Tailor courses for employability

Moulding Education has to focus and offer sector-specific courses that would boost employability, says Ashwin Ajila

The country with the largest employable population in the world is ironically grappling with the problem of how to make its youth employable! Young people are pouring lakhs of rupees on getting a decent degree only to stare at long periods of unemployment after graduation.

 The corporate sector is spending millions of rupees on finding the right fit for jobs or re-skilling employees to suit their requirements, thus making the hiring process more expensive every year.

India, despite having one of the highest rates of GDP growth, with almost all its sectors showing promise and global majors setting up shop too, still has an estimated 75-100 million unemployed young people.  

Statistics classify about 460 million Indians as ‘young’ and an estimated 333 million as ‘literate.’ The country produces more than two million graduates and one million engineers, apart from so many other degree and diploma holders every year, and all ready to grab jobs, which are in plenty.

With the outsourcing deluge pervading almost every sector and manufacturing on a roll, studies say that the economy creates 1.5 million to 2 million jobs in the organized market alone. Let’s leave the unorganized sector untouched for now.
But industry reports have been reiterating the bad news: employability of educated youth is abysmally low, education is hopelessly out of sync with market needs and companies find their training budgets diverted more and more on re-skilling their new hires and making them ‘career-ready.’

Employability is commonly defined as the youth’s ability to effectively participate in a country’s workforce. And education has to impart skills and learning that would make them employable. This clearly indicates that education and employability are two unrelated concepts in this country.

Therefore the need of the hour is for the education sector to move with the changing times, become highly industry focused and offer sector-specific courses that would boost employability.

To demonstrate the education-employment mismatch, it would be worth looking at the experience of a gaming company that recently wanted to hire a mobile apps developer for the cricket season in February last year.

The company assumed that prospective candidates would understand cricket, understand gaming and even understand technology. What it really wanted was the young person to integrate all these skills and deliver them effectively from day one.
The search firm hired by the company spent almost two months on the mandate with no results.

Finally, the company hired an engineering graduate who had an aptitude for gaming and trained him for nearly three months before he was put on the job. The time and expense incurred on training was an inevitable cost. But if the country’s education system had anticipated the industry needs and readied this talent, the company’s hiring process would be simpler.

Preparing the young for future is successfully analyzing economic and technology trends and remodeling learning programmes to suit potential career needs.
This does not mean that you do away with conventional engineering, medical, management or other graduate programmes.

These are core courses for an economy and provide the framework for the country’s education system. But the hard reality is that employability reports give appalling numbers: only 21 per cent of our fresh MBAs, 18 per cent of graduating engineers and less than 10 per cent degree/diploma holders are seen as employable by industry. 

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), employability is the capacity and willingness of workers to remain attractive for the labour market by reacting to and anticipating changes in tasks and work environments.
Obviously, talent has not remained attractive to industry as key programmes have not kept pace with market needs. They have to infuse innovation in their curriculum, offer courses to fulfill current and future market needs, instead of offering archaic and run-off-the-mill disciplines.

Think of it. Would global luxury retail major rather hire an MBA in marketing (conventional) or an MBA who has specialized in luxury marketing? An online retailer would grab a digital marketing graduate rather than hire an MBA in sales and train him or her for the job.

Financial services companies are looking at specializations like wealth management, derivative securities and international financial management. Similarly, IT companies are looking at expertise in domain skills in IT security, cloud computing and infrastructure management.

It’s time for universities and other educational institutions to relook at their offerings in the context of changing needs of the industry. In addition to deep domain knowledge, the globalised economy also requires students to develop soft skills like effective communication, problem solving and time management.

Obstacles on the path would be lack of qualified academicians who can mould career-ready students. This situation also calls for a highly interactive industry whose needs the academia has to fulfill.  We need a new breed of education-entrepreneurs who can help bridge the gap between academia and industry.

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