Are you job-ready?

  A common statement being made across the country is that the graduates coming out of colleges are not job-ready, and only about 25 per cent to 30 per cent are employable. However, the factors that decide these numbers are not well defined. The yardstick for the required skills is not clear either. Should not the availability of jobs also be looked into as a factor? Would it not be more fruitful to focus on the demand-supply gap, quantify it and then talk about bridging it?

Do the so-called employability numbers, which are projected to be low, reflect the standard of higher education, or the learning capability of students, or a different expectation from the industries? By pointing fingers, are we not demotivating the students and degrading the higher education system, rather than bringing a positive change? These are some pertinent questions that need to be answered.

Giving a serious thought to all these questions could lead us to conclude the following points:

    The skill sets required for jobs are ever-changing, and it is the collective responsibility of both academia and industries to bridge the skill gap as both are involved in nation-building.
    Neither the academia nor the industry should directly or indirectly point fingers at each other by saying “Only 25 per cent of graduates are employable” or “Training graduates to suit industry job is their responsibility.” Instead, both should work together for bridging the skill gap.
    At meetings, discussion forums and public platforms, academic institutions and industries should only project what they would do to bridge the skill gap.

To take the right steps and for enjoying the demographic dividend that India has, every higher education institution should a) Analyse and understand the market place requirements, b) Pick the most important skill sets which can be incorporated in the curriculum, c) Plan to frame ‘student outcome’ based on the requirements, and d) Formulate methodologies to develop the skills through academic activities.

This exercise has been done at an autonomous university in Vellore. Based on the 2020 workplace requirements, 20 students’ outcomes have been identified for the engineering programme.

These include having an ability to apply mathematics and science in engineering applications, a clear understanding of the subject-related concepts and contemporary issues, an ability to be socially intelligent with good SIQ (Social Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient), possessing sense-making skills of creating unique insights in what is being seen or observed (Higher level thinking skills which cannot be codified), design thinking capability and an ability to design a component or a product applying relevant standards and with realistic constraints.

Other outcomes include having computational thinking (Ability to translate vast data into abstract concepts and to understand database reasoning), virtual collaborating ability, problem-solving ability such as solving social issues and engineering problems, a clear understanding of professional and ethical responsibility and an interest in lifelong learning. Students should also have:

    Adaptive thinking and adaptability
    Cross-cultural competency exhibited by working in teams
    Ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyse and interpret data
    Ability to use social media effectively for productive use
    A good working knowledge of communicating in English
    Ability to use techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice
    Critical thinking and innovative skills
    Good cognitive load management skills
    A good digital footprint

Efforts are taken to inculcate these student learning outcomes during the four-year programme. This will make the students job-ready when they graduate.

Just a degree and 60 per cent aggregate marks will not help them get the jobs they want. With millions of students graduating and lakhs of engineers passing out every year, students should be trained to stand tall.

Adding additional qualifications to their CVs is the key to success. Institutes should provide several co-curricular and skill-enhancement opportunities for boosting students’ motivation.

During their undergraduate programme, the additional qualifications that students can attain are — Certificate of English proficiency, learning one foreign language other than English, soft skill learning certificate, research paper presentation in a reputed conference along with faculty guide, publication of journal paper along with faculty guide, taking part in national-level competitions and having a certificate of participation, gaining expertise and having a certificate of completing a course on generic software packages such as Excel, Primavera and so on.

They can also obtain hands-on experience of working with software of the student’s domain of expertise, get a MOOC certificate, become an office-bearer of any of the student clubs or societies and take part in team projects through which they can get a letter of appreciation from industries.

These achievements will speak volumes about the student’s capabilities. Higher education institutions should try to incorporate these factors in the system, as they can help in solving the employability problem.

The writer is vice-chancellor, VIT University.