Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Great Indian Skill Gap... A Reality Check

I am a corporate guy, with experience in teaching MBA classes as well . And I categorically state: there is no skill gap. The only gap is in our approach, at least in the general sense of the term. What is the difference between the 2 statements - Skill Gap and Approach? When you say Gap, the onus is on the student; when you say approach - YOU are the culprit. This is not splitting hairs, this is the core issue.

You say students are not corporate-ready. Fine, Enumerate steps taken by your organisation to tackle this. And please dont list A-lister colleges. Till date, I have not seen a single corporate aligning with universities, If you cant get in, dirty your hands and solve it, stop crying and face the music! Do you seriously expect a greenhorn to come raring out and write perfect code? Do you seriously expect a greenhorn to come out raring and bribe a government babu with impunity? And dont tell me corporates dont bribe, please! Do you seriously expect a new guy fresh out of college to climb on top of distributors who have handled hundreds of such college geniuses? Do you seriously expect a fresh college grad to put in 18-hour workdays? And again, dont tell me we have an 8 hour day!

Further, till date not one single person in my knowledge has specified exactly what a skill gap means in specific deliverable terms. No general statements, please, Identify specific gaps. Cant code? Cant adjust? Cant take pressure? But before you think of this, think of how do you treat your summer trainees? Is there any genuine effort to train them? I have been through it, so I know exactly how much we - aah- train them. Dont make me laugh. How on earth you expect a fresh guy to deliver as much as an experienced guy is beyond me.

The Army spends 2 years training its people - as well as regularly every 2 years. Dad had to attend regular several-month-long trainings, as well as got a 2-year break for further studies.  How much do we invest in training? I have been through - aah - induction programmes, which generally tell me all about the organisation - which a simple google search will reveal - and precisely nothing about how to deliver on my KRAs!!!!! And then we cry - Skill Gap! Wow!

Saying "Skill Gap" and 'Soft Skill" is fine; be specific - identify specific areas, attributes, habits, mannerisms that are, shall we say, desirable. In my reading, no one has, till date. It is a fashionable trend, saying we have a skill gap. And if I am wrong, please give me specifics, not generalities. We sales guys have a habit of dealing in specifics! 

It may sound funny to many people - but, again, my point made above is straightforward: try and identify s-p-e-c-i-f-i-c areas of gaps; and see the problems that emerge as you try to define it. And pray tell me how can a problem be solved if it is not even defined? I have certainly not read any article in main stream business news regarding anything beyond the generic term "skill gap"

For example, you say students cant talk properly? Fine. Why cant they talk? It is all very well to state they cant talk; ever thought about the why? Ever taken the trouble to ask them or their families? Ever thought about how they got here in the first place? And what do you mean they cant talk? They talk well enough in their own circles. So why cant they do so in front of you? What is it in your approach - or his history - that presents a block? Try and go into specifics - then you will see the real problem emerge- which is not repeat not a skill gap. It is something else entirely!

A gap is not in the ether somewhere; also try and relate it to the real world, where education is costly. Also keep in mind the population distribution of the nation; the top 200 cities do not account for more than 5.68% (from memory) of total population. The age group of 18-35 of the top 50 cities is something like 2.57% if memory serves me right. Or is it the general contention that India exists only in the metros????? Try and scale it up on a state-wide scale; let alone a national scale. And keep in mind earning skewness in India, consumption trends and spreads; average cost of a decent college education; as well as attend to why dont all students reach college?

The problem is two-fold; first, corporates prefer people to fit in to a certain stereotype; and woe betide anyone who challenges this. Anyone who does not fit in is left out - regardless of other skills sets he/she may be having. There is little focus on the person, there is no focus on giving something to the employee in terms of training and life skills, there is little focus on attempting to make the employee fit in, there is little focus on re-training line and staff managers to cope with the new challenges being posed - as corporate India enters the smaller towns and villages for its manpower. There is little thought being given to this - that simple fact that the modern serving corporate manager does not have the skill sets to deal with this new set of people, who have different values, attitudes and experiences in life from your top - 50 city metrosexual individual.

Second, Yes, there are gaps - but these are primarily socio-economic gaps, gaps of infrastructure, gaps of earning potential of parents, gaps of service delivery in schools, gaps of high fees that are unaffordable, gaps of social status,gaps of inferiority complexes that are rooted in our caste structure etc. You cannot simplify such a massive socio-economic problem as a skill-gap, and set up short-term institutes to bridge it!

These are students who could not get a top-line education in mainstream schools due to personal problems. Therefore, crying about their technical incompetence, or other issues is a pointless exercise. The real problems lie in the massive infrastructural bottlenecks that are facing India – lack of good teachers, lack of good pay for teaching staff, lack of good books in the Vernacular, lack of money for education in better facilities etc. Does this mean that they are to be left out always? Further, does this also mean that all of these are unemployable? They have passed the college exams, and are equipped with the basics. Despite this, the general claim is that 90% of such people are unemployable at any role?

That is why I say get into the specifics - it is only then that you will realise that what you are asking for is first of all impossible in the current set of circumstances, and second, that somewhere along the line you yourself are responsible. It will also lay bare prejudices and misapprehensions - which do exist in any corporate. It will also force you to identify key mission critical areas - because now you can be pinned down to your statements and held responsible - since now you are giving a pinpointed, factual answer supported by facts. And on that, you can be challenged! This will also serve to identify specific shortcomings in students, which can be communicated to colleges.

 It does not require much time to give proper feedback or engage with colleges - but no one does it. This is limited to the IITs and IIMs. Why cant it be taken to other colleges from where campus hiring takes place - and for all domains like Telecom, FMCG etc - as well as for all functions - Sales, Finance etc; AND for all levels - Sales Trainee, Management Trainee, Sales Officer Trainee, Trainees in other domains etc? The current focus is only on IITs, IIMs and other top tier places. There are others towns and cities, and other colleges – which go largely ignored; the manpower from them is not considered worthy of such mundane activities as feedback ad industry-college linkage!.

These problems are not going to go away for decades at least; in the meantime corporates will require manpower. So look internally; identify and re-train your own manpower to deal with these people. Create internal systems that can tackle the shortcomings/ As it is, we dont spend a dime on serious training, Simple fact, whether or not anyone likes it. As I read on Quora once - you can either train and run the risk of ,manpower leaving, which will give you at least some managers who are more capable - or dont train, and run the risk of unskilled managers staying with you.

You wont get the same skill levels everywhere; and the modern manager is simply not emotionally mature enough to handle people from such - aah - "skill gaps"! Because of this, there is a tendency to judge everyone in the same mould, rather than trying to judge the ability to perform after sufficient hand-holding and training. But, for that, you require time, patience, tolerance for other world-views, ability to converse in local tongues, robust internal systems to check abuse and targeting etc. This requires real management – which is diametrically opposite to what most managers do - which is just scream at subordinates, without adding any real value,. Start asking your own people to add some real value - and see this perceived skill gap lessen!

This will also generate a massive goodwill for organizations that do these activities; further, this will strengthen the Industry – College linkages, as well as create a pool of trained manpower. Not only that our nation will also greatly benefit by such an effort.  You can also look at it as a corporate social responsibility initiative – and this one initiative that  will give long term tangible and certain benefits. All it requires is a change in approach; this does not require much expense. The benefits more than compensate the effort required – and this is eminently doable as well. But it does require a very different approach, as well as a different mindset…

1 comment:

  1. Great post.... Will have to read once more some other day. Vishal i struggled to survive in the S/W industry because they are insensitive, their offices too posh where i feel fish out of water and colleagues working as labourers, unhappy and speaking about office politics it is unbearable.