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What’s your employability quotient?

Long wait: Shouldn’t employability assessment measure whether the graduate can cope with the job only after the induction training? Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Long wait: Shouldn’t employability assessment measure whether the graduate can cope with the job only after the induction training? Photo: K. Murali Kumar  

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Most skills needed for the workplace are learnt on the job. Should we change our approach to assessing employability?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a career fest organised by the NHRD Network at Mumbai. The theme of the event was ‘Employability’. A galaxy of speakers spoke on the topic. Academicians and students too aired their opinion and concerns. Some of the critical questions that came up for debate are: What is employability? Who defines it? Why are our engineering graduates, unemployable? Is the actual problem un-employability or employability assessment? What are the fallacies in defining employability and metrics of its assessment? How can we solve the problem?

We often read reports stating that x per cent of graduates in India are not employable, y per cent of engineers are not employable and so on. I am not convinced by these reports because I believe that their definition of employability itself is incorrect. Some people define employability relating it to life skills — ability to solve problems, articulate well and so on. Based on this definition, they measure employability and ring alarm bells on low percentage of employability especially among the educated youth in the country.

But my view is very different. I believe that there is nothing like ‘generic employability’.

Employability is the ability to perform a job, a set of tasks related to that job or a set of jobs, at an acceptable level of productivity set by an employer.

Employability develops once a person starts working. In other words, a majority of skills needed to do a job are learnt on the job! I will give you an example. We recruited a person from Kerala to fill an entry-level position in Mumbai. He could only speak Malayalam and had not seen a computer before. Yet, within a year, he picked up all the skills required and became a star employee in the office. There are several similar stories of people from India migrating to the Middle East and becoming successful in their jobs. In fact, my belief is that Indians are innately employable.

So, does this mean anyone can do any job? No. One is employable only in a certain kind of jobs, outside which one fails.

Employability is not about doing any job in a sub-standard way but doing it in a productive way. For example, one may be unemployable as a pilot or a carpenter but may be employable as a HR consultant or a CEO. My point is, everybody is employable, but not for any job. Now, this diverts our attention to ‘how should we assess one’s employability?’

Assessment

The real problem is employability assessment. According to me, the ‘problem of employability’ is with the way we assess employability. Let me explain.

Employability is defined by employers based on their experience of recruitment for vacancies in their companies. Thus, every employer measures employability using a different set of parameters.

Imagine that you want to become a conductor of an orchestra. So you start learning multiple instruments such as the violin and the flute. Each instrument will be taught in a semester. When you reach the campus interview stage you would have learnt, let us say, five instruments. But, the interviewer is keen on a particular instrument and wants to assess your expertise in playing that instrument only.

Unfortunately, if you had learnt that instrument, say, two years ago, you might have not performed well. However, for that employer, you are not employable! But since the assessment process varies from employer to employer, it is quite likely that you get hired by another employer.

Similar is the case of graduates who learn a couple of subjects each semester but by the time they reach the stage of campus interview, they lose touch with most of the subjects.

The truth

Learning and competency development happens mainly in the first job and only 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the graduation course knowledge is useful on the job. So, assessment should measure whether the graduate can learn and cope with the job after induction training, not whether the student is employable ‘as is, where is’. Before I suggest a better approach, let me share our experience in training fresh graduates. When these graduates were assessed ‘as is, where is’ only 10 per cent passed. After a 11-day training on the job role and related competencies, the pass percentage jumped to over 90 per cent. The graduates were from rural India and hence rusty when the training began. However, their energy and enthusiasm levels were high and that allowed us to mould them. After just 11-days of focused training, their employability dramatically improved.

If the employer discloses the topics the candidates will be assessed on, then they can prepare or get trained and the results will be dramatically better. So, the first option is demystifying assessment and declaring the assessment details in advance.

The second option is the finishing school model — students are selected at campus based on their score in the course and soft-skills. Post offer, the college gives them a refresher course on topics relevant to the job and the employer can re-assess the students after that.

The writer is chairman, TMI group.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2018 7:21:39 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/education/whats-your-employability-quotient/article8426744.ece