscape of women’s skilling and employment.

In 2023, India ranked 127th of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, and a lower 142 on women’s economic participation and opportunities. This is echoed by the country’s female labour force participation rate (37.0%), which is more than 40 percentage points lower than men’s (78.5%), according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2022-23.

Women stay out of or drop out from the labourforce owing to the domestic work burden, social norms, low demand for women’s labour and a lack of ‘good’ jobs, particularly in urban areas, as IndiaSpend reported previously in this award-winning series, Women@Work. With the structural shift of India’s economy away from the agricultural sector, the key to generating jobs lies in the manufacturing and services sectors. But a significant factor contributing to the low demand for women’s labour in the emerging workforce is the absence of requisite vocational skills in women.

Gender gaps in skill acquisition are real

The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has undertaken several initiatives to increase women’s participation in skill development. There are approximately 15,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in India that provide various skilling programmes, in which 30% of seats are reserved for women. Additionally, 33 National Skill Training Institutes (NSTIs) have been established, exclusively catering to vocational training for women. The Deen Dayal Upadhyaya-Grameen Kaushalaya Yojana (DDU-GKY), a placement-linked skill development programme for rural youth, also reserves 33% of its seats for women.

Besides these various other government initiatives, including Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), which is a flagship scheme by MSDE, target the participation of women in short-term vocational training.

However, despite these initiatives, there remains a considerable gender gap in the domain of vocational training, revealing a striking difference in skill acquisition between men and women. In 2022-23, 36.1% of men and 18.6% of women aged 18-59 had ever received vocational training and this gap has increased over the years. Only 7% of skill trainees were women candidates in 2021 despite 17% ITIs being women-only. Furthermore, poor industry links result in a low job placement rate. Few high-graded ITIs have a placement rate of more than 80%, but middle and low-graded ITIs have placement rates between 20-60% only.

Beyond these gaps, common gender stereotypes shape the landscape of skill acquisition. Women generally acquire skills in fields such as beauty, textiles, office-related clerical work, and healthcare, whereas men are directed toward fields such as electronics, mechanical and civil engineering, and the automotive industry, where average earnings are usually higher. The DP-WEE study delves into this pattern, revealing that 30.2% of skilled women aged 18 to 35 years primarily acquire skills in beauty-related sectors, followed by tailoring at 21.5%.

Two factors contribute to this phenomenon. Firstly, women go for skilling in traditional sectors due to traditional gender roles and ‘notions’ of women’s work associated with household work and caregiving. Additionally, discrimination by employers, which demands male labour in non-traditional sectors, further influences these choices, we found.

Skilling can enhance opportunities, quality of employment

Skill development can be a transforming force, boosting women's professional trajectories and economic independence. Skilling can provide women with broader occupational choices and expand their work opportunities. First, skilling (either formal or informal) lowers the gender gap in employment, according to data from the PLFS (See chart below).

Our survey data also show that there is an 8.3-percentage-point gap in employment between skilled and unskilled women.

Second, skilling enhances the opportunities for women to get salaried jobs, which are more likely to be in the formal sector and are less precarious.

Can skilling enhance women’s earnings as well? Conditional on working, skilled women are making 27% higher monthly earnings than those women who have no skill training, according to our survey data.

Re-engineering towards digital skills

In this digital era, where the landscape of employment is changing swiftly, there is a need to re-engineer the skills for the digital age. Digital skills have the potential to benefit women by allowing them to work remotely, through participation in the gig economy, and starting their own businesses online. Proficiency with digital technologies improves networking, simplifies job searches, and encourages ongoing professional development. Women who navigate online platforms and embrace digital literacy get access to a greater range of career options. The SWAYAM online portal started by the Union government also brings skilling and education to the doorstep of women.

Despite a tremendous increase in internet coverage in India, internet usage among Indian women remains significantly below that of women in lower-middle income regions. While women predominantly use the internet for entertainment, communication, and social media, their digital literacy and skills are notably poor. They struggle with basic tasks such as searching for jobs, writing, and sending emails.

Almost half the women surveyed report that they do not know how to write and send emails, how to search for jobs on digital/gig platforms, and how to create and use social media accounts for marketing skills, data from our study reveal. These findings, along with the recently released Annual Status Of Education Report 2023 on digital skills of rural adolescents (14 to 18 year olds), suggest that the digital gender gaps begin at young ages and get amplified over time. For instance, the report finds that 89% of young females can use a smartphone as opposed to 95% of young males. Also, 50% males have an email ID, whereas for females, this stands at slightly under 30%.

Challenges in skill acquisition by women

Despite significant efforts and accessible resources, women continue to face constraints in gaining fair access to vocational training. A variety of factors contribute to low enrollment, including a lack of awareness of skill programmes, geographical distance from skilling institutes, and a limited range of offered courses.

Even amongst women who do enroll in skilling, a significant contribution to their low skill acquisition is the high dropout rate of women. The most common reasons cited for dropouts are marriage while pursuing the course, lack of family support, and household responsibilities, anecdotal evidence from our survey data suggests. These reasons, dictated by prevailing social norms, underscore the need for a comprehensive approach to bolster women’s participation in skill training, together with improved digital access.

Policy implications

A policy thrust to increase enrolment and completion of skill training by women at the high school level (or before marriage) can significantly enhance their work opportunities and wage earnings. Incentivising young women to invest not only in traditional but also non-traditional skills geared towards sectors with higher earnings requires not only a change in social attitudes but also financial incentives (e.g. interest-free loans or conditional cash transfers) along with easing women’s physical mobility (e.g. investments in care economy to reduce the burden of domestic work, subsidised public transport) and digital access.

In addition, efforts should be focused on reducing the gender gap in digital skills in school curriculums so that adult women can take advantage of the changing job landscape, participate in the gig economy, and use online platforms.

We welcome feedback. Please write to We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.