These days, students, parents and academicians are in a dilemma. Why, you ask? Two words: bulk placements. In 2016 and 2017, there was reportedly a 15-35% decrease in the placement of engineering, IT and management graduates.
There are two reasons for this shift. First is the unprecedented speed with which technology has entered people’s lives and businesses in the last decade. With data sciences, artificial intelligence, machine learning and e-commerce, human intervention for standard, repetitive, intuitive or operational work is reducing. It doesn’t, however, mean that there are not enough jobs.
What it means is that organisations now need people who can think, ideate, problem-solve, communicate and collaborate beyond what machines can do, i.e. skill-oriented people. Second is that the students today are beginning to get concerned about their future because most educational institutions have not been able to stay updated and develop essential skills of their students.
In such a situation, what is the role of educational institutions in preparing students for their transition into the real world? What should students and their parents keep in mind when selecting an institution to pursue higher education?
Not just placements...
It is important to understand that placing students in that first job is not preparing them to succeed and excel in their careers. The placement cells in colleges must shape the students into employees that companies would desire to hire. It is more than the number of courses taught and papers answered by them. Getting a job is important, of course, so is being able to get the right opportunities. That apart, the students need to meet the industry standards and requirements.
Recently, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) reported that only seven per cent of Indian management graduates, outside of the top 20 institutions, are employable and the numbers are similar or worse for IT and engineering graduates.
This happens because we see placements as a task, not a process. Let us compare this process to that of product development. To mitigate the risk of an unsuccessful product, we brainstorm, evaluate the market, analyse consumer needs, prototype and test before we finally launch. Therefore, if we do the same to students, we are bound to have better results. It is imperative that we visualise the end product, the student, and work backwards to provide room for application, experimentation and practice.
Thereby, a new brand of assistance has been developed, and some institutions have shifted from placements to career services. They are focusing on this new brand that provides holistic development and guidance versus just placement.
With the IT boom in the past decade, students from mechanical, chemical, electrical or any other specialisation found themselves in IT jobs. The narrative was simple — take it or leave it. Now, this was after spending lakhs of rupees on their degrees. As a result, we don’t just have a nation of unemployable but also unhappy youth.
One size doesn’t fit all
Different students have different strengths and areas of interests. They are interested in jobs, further studies, fellowships, scholarship programmes, entrepreneurship and so on. It is important that institutions work to identify and map these interests and strengths progressively throughout their journey and look for areas where they can work with passion and drive. The career services teams in many cutting-edge institutions are, therefore, working with students to explore and customise job, entrepreneurship or higher education opportunities.
Crash courses on placement preparation in the final year or semester of the course are neither enough nor sustainable. Learning is a process and building the ‘product’ begins at the beginning, right from when they are inducted. Building on skills should be strategically divided across their degree programme and provide them with the opportunity to apply the learning.
Institutions must be aware that the experiences we can provide with the available knowledge resources are limited. The exposure can be broadened by greater interface with the real world of work experience through guest sessions, visiting faculty, longer internships, live projects, mentors and many more channels. It not only inspires them but also exposes them to see outside the safe bubble of their campus.
(The author is with JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur)