The jobs are there, the skills are not

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In-depth English and soft-skills training at all levels is a must if India wants to retain its edge in the global job market, says Nasha Fitter

Hiring day Graduates wait for their interviews outside a technology company in Bengaluru
Hiring day Graduates wait for their interviews outside a technology company in Bengaluru
Photo: Reuters

INDIA FINDS itself in a unique position in the current global crisis – it is one of the few economies that continue to grow! This growth has, and will continue to be, fueled by the services sector – a sector contributing to 57 percent of GDP and employing 25 percent of the workforce.

India’s service economy can be broken up into its export and domestic services. For exports, the main drivers have been the well-publicised growth of IT-enabled services (ITES) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). There has been fear the ITES-BPO space will decline in the recession due to the slowing down of the global economy, and the politics of the near-nationalisation of much of the financial sector in developed countries. However, the impetus to improve efficiencies is even more urgent as leading companies aggressively rationalise their cost structures, work off their inventories and try and maintain margins.

The economics of outsourcing become even more compelling in such an environment. Secondly, India is lucky — much luckier than other export-dependant nations — in that our domestic demand for services continues to grow. Retail, mobile services, tourism, financial services and advertising are examples of service-based growth drivers that continue to stay strong.

Rote learning and an archaic pedagogy are leading to large numbers of graduates who are unemployable

While our services sector should allow us to weather the crisis better than other economies, there are some structural issues that need to be addressed to ensure this sector can reach its full potential. Most importantly, to feed growth in this area, we need graduates who can problem-solve, think creatively and communicate well; we need a strong knowledge-based hiring pool. It is thus somewhat tragic that these skills are vastly ignored in the current education system. Rote learning and archaic teaching practices are leading to large numbers of unemployable graduates. This is regrettable not only for young aspirants, but also for companies that end up facing chronic talent shortages as they scramble to find quality labor.

India stands at an inflection point. The new government has a mandate from the electorate to make changes for a better future. In order for the bulk of the population to develop economically, the country needs to overhaul its education system. The new HRD Minister Kapil Sibal seems passionate to make this happen, and it was reassuring to hear his public announcement to implement Professor Yash Pal’s report on Renovation and Rejuvenation of the Higher Education within 100 days.

Students need to be taught how to properly formulate sentences, express ideas cogently and speak in public

While Professor Yash Pal’s report is both impressive and in touch with reality, it is surprising that there is no mention of aggressively including English language education in university curricula. The report states that many students passing out from institutions of higher education do so without obtaining the kind of skills they really need to work in a real-world environment.

Among the drawbacks many students face are lack of ability to analyze or solve problems, relate problems to different contexts, communicate clearly and have an integrated understanding of different branches of knowledge. Yet, there is no suggestion in the rest of the report that in-depth English language training should be a major effort taken on by universities.

THIS IS UNFORTUNATE. To succeed in today’s business world, the ability to communicate is the crucial factor. And within communication, the content of what someone says can be wholly undermined if a sentence cannot be put together without a grammatical error. Grammar and language fluency are the foundation — the fundamentals — to good communication. There are two main ways in which individuals develop communication skills: exposure and education. While global exposure may be available to urban youth, formal training in communication seems to be lacking. We need to make sure that in addition to teaching the 3 R’s, we add a C to our educational curriculum. Students need to be taught how to formulate sentences properly, express ideas cogently, speak and debate in public and present themselves professionally. It’s crucial these skills are acquired early in a child’s education and continue throughout the university education system.

An education is looked upon as a way to transcend class barriers, and raise one’s economic and social status. English has been and continues to be a class separator in India, where technically skilled youth lose out on their hopes and ambitions simply because they cannot speak well. For this reason, there is a massive need to evolve and incorporate in-depth English and soft-skills training systematically into the education system at all levels.

Fitter is a corporate trainer and author of You’re Hired! How to Get that Job and Keep it Too

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