Making employability a reality from a distant dream

Uma Ganesh Posted online: Monday, Dec 23, 2013 at 0000 hrs
The question of making the Indian youth employable and taking advantage of the demographic dividend is constantly raised in several quarters. Statistics with many hues are presented from time to time, most of which highlight the magnitude of the

issue and emphasise the complexities involved in finding solutions. Here are some interesting facts on employability presented from divergent perspectives.

According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report, as per their studies conducted in 2009-10, there are close to seven crore Indians who are unemployed or underemployed. According to Nasscom, not more than 30% of the engineering graduates are employable. On the other hand, according to NSDC, in the 21 high growth sectors identified, 34.7 crore skilled personnel are required until 2022.

If we were to place all of these facts together, it would appear that the solution should be easy to find—train people with the required skills and they should be ready to be absorbed by the sectors that are looking for them. The solution unfortunately is not that simple as there are multi-layered issues which are interlinked and therefore a multi-pronged approach is required to address the issues.

Firstly, the demand for jobs and supply of talent in each of the states is not balanced, leading to the youth migrating to other states in search of jobs. Higher educational institutions are being set up in different states by license holders, many of whom are not being aware of the exact nature of demand that exists for the students whom they plan to educate. According to the Chairman of AICTE, SS Mantha, the current GNER in higher education stands at 19% out of which 5% are in technical courses. Given the current success rate of secondary education, a minimum of 25 million seats or more will have to be created each year in the university system, for all those desirous of having access to higher education as this has been granted as the fundamental right according to our constitution. And this number will go up in the coming years on account of the thrust on primary education for all, as well as the enhanced focus on minimising school dropouts/ enhancing success rate and targeting higher GNER in higher education. Thus the problem is likely to get more complex in the years to come and therefore requires a careful analysis of the situation at hand.

While it is true that a large majority of our youth lack the right skills to enter the workforce and we need to see a significant expansion in all sectors to accommodate the increasingly more educated talent pool, it is also true that lack of ‘employability’ does not mean that all of them are ‘unemployed’ currently. A careful examination of the youth graduating from the higher education system would indicate that while a small percentage gets absorbed directly in their aspirational jobs immediately upon completion of their academic studies, the rest either undergo further training to acquire specialised qualifications in pursuit of their aspirational jobs or take up jobs for some time that pay them less than industry average.

Within two to three years, a large number of these candidates find a suitable fit and change their jobs. In other words, the desired training or skill development takes place during this period and prepares them for their aspirational jobs with the sectors they are interested in. These observations are based on insights derived by working closely with the industry and the academic system and perhaps an in-depth study would be useful to establish these facts with more certainty.

In view of the above situation, a new approach to the duration and outcome of higher education could be considered. Firstly, we need a thorough assessment of all round capability and potential of a student whilst the second year of academic studies, to establish the sectors and roles for which he/she could be considered. Based on this assessment, the group identified for potential absorption by the industry, upon completing the academic studies, may be provided with required skill sets for being considered for their aspirational jobs.

The other group may be put through a stretched academic process with additional duration that includes internship of one to two years, rigorous skills training and also job rotation so as to be able to equip these candidates with the required capabilities that would be embraced by the industry. Since the industry is keen to look at the skills and fitness for roles and is not so much concerned about the extra time candidates have taken to acquire the capabilities, this approach will enable the candidates to systematically plan their career readiness. It is also necessary to ensure that students do not end up going after the ‘known career options’ alone and enough awareness is created amongst them on the choice of several new careers that are available, their own fit for these careers and the specialised training and internships they need to undergo to acquire the relevant skills.

In UK and US, very often students opt for unpaid internships to get good exposure to specific jobs and also to prepare themselves for suitable career options after that. In Germany, thanks to the dual education system, the formal academic learning and on the job learning are systematically stitched together, making the students more employable when they finish their education.

In India with the significant number of youth having to be provided with the right opportunities, instead of the focus on only providing employment, the approach should be to make them employable through a planned and effective intervention that blends academics, assessment aimed at career potential, internship and training for skills. As they say, instead of giving fish to the candidates, the focus has to be to help them learn how to do fishing; that would be more valuable to them in the long run and both industry and the academia need to come together to make this possible.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company