Article: Bridging the Gap: Education vs Skills Debate


Bridging the Gap: Education vs Skills Debate

There is an urgent need to redefine the role of institutions; otherwise we will continue to see poor quality talent output as well as a drain on investment
Bridging the Gap: Education vs Skills Debate

‘Empowerment' and ‘stewardship'- models of leadership taught ‘revolution to the ruling class' to make organisations full of meaning


Requirements of skills in the organised and unorganised sectors and skill development initiatives in the rural and urban locations call for different approaches


There is an urgent need to redefine the role of institutions; otherwise we will continue to see poor quality talent output as well as a drain on investment.

Over the last decade, we have added 100 universities, 15000 professional colleges and 100,000 additional seats in higher education. However, the employability of the students overall is very low, particularly those coming out of professional programmes is a matter of concern. According to NASSCOM-Mckinsey Report 2009, the percentage of freshers who are employable by the industry is just around 30%. This trend continues to be such over the last 5 years. What are the inferences we are gaining from this trend:

  • The industry is spending a huge amount of time and money in repair and rework of talent in order to make them productive in their organizations
  • The understanding of educational institutions about the industry requirements is sketchy
  • The expectations of the industry and exposure to various career options based on students’ potential is low amongst the student community
  • Teaching competencies and access to right content/curriculum frameworks have to improve substantially
  • There have to be closer linkages between corporates and educational institutions and innovative education models to meet the requirements of the industry

How do we overcome the challenges of skills gap?

Firstly, it is unreasonable to expect educational institutions to deliver on the skills requirements. ‘Education’ should lead to strong conceptual clarity and provide a framework for developing the individual in a holistic manner. Whereas ‘skills’ relate to the specific requirements of the role expected to be performed. Education could be a pre-requisite for this to develop the individual such that he/she is capable of learning appropriate skills as required to make him/her employable. What this means is that universities and colleges should focus on providing excellent foundation for education and leave the responsibility of ‘skilling’ to employers or other intermediate agencies specialized in this activity. In this era of specialization and focus, clear expectation setting and delivering on the respective promises are extremely important to build a quality talent pool for the country.

It has been assumed that creation of new universities and colleges aimed at professional education would automatically lead to employability. Unfortunately that has not been the reality and many new colleges set up in the recent past without a clear strategy for sound educational processes have experienced challenges in placement translating to meager student enrolments in subsequent years. Some of the institutions established in the past have had the natural advantage of attracting quality talent who are also the target for the corporate sector leading to the mutual match. However there is an urgent need to redefine the roles and expectations of institutions other wise we would continue to see poor quality talent output as well as a drain on the investment and resources committed to the educational institutions.

There is also a dire need to rethink the educational framework existing in the country and developing bold strategies for qualifications commensurate with expected outcomes. For instance, instead of creating more seats in Engineering and IT colleges with students not being found fit for employment, we should consider new learning paths after school education that would lead to skilling and commensurate qualifications from new models of educational entities. These qualifications together with the work experience should be credit bearing and translate into formal university level qualifications over a period of time. This kind of approach would not only set the expectations right with all concerned but would also provide the necessary balance in the talent ecosystem. The Associate Degree framework developed by IGNOU for community colleges is a good example for this.

Corporates who are engulfed with the immediate priority to scale and meet the requirements for talent to meet the business demands at hand have been able to think and act mostly from the short term perspective. While this is certainly important and is quite an obvious need for business survival, long term strategy is equally important to bring down the costs and also to ensure relevant talent pool is available in a sustainable mode. Hence active engagements with the educational institutions and participation in debates on the educational reforms required to develop the talent pool for the nation would be critical.

The successful ‘German Dual Model’ which has propelled Germany into the top slot for highly skilled human resources should be emulated by India. By committing to this model of enabling students to ‘learn and practice’ in a systematically fashioned program, corporates would benefit a great deal by actively embracing this model and which would lead to unique possibilities for talent acquisition and business development.

Differentiated Skill Development Strategy

Requirements of skills in the organized and unorganized sectors and skill development initiatives in the rural and urban locations call for different approaches. There should be a special dispensation for encouraging private sector investment particularly in skill development in the rural areas. Often times there is impetus for training in areas where immediate shortage is envisaged or absence of skills is experienced leaving out those areas which if triggered, could lead to creation of whole new economic possibilities. The case in point is the unique technology skills required in giving a new lease of life to areas such as arts and crafts which could lead to a whole new business opportunity by itself. A separate fund should be created to support such initiatives which may have long gestation periods for returns but in the long run would help in reengineering the business model for such professions and help nurture entrepreneurship in a successful manner.

Integrated Approach for Skill Development

While individual attention to the various related dimensions of employment generation is necessary, in order to bring about the real transformation, an integrated approach to skills transformation needs to be adopted involving multiple agencies engaged with talent assessment, development and certification. Current private-public collaborative models have had limited successes with respect to adopting it is. Private-public collaboration with predefined end goals and commitment of minimum financial returns would attract several private sector organizations to participate in larger numbers.

Just as the Chinese model that propelled the country to become the world capital for manufacturing, at every district, the integrated model should also include deployment of such talent in small and medium scale ventures to be set up with funding support, thereby ensuring minimal migration of labour in search of jobs to the cities. In order to deliver ‘quality with scale’ in the shortest possible time, investments in technology is a must and provisions should be made to subsidise such efforts with the view to own/part own intellectual property developed and deliver large scale talent development programmes. In a nutshell, Skills Transformation initiative should be pursued with a holistic approach that would enable the eco system to be developed to create a sustainable employment potential.

Dr.Uma Ganesh, CEO, Global Talent Track Ltd.,

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Topics: Skilling, Learning & Development

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