I have been reading the articles published under Lila with great relish. It is a pleasure to get the various perspectives on different matters that concern our daily lives. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise for me to be invited to share my thoughts on the apparent gap between the education framework and the skills required for the workforce in this edition themed Livelihood.
Before I get into my perspective on the apparent gap, I would like to expend a few words on livelihood. The word livelihood for me throws up two types of images… and this whole discussion about the gap is incomplete without this clarification.
Let’s start with my first interpretation of this word.
The word livelihood itself throws up images of people who are barely able to eke out a living; who live day-to-day or even meal-to-meal. If that be the case, then these people will hardly be able to afford any kind of education for their children and in cases, where the kids are grown up, for themselves.
The Skilling Eco System
It is possibly to address this strata that the government originally started the skilling movement with the National Skill Development Corporation initiative. The idea was to provide employment to a large number of presumably unemployable people by providing them quick and basic training on several skills that were apparently easy-to-learn and for which jobs were available in plenty.
Without getting into the merits or demerits of the movement itself (the government has been trying to improve the same by putting various checks and balances in place), I would like to share my observations about the people being targeted by this movement. The major challenges in this area can be summed up as the three Ms – Money, Migration and Mindset
Let’s park the above for a bit and look at my other interpretation of the word.
While the standard definition applies to the so-called ‘bottom of the pyramid’ folks, I use this for people who are well-off and are in a sense lively and have a hood over them. How are the skills matching up here, where children are being sent to school to receive a decent education and also are able to go on for higher studies.
The situation is not very different here either. The same three Ms affect these folks as well. However there is also a fourth M here.
It’s the same; it’s different!
Having established that there are two broad groups of people getting into the workforce, and the fact that there are gaps in both from a workforce readiness perspective, what is it that can be done?
The big answers have always been there, education reform being the first and foremost. But as with everything big and involving the government, this is going to take time. In fact, the entire skilling initiative was supposed to be one such silver bullet.
Let’s look at what needs to be done for the first group – the ones struggling.
- Skilling needs to continue, however, not in the current format.
- The eco system needs to look at onboarding the participants right from the beginning, and providing them with a reality check with respect to the three Ms.
- Where possible, parents and families of the people being trained should also be involved.
- Free courses, free food should NOT be the norm. In fact, some nominal and reasonable amount should be charged, which could be returned once successful employment has been taken up.
- A significant part of the training should happen on-the-job, preferably at the location where they are going to work. This would imply that it would be best to actually have a set up where a company provides them in-principle appointment even before the training starts.
- One thing that I personally believe and have seen is that personal attention needs to be given to these people and that is only possible with a dedicated person running each centre. In a large setup, this is not easy and therefore, a lot of dilution of intent happens by the time the same reaches the student.
- While the 2% Corporate Social Responsibility requirement of companies is welcome, simply throwing money is not going to solve this problem. Instead if companies can be mandated to provide time of employees for training these people, it will be far more beneficial.
Let’s look at the other group – the one who are doing well.
- These folks need a reality-check about the workforce and how life is once they get into a job.
- This needs to be done for them at the school level itself.
- While many schools have started taking this initiative, it is important that parents themselves start talking to them about jobs and the skills required. A good time to start this conversation is around class 8 or 9 and certainly the conversation should have taken some conclusion by the time the kid has reached class 11.
- Even at the college level, a lot of emphasis needs to be on application of the theory they learn at the workplace.
This is not enough…
While the above changes for each group is required and desirable, it is not enough. Consider the following facts that are mostly to do with technology advancing so rapidly:
- Data is actually cheaper than food!
- All information (correct and incorrect) is available on google.
- It is easier to interact on social media than face-to-face.
- You can order almost anything sitting at home.
The above basically means that physical interactions have gone down and therefore, interpersonal skills have certainly taken a hit. According to me, these are possibly the biggest skills and requirements that will be needed as we move into the next era.
Some of these are very interesting and noteworthy that the above skills are required for both groups of learners mentioned. Some points come to mind.
- ICT Literacy: With everchanging technology, this becomes extremely important. How to keep adapting to everchanging technology.
- Financial Literacy: It is imperative that this start at school level now. And for the skill centres, irrespective of the skill being imparted, this must be taught.
- Cultural and civic literacy: With the workforce migrating, it is extremely important that this be covered for both sets so that they understand the wide array of differences that exist between different cultures and yet, we all are part of one large family.
- Competencies: The four competencies will need to be practiced during any training imparted. Therefore, every training program must have some complex challenges that allows learners to practice the 4 Cs required to solve such complex problems.
In my view, the 6 character qualities will determine the difference between the winners and the also-rans. While there is no dearth of curiosity and initiative in many of the students today, there is a severe lack of persistence, adaptability and social and cultural awareness, which in turn affects their ability to be a good leader. Therefore, it is imperative that any person joining the workforce is trained and exposed to these.
Last but not the least, a culture of lifelong learning is required. Who will provide this?
This cannot be provided by any one entity. The culture of lifelong learning has to be imbued all around us – starting from the family, educational institutions, friends and the workplace. Therefore, while it is all well for us to look for gaps between the education system and the skills required for the workplace, we have to accept that with changing times, even the concept of education framework will change. In fact, it is already changing with the whole movement towards just-in-time learning as opposed to just-in-case.
It is more than evident, to me at least, that the gap between our formal education and the skills required for the workforce is there and that this is NOT going to go away in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is in our hands to take up initiatives for our own learning and for the learning of the environment around us (family, friends, fellow students and workers) that we cultivate a culture of continuous learning and look at how we can influence in small steps the education framework.
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