Are you indifferent to non-core subjects? Think again. They hold many life lessons for you.

“This semester we have a paper on verbal communication and logical thinking and the scores will be included in the CGPA. Isn’t that crazy?”asked Asma indignantly. “Why should non-core subjects be included in the grading?” demanded Prateek, a mechanical engineering student.

They may be non-core, but self-development classes and even papers have been introduced in most professional colleges today. They have been made mandatory much to the irritation of students. For Asma and her friends, it may just mean another class to attend and another examination to prepare for. But for our colleges and universities, their reputations hinge on the quality of professionals they send out into the world. According to a study conducted across engineering colleges just last year only about six per cent of engineering graduates are deemed employable in the IT industry. This reinforces an earlier survey (NASSCOM-MCKINSEY-2005) that claimed that only about 25 per cent of technical graduates and 10-15 per cent of general college graduates are suitable for employment in the IT and ITES industries.

While these are industry-specific reports, the situation may not be much different in other industries. The reports point to a general state of unpreparedness of our graduates for employment.

Employability skills mean different things to different people but there are some common areas that everyone agrees on. These derive from industry’s expectations of its employees, which is usually a fine balance of knowledge, skills and values. The key employability skills that echo from all quarters are communication skills, presentation skills, fluency in English language, cooperation, problem-solving, application skills and self-management.

HR and placement facilitators have also expressed concern on the general lack of ideas, thinking and the breadth of knowledge of students coming for placement.

Given this scenario, it may be a good idea for Asma, Prateek and their friends to take their personality development, soft skills and communication skills classes as seriously as they do their core subjects. But weekly classes, compulsory examinations and even external certificate programmes are not a cure-all. “I did take my soft skills training seriously but despite attending classes in two semesters, I am still not confident about my English,” said Ritesh just before the recruitment drive in his campus.

Practical approach

Classes, coaching and certificates need to be reinforced by committed personal effort and initiative. Building skills is a long process requiring adequate inputs, exposure and application. For example, if your problem is the English language, you need to expose yourself as much as possible to the language so that you understand its fine nuances, usage and conventions. You also need to practise using it whenever you find an opportunity and not fight shy of making mistakes or being corrected. Watch English movies and television programmes and read the English newspaper. Look up words in the dictionary, keep a diary to scribble out new words you have learnt and practise using them in conversation and writing.

Reading widely, watching news and catching up with current affairs from the beginning of your college stint will also nail the problem of general lack of ideas and awareness of the world.

Being active members in college clubs and societies will also help your presentation skills, problem-solving skills and cooperation. Working in small homogenous groups of like-minded peers is a great way to develop not only these skills but also the qualities of adaptability, self-assurance, flexibility, patience, perseverance and self-confidence.

Don’t miss chances to involve yourself in organising and conducting events on campus. Make sure you participate in curricular and extracurricular events too. Even flopping and getting a round of boos is a learning experience – they teach you to cope with failure.

Hands-on

Internships and training opportunities in external institutions are opportunities that demonstrate how bookish or theoretical knowledge translates into practice, how lab techniques scale up in commercial use, and how scientific advancement contributes in real world material progress and well being. This skill, called the transfer skill, or the ability to convert book knowledge to practical application, is highly valued in industry.

Look at the bustle around you in college – every activity has been designed to be a learning opportunity to help you grow into a fully-rounded personality. Many students baulk at the thought of participating in anything that is not mandatory. Most are driven by timidity, diffidence, extreme caution or just plain bored indifference. But when every opportunity missed is an opportunity for self-growth lost forever, it makes better sense to grab every chance. The first two times will be tough. The third onwards will be fun. After all, where can you learn skills and have fun at the same time at no extra cost, except in your college?