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Bridging the industry-academia gap

Although India’s higher education system contributes about 350,000 engineers and 2.5 million university graduates annually to our workforce, at any given time, about five million graduates remain unemployed.

education Updated: Jun 25, 2014 15:33 IST
Neeti Sharma

Although India’s higher education system contributes about 350,000 engineers and 2.5 million university graduates annually to our workforce, at any given time, about five million graduates remain unemployed. A survey done by McKinsey Global Institute shows that multinationals find only 25% of Indian engineers employable, and according to NASSCOM, there are over three million graduates and postgraduates added every year to the Indian workforce.

The industry, on the other hand, has had its share of challenges in getting their positions filled. Not only have they lowered their hiring standards at the bottom of the pyramid in order to be fully staffed, they have established training programmes to make their hires productive. But this situation is unsustainable because it wrecks productivity and there is not a viable model for employers to ‘manufacture’ their own employees.

While we cannot predict the kind of jobs that would be available in the future, there is no stopping all job aspirants, industry and the education system from preparing for these jobs. One of the approaches to tackle the job-readiness problem across the Indian workforce is for the industries, academia and the job aspirants to work in partnership with each other.

There are few ways you, as job aspirants, can develop your skills through our education system:

Increase the enrolment ratios in higher education: Part of the skills gap problem is that only a very small percentage of India’s youth go on to higher education. No more than 7% of Indian youth between the age group of 18 and 25 years go to college. Also, 40% of people over the age of 15 are illiterate. While the government and academia work towards increasing the enrolment ratios by providing various schemes, it is also your responsibility, as job aspirants to complete education effectively. If we increase the ratio of enrolments to universities, a part of the problem could be resolved.

Curriculum to match industry requirements: The current pace of industry and labour market changes mean that some curriculum is outdated much before a student completes his education. Besides the domain skills, the industry also looks at soft skills, team building, values and attitude of an individual at the time of hiring. Upgrading curriculum and keeping up with the changes is required of the institutes. Also, the curriculum needs to be made in collaboration with the industry, and if possible, joint certifications/degrees between the academic institutes and industry. Each domain curriculum needs to be driven by the respective sector to be able to create almost-job-ready students.

Internships that give workplace exposure: As students, you would benefit greatly if higher education faculty either had prior work experience or would be required to spend some time on short-term assignments with employers. But you would also hit the ground running with employers if part of their programme had internships with employers. Even if these internships are not in the industry or function where you find permanent jobs, these stints will give you an appreciation for the realities of the workplace. The lack of organised apprenticeships in India (we have only three lakh trainees compared to Germany’s six million and Japan’s 10 million) sabotages employability by undermining an effective vehicle of learning-by-doing and learning-while-earning. Internships combine education with training and enable the industry to take the candidates on a test drive.

Shared jobs model with recurring participation: Employers would be happy to contribute to developing a shared model with teaching institutions for jobs and their requirements. If the model works well, it would not only align academic efforts but also greatly reduce information asymmetry in student choices of the jobs they can take.

Joint initiatives by the industry, academia and you: The job seekers will play an important role in plugging the skill gap. Providing industry oriented (skill-based) training to you - the future workforce of India will make a huge impact in your lives and will benefit our communities in the times to come.

The author is senior vice president and co-founder, TeamLease, which is a training partner of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC)