B S Raghavan

Skills or training gap?

B. S. RAGHAVAN | Updated on June 21, 2012

Nowadays, the job market is impossibly crowded with huge number of aspirants holding diplomas and degrees of various kinds. They have all been churned out by colleges, universities and general purpose and technical institutions in the field of education almost adopting the assembly line type of manufacturing.

A common grouse of employers in India, especially those running large-scale or global businesses, is that the exponentially burgeoning numbers of graduates are proving to be no good for employment. (See “Educated? Yes! Employable? No!” Business Line, June 24, 2011)

According to a rule-of-thumb estimate, on an average, only 10-15 per cent of the graduates meet the requirements of particular jobs. Apart from lacking skills of oral and written communication and presentation, they are found deficient in even comprehension and general awareness. Most cut a sorry figure in the knowledge of the subjects of their degrees and diplomas as well.

The reasons are many. The quality of the teachers and their standards of teaching are precipitously falling. The evaluation process itself is becoming questionable. The number declared passed touches close to 100 per cent, and the marks in every subject exceed 90-95 out of 100, with the result the cut-off mark even for admission to higher courses has vaulted to 98 or 99.

Bleak picture

It was unthinkable some 40-50 years ago to get 95 and 98 per cent in humanities, but today such marks are routine. Add to all this, the constant lowering of the minimum marks for passing, the leakage of question papers, allegations against even some Vice-Chancellors of passing failed students by taking bribes, or under political pressure — and it will be clear how grim the educational scene has become.

As chairperson of committees to select college lecturers for some years, I was shocked when a candidate for the post of law lecturer who had scored very highly in the Master of Laws degree could not tell the categories of writs mentioned in the Constitution and their purposes. He was, of course, rejected, but later on, I learnt that he passed the State Public Service Examination for Munsifs and other services, and made his way up rapidly on the judicial ladder!

The picture altogether is bleak. That is why, institutions such as the IITs and IIMs and others which still jealously seek to guard their reputation and standards have started to hold their own entrance tests for admission to higher courses.

In respect of employment, some enlightened companies such as Infosys and Wipro, instead of taking a pessimistic view, take the best of what they can get in the market, in terms of growth potential and absorption capacity, and put the selected candidates through a period of induction and training to help them hone their skills and capabilities.

In the ultimate analysis, this is the most constructive as also socially responsible way of creating and shoring up human capital.

training, THE SOLUTION

Apparently, in industrialised nations too, the complaint on the part of employers about not getting the right persons for the jobs on offer is getting shriller.

Professor Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School of Management and author of the book Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It, whose interview has been published in the Knowledge@Wharton web site of June 20, does not accept the oft-repeated gripe of the employers that applicants do not have the skills needed for today’s jobs.

It is not so much skills gap, in his view, as the training gap, resulting from the want of vision and public-spiritedness of the employers.

Some of the figures Prof Cappelli gives are revealing: In 1979, young workers received an average of two-and-a-half weeks of training per year. By 1991, only 17 per cent of young employees reported getting any training during the previous year, and by last year, only 21 per cent said they received training during the previous five years. The situation must be much worse in India.

The solution is for the employers to overcome their reluctance to put in the effort and outlay needed to burnish and sharpen the faculties of the appointees so that they measure up to the job requirements. “Searching forever for somebody — that purple squirrel who is so unique and so unusual, so perfect — that's not a good idea”, he says.

Published on June 21, 2012

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