Amongst the developing countries in the world India holds definite socio-economic advantages. We have a robust entrepreneurial culture that enjoys the confidence of investors across the globe. Supportive government initiatives that are determined to place the country on the global economic map are backed by the promise of a young, educated and enthusiastic workforce. Combine this with a strong business and institutional engagement, and we have an incredible springboard for a world class competitive economy.
Yet, one challenge looms ahead as a swift and sure derailer. Our non-availability of skilled labor is a reality that needs to be addressed with speed, agility and on a war footing.
The urgency of a yawning skill gap
A recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) revealed that while the quality of skills in the country’s workforce were comparable and even superior to other countries, only 40 percent felt they had the requisite job skills. 70 percent of our venture capitalists feel that employees with the right skills elude start-ups, and 61 percent of our educators are convinced that our traditional system cannot respond to our changing needs.
Figures from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs show that Indian start-ups multiplied more than six-fold in the last 30 years. Nasscom reports that external funding for technology start-ups doubled between 2014 and 2015. The hunt for talent in these firms is growing, and becoming frantic and desperate. Yet, a 2016 employability survey showed that 70-80 percent of India’s engineering graduates are functionally unemployable.
The IBM report also shows that just four percent of India’s population possess vocational training (compared to 96 percent in South Korea and 22 percent in Botswana). Further, new graduates are found inadequate in their abilities to collaborate, communicate, analyze problems, flexibility and adaptability to change.
And herein lies the urgency. By 2030, India’s working population is estimated to touch almost one billion. If such inadequacies in education and training are not plugged, we run the risk of a ballooning class of under-employed and unemployed workforce. Plugging these gaps with relevant learning and knowledge and preparing students for professional future of being executives or entrepreneurs is therefore an urgent imperative.
Additionally, business ecosystems are rapidly evolving and the need for new and different skills will be a continuous one. Thus, an already unresponsive educational system needs to significantly transform to address the skills challenge and be relevant for this dynamic environment. Otherwise, her economic advantage which today stands as a very strong potential and promise will remain just that.
Creating an employable workforce
All education systems carry a direct responsibility in preparing campus citizens to be job- ready as they graduate. Critical indicators of such an efficacy are the job placement rate, and the capabilities of innovation and problem-solving.
Specific actions by education system and institutions that can plug skill gaps are:
- Experience-based and on-the-job learning
- Internship and apprenticeship opportunities
- Exposure to new and emerging technologies
- Strong industry-academia collaboration
We have a few excellent examples of how this can be made possible. The joint initiative between seven Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore (called the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning -NPTEL) leverages technology to make learning accessible to remote students through online web and video courses. 23 disciplines focused on engineering, science and technology, and culminating in certificates from IIT are offered through more than 1000 live courses free of charge.
Google’s partnership with 31 universities and private institutes under the National Skill Development Corporation, as well as government bodies is a good example of industry collaboration. Their Android Developer skilling program aims to train 4,000 faculty members to skill 250,000 students, and create a robust Android developer community in India. Their free mobile computing courses will help students earn the Google Developer Certification. They also are collaborating with an online education business to offer nano-degree courses.
The time to act is now
With a near unanimous consensus among industry, educators and the government alike, there really is no time to lose. Higher education must accelerate its efforts to equip the future workforce with the skills they need to be competitive and effective. In this effort, they need to leverage technology for better student access and outcomes. Industry has a significant role to play too. Organizations need to provide practical, opportunities that give students real-world learning experiences with modern techniques and technologies. And then we may find that achieving the Indian middle- class dream may just be within our reach.