Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Skill Gap - 3 : Doing Something Practical About It

The MBA is considered among those courses that are a ticket to a good life and earnings, it is considered among the most-sought after qualifications a person can have - if done from the right institution. To some, it is one of the most hyped courses, while to others, it is the only target and the only qualification. And yet, this course and its degree holders are the one that are among the most challenged. Similar is the situation with other professional courses at the Graduate and Post Graduate Level, in particular Engineering. 

And yet, surprisingly, it is the students of these courses that are finding getting a job to be a tough ask. Outside the top few colleges, placements are a real challenge. Even in cases where placements are done, the right job or a lucrative job is rare, to say the least. Placements usually require a compromise on the part of the student, who is understandably keen to land any job in this tough market. And even then, a good number have to remain jobless

Further, we are seeing a stunning spectacle of seats going unfilled in MBA colleges, and the closure of institutions. For example, as this article clarifies, 147 schools closed down last year. For a nation which is supposed to be going through a skill shortage, this is both sad as well as surprising. On one side, companies are crying skill shortage, bemoaning the lack of quality trained manpower, and on another - the institutions which can provide the manpower to companies- MBA, Engineering and other colleges are going through strain - either closing, or unable to attract students, or are going jobless, in a classic case of the supreme irony! This would even be a laughable joke, if it werent so tragic at so many levels...

This points to a deep seated problem at two levels - firstly on the part of hiring managers and organisations, as I delved into some detail in previous articles on my blog : Skill Gap and Skill Gap 2. In these articles, I noted the sad and pitiable status of training cutting across functions in companies; as well as the reluctance of companies to get into the situation, roll up their sleeves and craft a solution to the problem. 

Given the reluctance of the organisations to do anything about it, I can only conclude that these organisations lack the skill sets required to craft a solution to this vexing issue, something I shall go into greater detail in my next article on this matter. We then have no choice but to look at the other side of the equation, given that the people actually facing the problem have no intention of either solving it, or lend a helping hand in solving it. 

The second level of the problem is within the MBA courses and colleges itself, who in my experience have both the willingness as well as the ability to craft a solution. As a matter of fact, much of what I state will already have been thought of in colleges across the nation, of that I am certain. The key question here should be, what can these institutions do that is doable as well as logical?

Here again, there are two levels : one relatively easy, requiring little specialised knowledge and readily doable over a short time-frame; and the other exceptionally hard and time-consuming, requiring deep specialised knowledge and conceptual clarity of a high degree. The first is increasing industry-college linkages, and the other refurbishing the design of the MBA {or the core curriculum in degree courses} course itself. This article dwells on the first aspect only, given that the second is rather a tall order, especially for a blog post. 

The moot point in this is that the industry has shown itself to be completely unwilling to engage itself with colleges and institutes outside the top few in a meaningful manner, restricting their interaction to giving pointless and empty feedback regarding what students lack : in effect, brushing their hands off the problem and walking away! This leaves the colleges and the students both up a creek, so to speak : hunting for vague meaningless terms like "soft skills"!

The net result is that the people facing the problem in full : the students, the colleges {in particular the placement and administrative cells} - have little precise knowledge of exactly what the industry requires, for the perfectly simple reason that no one in the industry has ever taken the trouble of telling them in function and role-specific terms as to what is required. The reason for that, as we shall subsequently see in the follow-up to this article, is that companies themselves haven't even a farthing's idea as to what exactly this ethereal and by now almost legendary skill gap is in practical terms. 

Thus, the people who should know, dont; and the people who are the interface, the people who can link to the students and sort out this mess - the professors and teachers - cannot help in the absence of information. This leaves the gap open for vocational training services, which come at a cost, and, while effective no doubt, can with a little thought be made far more effective and pertinent. 

The solution is simple : catch onto professionals who would like to make a difference. Please note my usage of words, carefully : I did not state hire professionals as teachers and professors. I stated clearly, catch the professionals who want to make a difference. Trust me, if colleges across the nation make a determined effort, they will find ready talent across functions and levels - Engineers, Doctors, Managers, Marketers, Finance Specialists : the whole lot of professions - who would want to make a difference. All they require is an alternative, one which offers them a career option. 

I also did not state increase salaries to the level of the industry; the reason is straightforward. The industry can always pay more, there is zero chance of all institutions matching industry packages. Some might, but certainly not all. Second, there is the hope factor: so long as you are in the rat race, there is always a hope that you will get the promotion or the new job. Third, matching packages will run the risk of attracting people who are in it for the money, not for the love of the profession. What is required is giving entry to professionals, and a decent package that can ensure a decent life. That is it. 

Next, set up expectations from these professionals, in a defined framework; a framework that asks them to give some value addition from their industry experience. These cross-over professionals should be clear in their mind that their task involves both covering the syllabus as well as grooming students for corporate life. Interaction with such professionals in a classroom over a sustained period of 2-3 years is bound to have a powerful impact. This will of course require tweaking in the class allocations, with additional time being given to such professionals, alongwith some performance measurement criteria in terms of deliverables. Critically, for this to succeed, this has to be taken up with an almost missionary zeal. The make or break will be the professionals you hire, who should share this zeal and passion. 

The start will perforce be slow; but it has to be done. For in my considered opinion, as I shall cover in the next article, the industry cannot be relied upon to sort out this mess; it just does not have the requisite skill sets for this. Neither is the training institutes route a permanent solution; these are excellent; no doubt : but are hamstrung on two parameters : firstly, low acceptance in the industry, and second, high resistance to external intervention by industry as well as colleges, which is completely understandable. This will have to go hand in hand with a solution to another problem that is also a core issue : the availability of the proper study material at the right price and in the right language : which is a massive, massive issue... but that is an entirely different story, to be taken up in the concluding article in this series...


No comments:

Post a Comment