The role-relevance rule

Updated: Feb 17 2014, 08:42am hrs
Despite the annual rise in Indian jobless figures, employers now find themselves faced with the apparent paradox of increasing difficulty in recruiting talent with role-specific expertiserevealing a deepening crisis affecting every sector nationwide.

But whilst the urgent need to up-skill the population has been recognised by the government alongside the publication of concerning figuresa 2013 unemployment rate of 9.9%, an increase of 5% from 2012, and a new labour ministry survey reporting that one in three Indian graduates is unemployed despite an increase in education levelsthere is a potential solution that has remained absent from discussions in India: role-relevant assessments, qualifications and certification.

The ManpowerGroups Break the Crisis and Complacency Cycle report makes grim reading, with 48% of Indian employers surveyed in 2012 having difficulty filling vacant jobs, putting the nation seventh out of 42 countries in terms of the severity of the problem faced. The global context is bleak: the worlds jobless population rose by 4 million in 2012 to 197 million, a figure set to increase by 8.1 million by 2014. The number of low-skilled jobs in Europe may fall by 12 million by 2020, while the number of high-skilled jobs will increase by 16 million.

While Indias record in significantly reducing poverty and improving crucial human development indicators such as levels of literacy, education and health has been remarkable, National Service Scheme data (61st round) indicates that of the individuals in the labour force aged 15-29, only 2% received formal vocational training and 8% non-formal vocational training.

With so many people available for work but lacking the right skills to perform, governments have been backing vocational training. Educators are devising new programmes to up-skill the unemployed and technologists are providing greater innovations with more blended and mobile learning. The solution may begin, rather than end, with training.

There have been positive developments in India. The government has set itself the task of creating a skilled workforce of 500 million by 2022 and a National Skill Development Council was also created. In February 2012, the HRD ministry launched the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF). According to the ministry, the NVEQF is necessary as the Indian workforce is mostly represented in the informal sector, estimated at 93%. Suffering from low levels of literacy and numeracy, there was no bridge for these workers to enter the formal economy. Policies and programmes of national importance are laudable, but there is a need for certification, a professional badge. It offers proof of ability and aptitude. It needs to become commonplace in a competitive global economy. Certification achieved through assessment can identify the right candidates during higher education applications, specific skill sets in a given industry, individuals best suited for vacant posts and even the possibility of knowledge assessment by massive open online courses (MOOCs). The availability of computer-based testing centres across India means that even those living outside cities have the opportunity to get certified.

Organisations are launching professional qualifications to address this balance. The success story of IT certification in India is a model that could be applied to other sectors. IT certifications have proved successful because they are designed to not only assess a specific set of role-relevant skills so employers can be confident in their level of competency but they also provide a career pathway allowing a candidate to move from junior to high-skilled with validation at every step.

There is arguably no more important sector than healthcare, where validation of skills can mean the difference between life and death. A survey of 3,000 nurses and managers by the American Board of Nursing Specialties found that certification was highly valued not just by certified nurses but also non-certified nurses, certified managers and non-nursing managers. The driving force for certification was not salary. It was the recognition, respect and confidence in their ability from peers and, crucially, patients. These factors are the ultimate argument for accreditation in the workplacedispelling the myth that if staff get certified they will leave.

The longer industries wait to develop the correct role-focused assessment certification programme, the more potential difficulty they will face in finding the right qualified talent. As with any global crisis, the severity of impact varies across industries and regions. Over the next two decades, China will be replaced by India and other developing nations as the leading source of new workers in the global market. But even China could end up with 23 million fewer workers than required by 2020.

Globally, the most difficult roles to fill are in skilled trades, engineering and IT. There is a correlation between the value Europe places in certification and the fact that 14 of its nations, including France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK, find it easier to fill positions compared to the global average. However, despite producing 90,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates each year, the UK will need 830,000 new science, engineering and technology (SET) professionals and 450,000 SET technicians by 2020.

The European Commission has a solution India could learn from. It is leading a multi-stakeholder partnership to tackle the lack of ICT skills in Europe. At the launch conference in June 2013, a number of organisations made pledges to help provide a Europe-wide pathway to certification.

There is no shortage of talent in India, but Googles Eric Schmidt made the point very powerfully in a recent interview (with McKinsey & Company in December 2013) that the nation is suffering from a brain-drain as thousands of talented IT professionals head for California. He said: Here in Silicon Valley, there is evidence that 40% of the entrepreneurs are Indian foreign born. So it gives you a sense of the scale and reach of Indian entrepreneurs outside of the country. You can see the potential when the Indians come here. Imagine if they were there and they were doing the same things with the same kind of structure. Theyd change the world.

Industries must realise the virtues of certification. It is not about simply training and certifying people for the sake of it, but tailoring training and certification to help fill specific jobs. To make sure positions are filled by the right people, we need to provide more opportunities to the low skilled and those beginning their careers.

Test owners have a key role and also an opportunity to raise standards. By growing their programmes, they can partner with employers to develop specific solutions and ongoing certification. They can also become more efficient, reducing the number of non-certified training programmes that are not industry recognised.

There are many reasons why professional exams have turned to computer-based testing. The three most relevant to India are coverage, convenience and security. As a large country, it is essential that candidates have access to a testing location. Unlike school exams, which, for obvious practical reasons, are conducted on a single day, professional assessment is far more likely to be driven by the readiness of the candidate.

So, as the global skills crisis deepens and unemployment figures continue to rise, so too does the value of certification in ending the paradox.

The author is VP, Market Development, Pearson VUE

Fiona Collins