New Delhi, August 06, 2018: Over 350 million children attend some educational institution. What drives them to school is the hope that education will open doors to a better life. While huge efforts are being made in the field of education — several government, state and private educational initiatives, the Right to Education Act, the National Skill Development Mission, increasing allocations for education and so on — 70 per cent of our educated youth remain unemployable, while the skills deficit rises to almost 90 per cent in professional courses.
The problem is not just a matter of raising literacy levels and of ensuring a wider educational experience based on learning and knowledge, but a complex web of social and economic issues relating to societal pressure, inadequate infrastructure, poor quality of teachers, outdated syllabus, and much else. It is also one that requires a thorough transformation of the higher education system and a reorientation and reassessment of all academic programmes so as to enable students to develop skills that have economic value content beyond the specialised knowledge and expertise, to function effectively in a dynamic and technologically enabled global workplace according to reports published in indiatoday.in
The gap in skills training is enormous — problem-solving skills, logical reasoning, language comprehension, general knowledge and data interpretation. Life skills needed to enter the world of work are totally missing from our curriculum. Schools have become marks-generating factories. Soft skills are an important requirement in todays job industry, but they are routinely ignored in educational institutes.
A few simple ways to build soft skills:
- Problem-solving exercises could be applied to everyday situations in school/ college
- Language learning could be tested for spoken and listening skills
- The use of English, in particular, can be incentivised in schools and colleges
- Extra-curricular activities can be encouraged to generate broad knowledge across domains as well as social and interpersonal skills
The disconnect between education and industry is another important aspect. Broadly speaking, employers look for a mix of aptitude, language, personality and domain skills for various roles in their organisations. If an IT major like Infosys hiring computer science engineers from top institutes still needs to put them through months of industry training, it is not surprising that many MNCs find qualified graduates unemployable. Let alone professional qualifications, even students of commerce or management fall weak in the theoretical and conceptual knowledge of their domain.
Undergraduate courses have not changed for years and students who need to keep pace with a dynamic economic world hurtling ahead are forced to study syllabuses that have been deep frozen for decades. Since technology is transforming the workplace, requiring greater technical skills for a growing number of jobs, there is a need to reorient the academic programmes to help students develop necessary skills and expertise to function effectively.
Therefore, course revision is essential, with a focus on product development, project work , research, etc. and stronger connections with industry to enable not only the effective transfer of innovative technologies and product concepts, but one which can also translate into jobs and greater synergies between education and the job market.
Few educational programmes incorporate internship into the curriculum, and commercial organisations shirk their responsibility in exposing students to the workplace. Work experience can be very valuable in helping students obtain the right vocation orientation. This would also enhance the marketability of the educational programmes. Practical application of learning through work experience is critical for a candidates exposure. Companies need to collaborate with academic institutions and view higher education institutions as stakeholders. Regular student internship programmes in companies should be made mandatory. It could be a win-win situation for all — graduating students with paid or unpaid internships get an opportunity to test drive a career and acquire new skills while the interested companies get to assess the services of trained individuals without having to make a hiring commitment.
Slipping standards and low academic outcomes are another factor in poor employability. The governments attempt to provide higher education for larger and larger numbers — 42 million students to be enrolled in higher education by 2020, a 30 per cent increase from 2014-15 — has seen education standards slide in general. We have been lowering the bar every year to admit as many students as possible into the system. It is a quick and easy solution to higher enrolment figures, instead of boosting educational standards from primary school upwards, which can enable even the academic and economically weaker access top institutions and courses.
Some tips to boost employability:
- Along with studies, find out ways to brush up your vocational and cognitive skills, particularly written and verbal communication. You can start by formalising your messages from WhatsApp and Snapchat to regular written content
- Read newspapers and browse the internet to update your knowledge about the profession you are interested in
- Be tech-savvy — everyone needs to keep abreast of IT advances, as they will shape jobs and organisations
- Learn a new language — bilingual employees have a definite advantage
- Whenever possible, participate in college activities and be a part of the organising committee for events. These initiatives will teach you values of team work, leadership skills, communication skills. Indulge in projects that go beyond classroom education
- Take up a summer internship while you are still studying so that you get hands-on experience of the workings of an industry. This will be taken into account by your hiring manager and will give you an edge over other candidates
- Education doesn’t stop once you start working. Ongoing training and constant updating of futuristic skills will build a portfolio of strengths to maintain your employability in the new job market
Skills that could be useful in a future technology-driven world:
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning. AI is becoming essential for acquiring, storing, transferring and managing the huge amounts of data produced today. AI and machine learning scientists can work within a variety of settings, including private companies, technology firms, production and manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, customer service, finance, construction, government agencies and defence.
- Codingan increasing number of businesses are relying on computer code, particularly those involving information technology, data analysis, design, engineering and pure science
- Digital marketing — more and more companies are moving their marketing into the digital space for greater reach and access to the needs of customers, their usage of websites and search engines, and to optimise online marketing initiatives
- Design thinking — accelerated rates of technological and social changes will require more workers to focus on problem-finding and problem-framing, rather than simply problem-solving. Design thinking introduces methods of problem-finding and problem-framing in the pursuit of emergent innovation according to indiatoday.in
The employability gap between the education imparted in our higher educational institutes and the requirement of the job market is huge. We can bridge this gap by relating education to the real world and assessing students on their thinking and problem-solving abilities, increasing access to education by the use of technology, improving student-teacher ratios and building stronger bridges with the industry and the job market. It is with such a changed mindset that Indias demographic advantage in terms of a large young population can be converted into a dynamic economic advantage.