Indian universities produce millions of graduates every year, but only about 20% of them are absorbed into various industries. An unemployable workforce is at the core of India’s employment crisis.
The journey from education to employability is something that every stakeholder in society watches keenly. The primary stakeholders like fresh graduates and their parents eagerly wait for this day with a lot of dreams in their eyes. The industry wants a skilled workforce that can hit the ground running. The state exchequer wants more tax dollars in its coffers. The consumer market wants more purchasing power and the society at large wants productive and skilled contributors in this eternal journey of human progress.
By next year, India will emerge as the youngest country in the world, with a median age of 29 years. According to a recent survey by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management, an expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today’s evolving workplaces), millennials or the “Gen Y” will comprise 50% of India’s workforce by 2020, and by 2025, this percentage will increase to 75%. In order to reap the dividends of this demographic advantage, only having a young workforce is not enough. We must also evaluate the employability of these individuals. The unfortunate reality is that less than 25% of MBAs, 20% of engineers and 10% of all graduates in India are found to be employable. According to an ASSOCHAM report, only 20% of the five million fresh graduates every year get employed.
This transition from campus to office may not always be a very smooth one, primarily because of the gap between what the industry expects and what the academia dishes out. Many blue-chip corporates who recruit from campuses end up having to train new recruits for four to six months before putting them on the job. They try to finish the unfinished job of the academic institutions, of delivering productive resources. Many of them have even instituted tests for new trainees a few weeks into the training.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key points which may help in bridging the gap.
One must appreciate that life is an open-book exam. When you try to work on an assignment, you will have all theoretical knowledge at your disposal. Nobody will hire you for memorising them and replacing text books, as it doesn’t add any value. They will, however, want you as a part of the team and value your ability to apply those theories in real life situations to solve practical problems.
Open-book exams with simulation and case studies are the need of present times, so that the new age student clearly comes out of the habit of memorising “by heart” and instead, becomes adept in critical thinking to develop logical and analytical ability.
Conceptual clarity and understanding won’t take you very far unless you are able to express it in a lucid manner. Your ability to communicate exhibits confidence, objectivity and maturity of a 360-degree perspective. Traditional chalk and talk method and a “one size fits all” narrative that was started by Lord Macaulay in 1835 is not enough. Students rarely get customised mentoring and the space to grow as separate mature and confident individuals, and thus in most cases they are not even aware of their individual strengths and development needs. It’s time that we start respecting individuality and stop convenient clubbing based on age alone.
Improving PTR (pupil-teacher ratio) and focusing on skills like public speaking on random topics of interest, encouraging active participation in sports and cultural events, student exchange programmes, social work, festivals etc., may help in this regard. Academia needs to appreciate that it is their responsibility to deliver a pathway to holistic development.
It is high time that we stop underselling ourselves and take greater pride in who we are and what we represent. The objective of our education system cannot be only confined to create bookworms who can slog long hours to memorise the text. We need creative, confident and complete individuals who can carry the baton forward.
Getting the hang of the industry through internship; taking part in family business after college hours; taking up a summer job or trying your hand at any sort of entrepreneurial venture (irrespective of how small or big it is—even if it means setting up a food stall in your college fest) will expose you to real-life challenges and will also teach you how to deal with them. It is also important to rope in educators with industry experience in various academic institutes as full-time or part-time faculties. These people are expected to have a more practical and objective outlook towards the requirements of the industry and can help in mentoring and shaping young minds.
Most examinations are essentially structured in a manner to assess an individual student in terms of his knowledge on the syllabus and don’t assess her or him in terms of team building or group work skills. However, the moment a student steps out of the campus and walks into the professional phase of life, chances are that she or he will be part of a larger ecosystem.
The student (now a young professional) has to learn how to consider divergent views and conflicting interests into consideration and yet manage to keep the flock together to deliver year after year. Participation in team sports, cultural activities like group theatre, group discussions can help to a great extent.
It is very important to be able to manage and prioritise your task list. There cannot be any universally applicable formulae for this. It has to be based on a host of factors including the urgency involved, materiality factor, the source of the request etc.
If you lead an active student life wherein you have been able to have time to develop varied interests like music, sports, rock climbing, cooking or community service and yet manage to balance those priorities and do well in studies, then you would find it much easier to adapt to this. Smart work and not mere hard work is the need of the hour.
Other indispensable skills
As you move higher up the value chain in any organisation, you would find it increasingly important to develop and exhibit a sense of ownership, professionalism, out-of-the-box thinking, flexibility, a willingness to learn, a positive attitude etc.
While the current education system has gaps and challenges, one believes that things are bound to change for the better. It is only a matter of time before both fresh entrants to the workforce as well as mid level line managers will try to be better prepared by availing online digital courses. Leveraging available technology will help in honing their skills and also facilitate peer-to-peer learning. Students will become co-creators of knowledge.
Very often, we conveniently blame the government for high unemployment rate and disguised underemployment levels, without realising the fact that all of us—the academia, parents and civil society at large—have a role to play in creating a more confident and readily employable workforce.
The author is founder, Notebook, a digital learning portal