Service Sector Employment:
Structure, Trends and Implications

The process of economic growth is accompanied by reallocation of economic activities across three broad sectors - agriculture, manufacturing, and services. As a country achieves higher growth, the labour and other resources move from agriculture to manufacturing and then to services. This has been the historical experiences of the developed countries as well as newly developed East Asian ones, many of whom are now turned into services dominated economies. However, India and several other developing countries, mostly in South Asia and Africa, have not followed this historical trajectory - the growth process in such economies has been from agriculture to services and manufacturing remains a small sector. According to several economists and experts, this process has led to distorted growth patterns and stunted processes of structural transformation. But some other scholars have pointed out that this growth process is a unique one and should not be discarded because it has not followed the historical experiences of developed countries. It is also pointed out that due to technological changes, services now encompass several important manufacturing components and vice versa. In the era of globalization, the pace and direction of development processes of the developing countries is determined by the advanced countries due to linkages in trade, technology, investment, and global value chains. Notwithstanding the debate, undoubtedly the services sector, both in terms of GDP and employment, has occupied a centre stage in most of the countries. The sector is often considered the backbone of the modern economy and encompasses a broad range of industries from healthcare and education to retail and hospitality. This sector’s structure is diverse, with employment ranging from high-skilled professional roles to low-skilled informal low wage entry-level jobs. Thus, understanding the nuances of service sector employment is crucial for policymakers, businesses, and workers alike as they navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by this vital part of the economy.

India’s service sector is highly diverse and stands as a vibrant engine of the economy, contributing significantly to GDP and employment. It spans from IT and telecommunications to hospitality, finance, household and healthcare, each with varying levels of skill requirements and growth prospects. It also includes a large number of low paid workers such as domestic workers, petty business owners with extremely low levels of capital such as street vendors, low paid and overworked guards in different offices and establishments. In a country marked by its demographic advantage, the sector not only harnesses but also shapes the youthful workforce’s aspirations. The rapid expansion of digital infrastructure has further fueled the sector’s diversity and reach, necessitating an in-depth examination of its evolving structure. Addressing the complexities of this sector is paramount for India as it holds the potential to propel the country into the next stage of socio-economic development.

The service sector has seen significant transformation over the past decades, driven by technological advancement, globalization, and changing consumer expectations. One major trend is the increasing adoption of technology, which has led to automation of routine tasks and transformation of customer service delivery. For instance, online platforms have revolutionized retail and hospitality, while tele- medicine and online education are becoming more common in healthcare and academics.

Another key trend is the increasing trade in services, export of service sector manpower and globalization of services due to change in IT and communications. India has a large share in global IT services which also forms a significant share of the country’s exports. Further, due to the demographics in developed countries, export of manpower to meet the shortages in education, health, and the care economy is becoming increasingly important. Also, with the rise of the internet and digital communication tools, many service jobs can now be performed from virtually anywhere in the world. This has led to offshoring of certain service roles, particularly in sectors like customer service and IT support. However, it also opens international markets for sectors previously constrained by geographical boundaries, such as consulting and financial services. Automation and artificial intelligence have a capacity to create new jobs but have the danger of replacing low skill to medium level skilled repetitive jobs.

Despite these opportunities, the service sector faces significant challenges. Job quality varies widely, with many positions characterized by low wages, limited benefits, and precarious employment conditions. This is particularly pronounced in sectors like retail and hospitality, where part-time and temporary contracts are common. Additionally, the sector is often marked by a lack of career progression opportunities, especially for lower-skilled workers, which can lead to economic disparities and social stratification.

The gender implications of an expanding service sector are proving to be profound. Women are finding new avenues of employment in a number of sectors such as health, education, hospitality, beauty industry and tourism. This is leading to an uptick in women’s participation in urban areas. On the other hand this is also leading to segmentation and, further, women are also getting employed on low end jobs such as in household services and low-skilled and home-based manufacturing.

One of the most pressing issues is the need for upskilling and reskilling workers in the service sector. As automation and artificial intelligence become more prevalent, many traditional service roles are being redefined or displaced. There is a critical need for ongoing training and education to help workers transition to new roles or improve their skills within their current roles, particularly in fast- evolving fields like IT and healthcare. Employment conditions in the service sector also have significant implications for social equality and mobility. Jobs that offer poor wages and little security contribute to economic inequality and can hinder social mobility. The regulatory mechanism is increasingly becoming weak both in the public and private sectors. This has impacted on household savings, upward mobility and capacity to consume services and in turn may impact on the long run growth of the economy and labour absorption.

Select Issues/Questions for the Prospective Paper Contributors
  •  In some developing countries such as India where the transformation has been marked from agriculture to services leaving manufacturing behind, is the growth process unique and sustainable? Can such a growth process lead to the creation of decent employment and inclusive development?
  •  How the services sector differs across regions and countries in terms of GDP and employment? What are the implications of differences across occupation within the sector?
  •  What are the ramifications and future of service sector exports, and export of service sector manpower?
  •  What are the effects of globalization on service sector jobs in developed versus developing countries?
  •  In view of the high preponderance of employment share in informal economy, including in some developed countries, does the services sector offer decent employment? How does it contribute to economic inequality?
  •  What are the gender implications for expanding service sector employment?
  •  How is digital transformation impacting the structure of employment in the service sector?
  •  What are the implications of the gig economy for traditional employment in the service sector?
  •  What are the social implications of precarious employment in the service sector?
  •  What role does the service sector play in social mobility?
  •  How do regulatory changes affect service sector employment and business models?
  •  What regulatory frameworks are needed to improve work conditions in India’s service industries?
  •  How can technology be used to improve social security, job safety and skill development in the service sector?
  •  What are the environmental impacts of the expanding service sector?
  •  How do changes in consumer behavior impact employment in the service sector?
  •  What are the most significant barriers to entry for new workers in the service sector?
  •  What are the main challenges faced by service sector employees in India’s tier 2 and tier 3 cities? How does the structure of the service sector vary between India’s urban and rural areas?
  •  How can India’s educational system be aligned more closely with the needs of the service sector?
  •  What is the impact of foreign direct investment on employment trends in India’s service sector?
  •  What measures can increase job security and quality for low-wage service workers in India?
  •  What are the career progression barriers for women in the Indian service sector?
  •  What is the impact of new technologies on services sector employment and income distribution?
  •  Why the patterns of services employment differ across countries and stages of development over time.
The guidelines on the conference themes are suggestive only. The prospective paper writers may contribute on other relevant subthemes as well. Apart from contributions on India, papers relating to other regions and countries are also welcome. Papers can be from different theoretical perspectives, as can be the use of different empirical methodologies (e.g. quantitative, qualitative, case-oriented or mixed). Submission of original work that contributes to the advancement of existing knowledge and debates on the topic are encouraged.