Srinivasa Addepalli is the founder & CEO of GlobalGyan Academy which works with corporates and managers with leadership capability development services. He has been a visiting faculty in the strategy area at leading Indian b-schools including IIM Ahmedabad, NMIMS, TAPMI, IIM Nagpur, and IIT Hyderabad. Srini’s teaching is focused on the areas of business acumen. He works with corporate management teams in the areas of strategic thinking, commercial acumen, M&A and integration, ethics & values, innovation, and leadership communication. Srini has (co-)authored several case studies, which have been published by ISB/HBSP, IIMA and Ivey. His case on business ethics was the Overall Winner at the ISB-Ivey Global Case Competition 2014.
Did you know that some of the largest companies in the world including Google, IBM, Bank of America and Apple do not use degrees as a pre-requisite to their hiring process? Gina Rommetty, CEO of IBM wrote a few years ago that, “As industries from manufacturing to agriculture are reshaped by data science and cloud computing, jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting.” She further added that not all jobs may require a college degree and at least a third of IBM employees in the US do not have a traditional college degree.
Combine this with almost every survey that points out a majority of India’s 30 million students graduating from over 40,000 colleges are considered unemployable. It is not the lack of jobs that is worrying; it is the widening gap between what the graduates are capable of and what employers expect from the next generation of employees.
But we are not here to debate the value of college education itself, even though that is presenting itself as a crucial question for those who have to invest three to five years and huge sums of money at the start of their career.
Colleges can not only teach students the basics in a chosen area of interest, but also provide valuable all-round personal development along with life-long connections made with fellow students and faculty. At the same time, for most individuals, gainful employment is the primary goal of college. And it is this non-fulfilment of the degree’s role as an employment generator that we must debate.
Of the many reasons why college education has been unable to delivering what its ‘customers’ (employers) seek, let us examine two prominent ones:
Content Disconnect with Reality: By its nature, what is taught in the classroom lags what is being done in the practical world by a few years. Many college courses that are offered today were designed decades ago and have not been updated with current usage scenarios. By the time, new topics are introduced in the curriculum and faculty (who are often disconnected from the industry) are prepared with new teaching content, it is too late. In the rapidly changing, disruptive business environment, this gap between what the market demands in terms of skills, and what the education system provides its learners is immense.
Uni-dimensional Learning: Another defining element of the (Indian) education system is its silo nature. Students are required to make choices at the high school level itself if they wish to pursue engineering, medicine, commerce or arts (amongst others) in later years. Apart from a few new ‘liberal arts’ colleges that encourage multi-disciplinary learning, a vast majority of our college system creates theoretical specialists in topics that, in the real world, don’t operate in isolation from each other. Professional development for youngsters should actually be more about learning to learn, building familiarity with the latest technologies, honing one’s people skills, networking with diverse natured people and communicating persuasively.
Too many minions with the same piece of paper: For every graduate emerging from a college, there are millions of other graduates, with exactly the same knowledge and skills. And a certificate that is increasingly becoming irrelevant in the recruiters’ perspective.
So is there any way for a student to stand out in this skill market? Here are a few tips and tricks that youngsters can consider, to improve their chances of being hired into jobs that are worthy of the investments that they have made in their degree.
1) Tip: Foster a learning mindset
The onus of learning and skill development is on you. Explore what is happening in the market and learn skills that are not yet popular or mainstream, find gaps that nobody is meeting today. This makes you a desirable candidate in the eyes of potential employers.
Take up certification courses in allied areas. For example, if you want to be a writer, pursue a course in digital marketing, or you can learn design or page-making skills. The idea is to expand the possibilities of your role, with emerging skills that complement it.
2) Tip: Learn about new technologies
Emerging technologies are rapidly changing the way we live. Become familiar with artificial intelligence, Internet of things, blockchain or new materials. It does not matter which role you seek; a working awareness of these new technologies can give you an edge during a job interview and in your work.
Most of these technology concepts can be learnt through immersive learning methods, many of which are free. For instance, you can learn the basics of coding purely through fun and engaging games.
3) Tip: Amp up your communication skills
Effective communication is a deal breaker when it comes to recruitment and career progress. Whether you deal with your team, boss or a client, interpersonal skills are often more important than technical skills. This is also an area which is extremely weak in our academic system, and therefore, a sure-shot way of standing out from others.
Brush up your communication skills, both verbal and written. You can look at online courses that can help you ace the art of making good presentations, email etiquette, etc., but you have to find ways to apply it. Start a blog, write book or article summaries, make a class presentation. Learn by doing.
To sum up, what students have to possess is more than a generic stamp of approval. To be ready for a job or a future promotion, their skills must match what the employer seeks, conceptually as well as in application. Proactively crossing the thin line between knowing and doing early on, will help the next generation of talent stand out in the crowded market for talent.