Making India Employable: How Universities Can Help

Unemployability is a bigger problem than employment. People may have often expressed that they graduated 2 to 3 years back and still do not have their dream job. Some also may have said being underpaid despite holding a master’s degree. Many of them even lost their careers in the pandemic and are since unemployed. As shocking as this may sound, this has become a prevalent issue in India today.

In the last few years, most of us have undoubtedly come across people who faced unemployment, underemployment, or simply working in a field that has nothing to do with their degree. These include highly educated individuals with a portfolio thick with enviable professional degrees, who sometimes had to take just any job in any industry, as they could not get meaningful employment in the field they studied. Does this mean their degrees were useless? No. Were they helpless? No. But is there a way we can help in making India employable? Yes!

Some factors like the pandemic and faint signs of recession are not in control; however, there are other areas where a certain number of changes can be made to improve the situation. The higher education sector in India has grown exponentially in the last decade, with state-of-the-art universities in almost every state. Despite that, the overall employability rate started seeing a very steep decline. This makes one question if the fresh graduates are ready and fit for jobs in their field of education. 

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The role of universities in preparing students for jobs will always remain very high, so the gap between academia and Industry should be checked and reduced. Suppose Universities are meant to prepare students for the job market. In that case, the universities will have to do more than they have done so that employment rates increase along with employment that is a suitable match for the degree obtained by the students. 

Making India employable approach: Knowledge from degree vs practical knowledge for jobs

This is a gap that must be bridged. While universities in India vouch for making immense efforts to equip students with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills specific to their discipline, companies have not shied away from expressing their dissatisfaction. There is an apparent disconnect between the knowledge acquired by students and employers’ requirements. There are undoubtedly several other causes of unemployment among the youth in India. Still, one of the main ones is a misalignment between the curriculum and labour market demands. Academic curriculums do not seem to meet the dynamic needs that companies are setting up, resulting in suffering graduates. This has resulted in limiting the chances of the student securing or even getting faintly closer to their dream jobs. It has come to the point where some degrees are barely recognised in the market as they have no practical use.

The market in India post pandemic

The onset of the pandemic resulted in a large number of technologies being adopted in most fields. This resulted in a digital transformation that was so rapid which helped to unlock a relatively high economic value. In addition, it also led to a high rate of underemployment and unemployment. From 2020 to 2021, several workforces became unemployed since they lacked the pace to adapt to a technology-driven working environment. Even those who crossed the threshold into the market holding degrees and diplomas that were highly specialised were unable to secure jobs as they were prepared for roles that were now redundant. 

The digital landscape nurtured after the pandemic altered the relationship between humans, machines and technology and created a need for new skills. This is why universities have to pay attention and take their role seriously.

The students graduating right now are entering a market that has seen a major transformation. Thus, universities must work on digital competencies, keep the curriculum and course up to date and introduce skills that are spread across multiple disciplines so that students have access to numerous job opportunities.

There are several things they should consider, including the following:

1. Creating a curriculum that fulfils requirements of the labour market: The nature of labour markets is very volatile and constantly changing. This means that universities must figure out how to create and continuously keep changing their curriculum to meet industry demands. Knowledge in Indian institutes has traditionally been imparted through a theoretical route. The need of the hour is a practical approach involving skills training. Foundation knowledge is undoubtedly necessary, but practical skills prepare students for workplace challenges.

2. Introducing multi-disciplinary skills: Institutions will have to understand how vital multi-disciplinary skills are and how it contributes in making India employable. These are skills that open paths to multiple careers for students. For example, finance is a specific skill, while data analysis can fall under non-specific multi-disciplinary skills. If students are equipped with many such skills, they have a better chance of being employable. They will also be in a better position to secure jobs later in a future situation that gets even more unpredictable.

3. Offer exposure to workplaces: Universities must also try exposing their students to practical workspaces and organisations. This can be done through internship programmes that can also make students aware of expectations in the corporate world. While many institutions have made internships mandatory, many have not. If internships are made the norm, every semester and not just the last one, behavioural and academic expectations at the workplace can be learnt. Communication with seniors and colleagues, performing tasks for the company and being responsible for their actions can make students aware of how an organisation operates. Universities can also invite guest lecturers and experts from the Industry to help students prepare for the future. 

4. Provide students with digital skills that are cutting-edge: Digital India is growing, and the number of high-tech jobs is also increasing. In a 2022 report called Coursera Campus Skill Report, it was recorded that technical skill courses in India are still lagging by 10 to 15 years and are unable to match the needs of the Industry. This means advanced technology skills that are needed to drive innovation are not accessible by the students. Hence, if the universities want the students to excel, they must revise the technical skills curriculum to match local and global demands and trends.

5. Guide students to build a diverse portfolio: Students in University need constant advice on how to build their portfolios. Whether from an industry expert, mentor, subject expert or a veteran, any help is a big help. If universities can provide such services to students and provide information about roles that can match their course, students can work on building a comprehensive work portfolio. Advice like this can also help them to make a diverse portfolio that can increase their employability thus making India employable.

The young graduates in India today are prominent in number, and this high number is an advantage to India regarding the global arena’s competitiveness. If we make an effort in making India employable with the education and skills the market demands, the economy can reach new heights. With an integrated effort made by Universities, government bodies and experts from the industry, students will be able to prepare academically along with skills for their dream jobs.

Reference: A Manifesto for Universities: How to make young India Employable|The Economic Times/ ET Online|Riya Tandon|July 3, 2022

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