Educated, unemployable

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: May 24 2010, 04:22am hrs
A yawning gap

Why must Infosys, one of the biggest names in the IT industry, which recruits the crme-de-le-crme of professionals from the best institutes in the country, spend $184 million on training programmes annually or invest up to 30 weeks of residential programmes on engineers it hires The answer is simplethe need to build employee competency levels. Says Srikantan Moorthy, VP and head, education & research, Infosys Technologies, We recruit people on the basis of their learning ability. The investment is a non-negotiable. Besides training we conduct residential programmes to enable our engineers to meet client requirements. The need of the hour is not just for individuals to have strong conceptual knowledge, but also strong application capabilities. His information is, perhaps, an indicator of how inadequate Indias education system is when it comes to preparing an individual for a job.

While unemployment cannot be brushed under the carpet, youth employability is no less a nightmare. A lot can be blamed on the education system. As many as 90% employment opportunities require vocational skills, but 90% of our college and school outputs are just cram experts, rendering no less than 57% of Indias youth suffering with some degree of unemployability, reveals a recent TeamLease Labour report.

So, if you were looking at the bright side of the picturethat just 8% of the youth in India are unemployed, theres hardly a reason to cheer, because 53% of the rest suffer from some form of skill deprivation. That sets back the demographic advantage India could hope to enjoy in future.

India is coming into its dividend as an unusually young country in an unusually ageing marketa young, fresh-faced nation in a graying world, Nandan Nilekani observed in his book, Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century. Thats not just another observation. By 2025, 25% of the worlds workers will be Indians, points out the TeamLease report. Three hundred and fifty universities, 18,000 colleges and 6,000 ITIs will till then continue to churn out five lakh technical graduates, along with around 2.3 million graduates (or maybe more). Unfortunately, just 10-25% of them will be employable, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

If that to you seems far fetched, consider this: according to a 2008 report of the Boston Study Group, India by 2012 will have 1.3 million surplus of un-trained and under-educated people and the country will fall short (by 5.3 million) of real talent.

An inefficient human resource development regime in the country, absence of an academia-industry interface, lack of focus on skill development of individuals and an almost non-existent quality assurance framework are the root causes of the poor outcomes of the current educational regime. With no returns expected in terms of jobs, there is a significant drop-out rate leading to an under-trained and under-skilled workforce.

I opted to work right after graduation as I could see how my seniors were struggling to find a job of their choice and had to make peace with jobs that were underpaying and not worth their efforts, rues 23-year-old Jitesh Bhasin, a BPO employee. His fears are not unjustified.

This trend will result in a deluge of shall drop, will work accumulating at the bottom of the education pyramid. The NSS 61st round employment data hardly sprung up a surprise when it revealed that in urban India, 207 out of every 1,000 men who completed their graduation or went beyond that remained unemployed, against only 10 men out of a 1,000 who are not literate.

Skill deficit

Consensus on the lack of vocational training in the country impeding competitiveness and productivity of the workforce is easy to achieve among experts. How else do you interpret that only 25% of the engineering graduates, 15% of finance and accounting professionals and just 10% of professionals with any kind of degree are suitable to be employed in MNCs. Incidentally, that finding comes from an MNC itself (McKinsey).

India better pull up its socks. Close to 500 million people, says McKinsey, will need to go through skill development by 2020. As Dilip Chenoy, CEO, National Skills Development Council, says, Its not education that is primarily responsible for lack of skills. Its probably the lack of systematic approach in skill development and building on whatever education one receives.

The 11th Plan document suggests that due to the near exclusive reliance upon a few training courses with long duration (two to three years) covering around 100 skills, 80% of new entrants into the workforce have no opportunity for training in skills. 12.8 million population (sic) will enter the work force as new entrants per year. As against this, the present (largely government-administered) system of delivery can only provide training to 3.1 million per year.

The manner in which higher education institutes have grown in the past decadefacing difficulty in attracting top-notch faculty, retaining them, and enhancing their skillsis worrisome. Quality has suffered a lot with this expansion, says Amit Bansal, CEO and founder of PurpleLeap, an Educomp-Pearson company that is into entry-level talent management. Many of them, therefore, do not have the ability to attract the best students. It is the increasing number of students coming out of the neo- and non-academic managed colleges that contribute to non-employability or under- employability, says Srinivasan. With the dilution of entrance standards, the overall education quality is being compromised. K Pandia Rajan, MD, Ma Foi Management Consultants, adds how the academic infrastructure in engineering colleges has become very basic. A quantum leap in engineering colleges due to poor accreditation policies is a big problem, he says.

Another area of focus is lack of soft skills. Shankar Srinivasan, chief people officer, Cognizant, feels that often students coming out of Indian institutes are technically proficient. But they lack behavioural prerequisites such as communication, presentation, confidence and other soft skills, he says. Whether the reforms initiated by the government in terms of PPP model being adopted for upgrading ITIs and a modular employable skills programme with an objective to provide employable skills to early school leavers, existing workers and even ITI graduates works remains to be seen.

Undeniably, the need of the hour is to implement a skill-based education system in place of the degree-based system to sincerely solve the problem of educated unemployment.