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Monday, December 26, 2016

Employability and Staying Ahead of the Curve

Do you know that approx. 18 Lac Engineering students pass out each year in India?

And do you know that a shocking 80% of them are unemployable?? ...

...If this is the plight of engineering graduates, one shudders to think of what arts/commerce/science graduates could be going through..! While there are scores of reasons to explain above anomaly (mass-copy/cheating at exam. centers/fake degree certificates, distracted students to lack of teaching faculty/infrastructure/falling standards of teaching, lesser jobs at entry level so on and so forth), the article is for that average student who is honest, keen to get his first job and aspires to get ahead in life..!

Let’s first be clear on some concepts.

Employability is not simply getting a job; neither is it a list of skills that can be ‘taught’!

Employability is on-going success for now and in future, whatever career a student chooses.
Employability is leveraging a range of skills, abilities and attributes that are developed in a whole range of settings and that vary from individual to individual.
The classic definition of Employability is - “It is a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy”.

To further expound employability -
·         It is the ability to gain initial employment (For the same, the interest in ensuring that ‘key competencies’, careers advice and an understanding about the world of work should be embedded in the education system)
·         The ability to maintain employment and make ‘transitions’, changes between jobs and roles within the same organization to meet new job requirements or
·         The ability to obtain new employment in another organization if required.
·         An ongoing developmental process that benefits from active reflection

Considering the rising cost of education, Educational Institutes should strive to provide a good return on investment to students. They need to be engaging in the educational process, rather engaging in the whole student experience. Innovative teaching, learning and assessment methods help students engage in the education process and have the added benefit of also helping them to develop attributes which make them attractive to potential employers. Students’ interest is more likely to be maintained if they can see the relevance of their studies to their future careers and life beyond university.

Students who make an effort to fully participate in the total student experience (academic, co-curricular, extra-curricular, including work experience) benefit from a well-rounded education, contribute fully to the life of the University and community and hopefully have fun in the process. Involving employers in the education experience, for example, through case studies, delivery of guest lectures, can help students appreciate the relevance of their course and learn how to apply theory and knowledge in practical ways in the workplace.

Developed by Pool & Sewell and based on a range of employability models and theories, the CareerEDGE model provides a useful summary of five essential elements that aid students' employability:
Career Development Learning – the knowledge, skills and experience to help students manage and develop their careers.
Experience – work and life experiences help students develop a broader range of skills and are attractive for prospective employers. (How seriously have you taken internship? What have you observed/learnt at the work place?)
Degree subject knowledge, understanding & skills –  Do you know the fundamentals of the stream you chose for graduation? Do you love at least one subject passionately out of the 40 subjects you would have studied in 4 years of engineering?
Generic Skills - Communication skills / body-language / etiquettes (Can you speak fluently for at least two minutes on any given topic? Does your body language exude the confidence? Is your attire too casual/too fashionable (due to which the recruiter may think of you as a not-a-serious candidate while hiring)?
Emotional Intelligence – “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”  
All five elements are important and missing one can considerably reduce a student's employability.  Each element is important in its own right, but all five overlap and are integral to each other.

A degree is no longer enough
Due to changing market conditions (in short – glut of supply and very less demand of entry-level jobs), it makes sense to augment the basic degree with a post-graduation or with a training course in the latest technology.

As per one survey conducted by Times of India, following skills and experiences are the most predictive of a graduate’s employability (in the descending order of importance, top-most being most important):
1.       Professional experience
2.       High degree of specialization
3.       Excellent academic record
4.       Extra-curricular activities
5.       Proficiency in at least two foreign languages
6.       Graduation from a top university

To be employed is to be at risk, to be employable is to be secure
Can anyone disagree with this?

Remember, employability is not restricted to passing out graduates (freshers) alone. The way IT (rather, ICT) has been impacting our daily life through many disruptive innovations, lot of skills are becoming outdated.
The Big-4 IT organizations in India (TCS, Infosys, Wipro & Cognizant) are investing a lot in automation, Artificial Intelligence, which in turn could reduce the in-take of freshers/junior-level hiring drastically. It will also impact thousands of middle-level managers. And then there are many middle-level managers who are either working on some archaic technology (which no other organization is using) or who just fell in love with their big titles and so are working like clipped winged birds (and so are highly prone for lay-offs) .The only way to survive in today’s corporate jungle is to develop a keen eye (to see which are the emerging trends/technologies & which will be obsolete) & to develop an open mind to un-learn, continuously learn new things, re-invent, adapt ourselves, say after every 5 years! (Can’t resist sharing Andy Grove’s quote here, “paranoids survive”)

Rather going one step ahead, the thinking needs to be, not to seek employment but to create it! (And that will be my next blog)

Best luck!

References – Wikipedia, , Times of India

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