One of the key focus areas that featured in most of the political manifestos of this Lok Sabha election was that of job creation. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) statistics on employment reflects the growing disappointment among educated urban youngsters (aged 15 to 29) over not finding jobs that match with their qualifications, but the corporate India stands at the other side of the divide.
Employing the unemployable
For several years now, corporate India has been suffering due to lack of employable candidates who otherwise possess the necessary academic qualifications. According to various industry studies, more than a million students are academically qualified to find employment in corporate India, however only around 10 percent are employable. That figure roughly translates to 100,000 employable students some of whom barely cross the line to be employable. Considering the IT sector throws open around 1,25,000 jobs for fresh graduates every year and another 1,50,000 by other sectors, we are left with a whopping 1,75,000 openings being filled up by candidates who lack employability skills. Corporates spend up to 6 – 9 months of a fresher’s salary on training and making them job ready.
Why does a phenomenon of educated but unemployable graduates prevail at such a large percentage in India? This can be understood better if we comprehend what employability is. It is the proficiency of an individual to combine knowledge with skills and abilities that will help him/her perform well in a job. Apart from the knowledge that they acquire at academic institutions, it includes the ability to communicate, solve problems and work in team, self-management, reliability and integrity. These are some abilities that are to be acquired through constant training and focused effort and not one-time ‘finishing school’ interventions.
Can anything be done to increase the 10 percent employability figure to bridge the availability gap?
In this context, it is important for academic institutions to formulate strategies to ensure that their students are efficiently employable before they leave their campuses. Consequently, corporates will see attractive cost and time benefits due to this approach and will collaborate with academic institutions.
Academic institutions only focus on imparting knowledge and this is what gets assessed in various exams. Hence students are tuned to perform better in knowledge assessments. However, when application of knowledge is tested by scientific instruments typically during recruitment process, they are often found wanting.
Today, a number of finishing schools are flourishing with the promise of preparing students to succeed at a job interview or crack a test. The ‘crash-courses’ they offer, approach employability at a superficial level. While they sometimes help students cross the line and get jobs, their inability to inculcate these employability skills for a longer period of time ensures that the façade falls down at the first instance of a challenging environment. A classic example is the entrance training ‘mills’ that help students crack the IIT entrance exam, but fail to prepare them for the rigours of the course itself. The effect is that there is a large percentage of students who fail to clear the examinations in the institutions that they join.
Move beyond the stop gap arrangement
Training for employability must go beyond such stop-gap arrangements. What is needed today is not a last minute scramble to clear tests, but a rather holistic approach of enabling students for employability. Every job requires aspirants with certain competencies that cannot be taught by a crash course. However, these competencies can be cultivated and developed through systematic long-term practice. Towards this end, a sustained programme to train students on developing their employability skills during the entire duration of their graduation is an appropriate solution to the challenge of unemployable manpower. The first step towards this solution is to identify the areas of development for students. It is this diagnosis that forms the crucial cornerstone on which the success of any subsequent interventions rests. With an accurate diagnosis, colleges can then proceed to choose solutions that support students through their course of study towards better employability. The other important aspect to monitor and ensure learning is an approach akin to academic fulfillment where regular assessments of improvements in employability skills are administered.
We have seen that while many students possess good academic scores, their ability to apply their knowledge are not satisfactory. For example, industry reports suggest that 84% of graduates lack the right levels in cognitive ability. About 90% lack required levels of English language communication skills. These are crucial skills for workplace success and can be readily addressed if the gaps are identified in time. A study that MeritTrac conducted also showed poor correlation between academic scores and scores on employability assessments.
Diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of students from an employability perspective should start at the beginning of the course and the arrangement should be a continuous process. Institutions can then decide on the interventions that would be required to improve areas of deficiency. For example, if large number of students are poor communicators (an imperative employability trait is the ability to communicate well), the college can initiate communication workshops, ensure that there are open channels of communication on campus, etc. In the second year, students can be tested for improvement. Those who have not improved can be trained further. When students are trained to improve their employability traits during the three or four years of graduation, they will be far more employable than if they were to attend a crash course.
An ideal diagnosis must not only let students know about their employability levels but must also reveal how suited they are for the career of their choice. It should identify the roles that will help them grow in their chosen field. For example, if an engineering student has a strong trait to be warm towards others, he could try out a profession that would club engineering and the ability to network, interact with people and lead teams. On the other hand, if an engineering student is very individualistic, he could choose to get into research and development or some other roles that require limited interpersonal interactions. As such, early determination of personal traits can help students channel their energies in the right path.
It is also important to choose the right organization for these assessments. A right partner is one that has no conflicting businesses like training. Such conflicts can dilute the quality of assessments and be a feeding ground for their training business.
Combine academics with workplace competency
Only when academic qualification is combined with appropriate workplace competencies, can a candidate be deemed employable. At the same time, self-awareness to identify one’s areas of interests is also critical in making the right career choices. It is high time the educational institutions and government woke up to this reality and develop comprehensive training systems that foster employability skills as much as scholastic ones. This alone can increase job creation rates in the country and diminish the gap that is widening by the day.