Combining academics with workforce skills

Combining academics with workforce skills

Combining academics with workforce skills

A rich, much-travelling businessman and his wife had a brood of young children. Unable to contribute as a father, thanks to his constant travelling, the businessman told his wife to take full charge of educating and raising the children until they became 21, at which point he would induct them into his various enterprises. Years passed, and the first child came of age. The father interviewed him, eager to hand off some reins to him. After the interview, he came storming back home to talk to his wife. “What have you done with them? They don’t know anything even remotely of value to me,” he ranted. “Just the best I could, sitting at home,” retorted his wife.

None of us, in our right minds, would endorse this style of parenting – we would dismiss it as paternalistic, chauvinist, short-sighted, or even absurd. How, then, are we so sanguine about our higher education model today? I say this because, in the anecdote above, if you replace the father with industry and the mother with academic institutions, you have the embodiment of the crisis our youth face today. A host of studies show some important qualities missing in young professionals. The most significant are:

Solving problems without constant handholding.
Effective teamwork and empathetic leadership.
Excellence in delivery
Learning new skills
Let us look at the germinal causes and remedies for each of these.

Problem-solving attitude
Examinations are still rudimentary in nature, focusing on the what, where and when instead of the truly important why and how. Academicians must integrate real-life industry problems into coursework. Some suggestions:

Presentation of real industry cases by industry professionals.

Open-ended team projects requiring development of multi-dimensional practical solutions.

Open-book exams with questions based on application and solution design. Encouraging thoroughness of approach proportionately to actual solutions.
Apart from developing the right attitude, this approach has the additional benefit of giving students a context to what they are learning.

Instilling a global outlook
In recent years, the explosion of coaching has obviated most disciplines apart from Science and Maths. This attitude of misplaced focus has resulted in uni-dimensional graduates. Top organisations require people who can meld confidently into the global workforce. It’s time for colleges to insist on multidimensional growth by:

Offering applied courses in subjects like History, Politics and Public policy

Build a culture of quizzing, debating and similar activities.

Hold open sessions with renowned literary and public figures.

Learning and growing together
Until a student receives his degree, every classmate is a potential usurper of his primacy. Yet, the moment he enters his workplace, he is part of a team, one that will be evaluated collectively. It is little wonder then that the unlearning curve towards teamwork is so demanding! To ensure a smooth transition, institutions must:

Enforce group projects with collective evaluation.
Practise group testing wherever possible.
Provide ample fieldwork opportunities.
Promote a vibrant extracurricular calendar, including hosting college fests and chances for contingents to represent the college at other fests regularly.

Pursuing excellence
Too often in life, a familiar environment condones lapses. Even in colleges where there is emphasis on project work, the evaluation is done by familiar faces who are semi-committed to taking this seriously. With this laissez-faire approach, is it any wonder the graduates bring their lax standards to the workplace? To remedy this:

Have solid feedback mechanisms on internships.
Have practical projects evaluated by industry professionals.
Get professionals to craft projects that have industry relevance.

Never say enough
What you see is what you learn. Progressive organisations expect employees to continuously pick up new skills. This, more than a skill, is an attitude – one that should be built robustly in college. But a majority of colleges fail miserably in this aspect. To change this culture:

Ensure that faculty are regularly upgrading their skills.

Review study material annually and ensure that every possible source is used well.
Acquire and imbibe industry inputs into programme curricula.

Organise short workshops on latest trends and technologies.

Such exposure will ensure that students develop a tacit understanding of the continuity of knowledge acquisition. In summation, college is a laboratory of life. Young minds enter it hoping to be inspired and challenged. In acknowledgement of this very enormity, it is time for academia and industry to emerge from their silos. For all the talk of a new India, nothing lasting will ever materialise unless the stakeholders in power act in consort.

(The author is with Great Lakes International University)