Bridging the talent gap

Bridging the talent gap

Not more than 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the educated youth in India is employed. Startling isn’t it? One would think that good education will land you in a great job. It did. Thirty years back. Then, whether you were a civil engineer or a physics major, you had a strong chance of landing a banking job. And later, with the Indian economy opening up, technology skills were most sought after and there was a spurt of engineering colleges that produced professionals to cater to this segment. More recently, the outsourcing industry has seen the need for skilled manpower.  Yet, there is such a low employment number for educated youth. Uma Ganesh, CEO, Global Talent Track, a finishing school, says, “The world will have a shortage of knowledge workers to the tune of U.S. $43 billion by the year 2025. One of the major contributors to this gap is the disconnect between our education system and current industry requirements.” This is not because of lack of demand. To bridge this academic-industry disconnect, schools or better known as finishing schools are blossoming. “It is an interesting problem to address, on the one hand there will be a shortage in the world and an opportunity for India and there will only be a handful of countries which have surplus of resources at that point,” adds Ganesh.

 “Fundamentally, as a society since independence, our spotlight has been on learning methodology from school days and not towards collaborative efforts in terms of communication and articulation so much as memorisation and being able to produce what you have assimilated on paper.”

Turn employment friendly

No doubt, it is necessary to have strong foundations in technical subjects. The ability to integrate the learning and apply them in new and different situations is key to a successful career. In addition, soft skills such as communication and team work are critical to your growth as a professional.  More importantly, as Srikantan Moorthy, head of education and research at Infosys feels, “While education provides a strong theoretical background, one needs to translate it to a more tangible structure that is employment friendly.” Ganesh also adds, “Fundamentally, as a society since independence, our spotlight has been on learning methodology from school days and not towards collaborative efforts in terms of communication and articulation so much as memorisation and being able to produce what you have assimilated on paper.”

There are some who are trying to make a difference in this sphere. Finishing schools, which turn fresh graduates employment friendly, are finding their niche in India.  Global Talent Track (GTT), with funding from Intel Capital and Helion Ventures, commenced operation in 2008. It works closely with the industry and academic partners to comprehensively design programs for graduates and working professionals.

In the recent times, GTT has partnered with Cisco in the ‘distributed learning and technology in an interactive classroom’ context. It has been their endeavour to leverage their global experience in the field of vocational education, in particular, through the use of combined technology. This venture has seen results that are encouraging. GTT has five different programs catering to very specific student/working segments for which it has tie-ups with schools and universities. For instance, its K Power is designed for students who are still in college while Wave has been designed to reach out to grass-root level individuals who may have completed their 10th standard or schooling. Vantage and Premier are available through their network of training centers where Vantage is a short program with an internship for those who have completed their education and are now on the lookout for gainful employment and Premier is a longer duration program for people who seek a change in careers or are looking at scaling up in their current fields. They have identified international certifications so that the skills that students or corporates acquire are globally recognized and not just relevant to the Indian market. “We are looking at the talent the country has and our aim is to make sure that over 500 million people are skilled by the year 2025,” says Ganesh.

Corporate awakening

Corporates are also rising to the occasion. Apart from in-house training operations for fresh recruits, they collaborate with universities to impart education. Campus Connect Program is one such initiative by Infosys to help increase India’s competitiveness in the knowledge economy. It aims at evolving a model through which engineering institutions and Infosys can partner for competitiveness and enhance the pool of highly capable talent in the Information Technology (IT) space. This is achieved by aligning college curriculum with the industry’s requirements and influencing with educational bodies towards implementing it. The program aims to create a forum where some of the best practices at Infosys can be shared with engineering colleges. As part of this program, seminars and faculty trainings are held. Infosys courseware is published on the web for easy access for the students. Infosys even shares with the colleges, its vast banks of industry projects, which the students can work on. This will give them a feel for the approach and application of knowledge to real world problems.

Control training cost

Companies are feeling an enormous pinch when it comes to allocating funds for training. “There is a need for us to look at how to make the individuals who come out of the system to unlearn some of the things they have learnt over 15 years of education and learn something completely new”, says Ganesh. This unlearning process is proving to be expensive for corporates.

According to a Nasscom study, Indian companies spend twice as much on training fresh graduates than their US counterparts. Infosys has been spending USD 175 million on its training program annually, which is expected to increase marginally with a new training schedule. The company spends approximately USD 5,000 per employee trained. There is an increasing need to plug this problem at the primary level, schools and colleges.

Not an easy task

India is rapidly being recognised as a global force and as foreign direct investment increases, the demand for skilled manpower is only set to increase. Bold steps need to be taken to revamp the education system. Teachers need to be oriented to take up this challenge of imparting technical and industry specific knowledge to students. That said, it is certainly not an easy task to accomplish. “The reality is that this is a mammoth challenge and a system that has been set up over several decades cannot be dismantled completely in a short span of time,” feels Ganesh.

One must also not forget that India is rapidly losing its English speaking advantage to China. A recent British Council study shows that China may have more English speaking people than India. According to a study, India will soon be home to over 20 per cent of the world’s productive workforce. But the quality and employability of this workforce will depend heavily on the quality of education and training programs. And India’s primary challenge is to rise to the occasion and make sure knowledge workers are available to tap into this demand. The government surely has to take a course of action to rectify the situation. In the interim, finishing schools and in-house training facilities together will combat this current shortage.