Skills for Employability – who is Responsible

26 Jun

Business is concerned with the employability potential of a candidate, and is not overly impressed by educational qualifications

An educated person is not necessarily employable. This has been the cry from industry bosses. Much of the teaching community counters it with: Education is not just about getting jobs. Between employers who expect moreand educators who cannot or will not focus on employability, our students are left adrift.

Governments across the world have been bringing out white papers on employability for over a decade. It has been established that skills that make people useful and productive need to be taught formally. This is true for both vocational and professional education. These abilities are the key to sustainable growth of progress for

entire nations.

So, when your new recruit manages to get a job done without being told thrice — that is a sign of good training which augurs well for your productivity as a unit, and ultimately for the entire country. But most young recruits fail to deliver initially.

This inability is a cost to the business and to the recruit. The skills required by employers have been mapped often, and include seemingly simple things such as communication, initiative, reliability, presentability and most importantly — content delivery.

India’s much vaunted demographic dividend is guaranteed to turn into a demographic disaster if our young people are not skilled and employable. The sheer mass of young people without adequate skills to develop themselves and their organisations is enough to create horrific scenarios for the near future. It is clearly acknowledged that there is not too much time — we need rapid upskilling networks to be in place in the next three to five years.

Or, we face the prospect of three to five million unemployables flooding our streets every year. Either they will need to invest in themselves to retain these jobs, or their employers will need to invest in them to ensure that their jobs get done with a reasonable degree of competence.

In either case, a part of the cost will have to be borne by the employer, either in inefficiency or in mistakes. Employers may also have to invest in tighter job descriptions, with clearer and simpler expectations to match the dumbing down of skills that they report.

This last option would actually be a shame, as most mechanical jobs can be done by machines. Globally, jobs now seek skills that cannot be transferred to machines, making them more challenging to predict and to deliver.

This is where the core challenge for skill-providers lies. They truly have no means of predicting what skills may be required for the future, nor can they possibly estimate with much accuracy how long the need for those skills will last.

The best they can do is ask employers what they require in their employees and seek to train people to those requirements. India has decided to tackle this by setting up sector skills councils via its industry associations. Sector skills councils are designed to provide insights into skills requirements that will inform colleges and trainers, who in turn will be able to design courses appropriately.

The idea is both sound and is tested in many countries with some variations. It has proved to be a qualified success, which is why in India the model needs to evolve with usability and sustainability built into the design. The National Skills Development Corporation has done some stellar work, while other initiatives including the upgrading of the ITIs, languish.

One of the biggest hurdles in developing a strong skills building system is the funding. Everybody seems to think that the responsibility for developing these skills lies with another set of institutions. Employers blame colleges, colleges blame schools and schools blame societal attitudes.

To complete the circle, prospective employees are blithely unaware of the standards expected of them, and blame employers when a mismatch occurs. This gap between abilities and expectations is traditionally filled by employers only for their current employees as they groom them for growth within the organisation. They do this through in house and external training, mentoring and coaching programs supplemented by appraisal cycles.

But they see no reason to invest in people they do not know yet. Schools and training colleges are stuck with ancient curricula. But more importantly, they do not see employability as an objective for the education they provide. Students and their sponsors may be willing to pay, but if there is a clear understanding of the benefits that will accrue — without proof they will not invest.

Skills development training needs cohesive investment from all — employers, educators and employees, and ultimately from the Government too. The need for cogent action is truly urgent, not only because of our youth that deserves to be groomed to its true potential, but also because the employment market is global.

If one country does not supply competent employees, the demand will rapidly move to another country.  India cannot afford to allow others to steal a march on the employability of our youth. Without an honest and decisive push in our skills strategy — the youth of the country are due for a frustrating ride in the global job markets of the future.

(The writer is an education strategy consultant who has lived, worked and taught in London for over a decade. She is now based in New Delhi.)

This article was published in the Pioneer on Thursday, May 31, 3012 with the headline Education without Skills will lead to Unemployment and is linked here

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