Making a killing from skilling raw grads

Post-campus training is catching up as 90% of jobs in India are skill-based, while only 6% of the workforce is skill-trained

July 14, 2019 10:46 pm | Updated 10:46 pm IST -

Skill infographic with 8 steps, parts, options

Skill infographic with 8 steps, parts, options

Of the estimated one-and-a-half million graduates who pass out of India’s engineering schools every year, less than 1% land jobs in its top 100 companies. That’s because, a vast majority of them are unemployable and lacking in skills such as creative thinking, problem solving, learnability, human-centred design, collaboration and customer-centricity... all critical to new generation jobs.

Vikas Gupta, CMD of Wiley India, owned by the $2 billion Jones Wiley & Sons in the U.S., says: “What students acquire mostly is textual education, which has little relevance to jobs in the new economy that requires contextual skills.”

As per the HRD Ministry, India has 6,214 engineering and technology institutions which admit 2.9 million students. Every year, 1.5 million fresh engineers are released into the job market.

But sadly, only graduates who pass out of some 200 top colleges in the country come with some level of job-ready skills. Adds Neeti Sharma, senior vice-president TeamLease Services: “A majority of jobseekers don’t get jobs in line with their education or wage expectation, because of a yawning academia-industry gap. Industry seeks people with 90% skill, but 90% of academic activities are still based on theoretical learning.”

However, for years, IT service companies in India have had no option but to onboard masses of raw graduates and train them on their payrolls for many ‘unbillable’ months before being deployed, says Sridhar Raman, director at Outsourced CMO, a Bengaluru-based consulting firm. “But this model has become increasingly unsustainable given the growing pressure on bottomlines and the life or death need to cut costs. The urgency in reskilling and upskilling engineering graduates is not merely a balance-sheet imperative, it’s a matter of survival,” adds Mr. Raman.

The problem-solving approach is changing from addressing a huge problem head on, to breaking it down into various problems and solving them from multiple angles.

Most business problems are open-ended and each would have five or up to a dozen answers, adds Mr. Gupta. Today’s businesses need finance professionals, people managers and intelligent problem solvers, not accountants, payroll assistants and coders, say experts in the training, skilling and reskilling industry.

Enterprises are scouting for plug-and-play professionals, billable from the start and ready to respond effectively to fast-changing, real-world business challenges. Jayant Krishna, former CEO, National Skill India Mission, says if India has to reap rich demographic dividends, skill development needs to be taken up far more seriously.

“Our skill initiatives must focus on apprenticeships, full operationalisation of the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF), mainstreaming of employability skills and greater industry participation.” Says Ms. Sharma of TeamLease Services: “Many jobs that exist today won’t even be around 10 years from now. Skill-sets are already getting broad-based, with few takers for people with individual skills.”

Mushrooming schools

The good news for the industry, particularly for tech firms, is the emergence of players like Wiley, Upgrad, ABC and IIHT in the ‘edu-ployment’ (education + employment) space, with job-readiness programmes designed to upskill engineering graduates with job-ready and future-ready expertise.

For example, Wiley India has unveiled a 3-month job-readiness programme in India called WileyNXT, in consultation with CXOs of 35 global IT firms and six top universities. According to Mr. Gupta, the programme is co-created with CXOs and academic leaders with the intent of upskilling engineering graduates and setting up a supply line of future ready professionals for industry. Manjunath Aradhya, founder and CEO of ABC, an edu-tech company focussed on skilling, training and upskilling, says: “Industry expectations from freshers has drastically changed. For example, mere framework awareness is no longer enough. IT companies now want to hire people who are well-versed with full stack of Java and data-science.”

“The market has plenty of jobs for candidates with problem-solving abilities, right attitude and entrepreneurial mindset,” adds Mr. Aradhya of ABC that trained over 30,000 fresh graduates in 2018.

Training youth to break down problems and solving them from different angles is both challenging and critical — one, because the industry needs it and two, because prospective employees don’t come readymade with these skills. “Though we normally associate youth with exuberance, inventive ability and positive energy, the application of knowledge to work, life skills, and the hunger to be curious and willing to learn and innovate, remain crucial challenging areas for us to tackle,” says Yeshasvini Ramaswamy, MD, e2e People Practices, a people development firm.

Training and development is a $100 billion market in the U.S., of which corporate training alone accounts for $70 billion. In India, it is already close to a $5 billion business. Going ahead, the opportunity is huge as 90% of the jobs in the country currently are skill-based, whereas only 6% of its workforce is skill-trained.

The market already has dozens of players, ranging from the traditional NIIT and Aptech to Simplilearn and Upgrad, offering offline and online job-ready programmes. Upgrad, in partnership with University of Cambridge and BITS Pilani, promises to give careers a lift with a range of immersive, industry-curated, online programmes in areas of data science and machine learning and digital marketing.

Debjani Ghosh, president, Nasscom, said “Nasscom has pioneered the FutureSkills initiative for India’s IT-ITES industries. Our goal is to get India accelerated on the path to become the global hub for talent development in emerging technologies such as AI, ML, IoT, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Big Data and others.

“Through various partnerships and skilling programs, we aim to build a future-ready workforce in IT and contribute meaningfully to the tech sector of the country.”

The apex body predicted that going forward, the industry will face a shortage of 2.3 lakh skilled techies as jobs in AI and Big Data are estimated to reach 7.8 lakh by 2021. Wiley India has set up a think-tank called Wiley Innovation Advisory Council with global industry leaders to co-create curricula and teaching methodologies.

TeamLease Skill University has trained over 2.5 lakh fresh graduates in the last five years. The latest entrant into this space is Manipal Group, through its strategic investment (close to ₹20 crore) in Jigsaw Academy. The company will offer training in data science, digital marketing, cloud computing and cybersecurity.

Academia should act

In the face of such tectonic changes, academia faces the real risk of being driven to irrelevance unless it marries curricula and teaching methodologies that are designed around current industry needs, and are flexible enough to respond to future challenges.

For industry, the drying up of future ready professionals is an existential threat, experts caution.

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