Benjamin Franklin said “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. This has resonated well with people who assume that a university degree is symbolic to higher learning and is an epitome of knowledge. People think this would work as pathway guiding them to their careers, however, reality seems a bit different. Today’s graduates are entering a buoyant and a fiercely competitive job market and this can be marked by the ever evolving trends such as automation, digitalisation, use of AI and VR in various job profiles. Unfortunately, in this progressing era with the rising fees combined with shrinking returns, banking on universities only as good investment has become a question mark.
There should be nothing alien in the idea of an engineer doing an administrative job in the service industry or an arts student going into retail sales. Several empirical evidences suggest that employers are recruiting graduates for jobs outside their specialisms - if we assume that particular subjects lead to particular jobs, too many students will be made to believe that the choices made by them at the ages of 16 and 18 will define their career path for the rest of their lives. Except for medicine and its allied professions, most career paths do not have strictly cut out specifications.
Today, there are uncertainties about what career one can pursue with a degree. Employers want graduates to be better prepared for the workplace. Therefore, the implications for universities are clear: create graduates who are agile, have a solid understanding of how the industry functions and prepare them for constant change such as moving jobs and sectors. The way employability is currently measured puts too much emphasis on a university’s ability to get graduates employed in accordance with the discipline of their degree. The focus should rather be on building the foundation for a career than finding them a job. A better interpretation of career paths and the exchange of this knowledge between universities and businesses would place the higher education sector in a better position to tackle this issue.
Creating skilling programs is one way to do this, but building the structure of a program without the intervention of employers, this would again end up being a redundant program that gives you a university endorsed certificate but not a job that will help you to kick start a career. As of now most of the universities and corporates are working in silos. They both need each other in the end but throughout the journey there is no amalgamation between the two and hence at the end of the degree program the graduates have degrees but no industry knowledge to use at work.
Employers are not seeking changes in higher education as this may result in the risk of losing specialist knowledge. However they want educators to pay more attention the skill sets that are required by different sectors for eg. Analytical skills, soft communication skills, problem solving skills etc. Several surveys have shown that, in India, more than half of the freshly-minted MBAs and engineers are “not employable”; they may have the knowledge required but not the skill set the employer is looking for. Students need better career advice that will help them define their skills and attributes – and also help them understand how these match for different career options. Students also need help finding out which skills they’ll need to enter certain industries – particularly in sectors that aren’t good at diversifying their recruitment, or when they have no family or social network of contacts to call on for help and advice.
Education administrators often complain of a skill gap, but graduates face an “experience gap” because employers prefer to recruit young people who have spent a couple of years in the industry rather than fresh recruits from universities. Universities must accommodate some attributes of University 4.0 that recognises employability as an important objective and brings in flexibility through equivalence for learning, be it on-campus, online, on-job or on-site.
The world has not yet cracked the recipe of education to employment but the ingredients for success are becoming increasingly clear. We need all hands on deck including education providers, employers, government, youth and parents working together in different ways to be able to find a solution. Enabling students to have the upper hand after graduation is time and effort well spent.