Poised for greatness: With mentorship, India’s youth can now unlock dream jobs7 min read . Updated: 30 Dec 2019, 03:30 PM IST
Government, industry and academia must come together if India is to reduce the skills gap and fully leverage its demographic dividend.
With the target of creating a $5 trillion economy by 2025, the Indian Government is now pulling out all stops to boost investment in the country. It recently announced a lower corporate tax rate, with special concessions to encourage manufacturing, while there is also word on the street that consumption will see a boost through some special relief that may be announced for individual taxpayers.
As several global firms line up new investments - especially in technology and the digital economy, these are clearly exciting times for the 10-12 million young workers entering the country’s workforce every year, as per official data. It is time for the key stakeholders – government, industry and academia, to come together and prepare our students for the jobs of the future. The major challenge is to ensure they have access to the skills training required to keep pace with the demands of industry.
“My first placement was more like a paid traineeship in a small place. Though I enjoyed the work environment, I used to feel that what I am doing is away from my core area of interest. I was confused about what I should do next," says Yash Shindekar, a former student JSPM College, Pune.
Clearly there is a strong case for industry to support young students. Yash and several other students have leveraged the employability skills training and mentorship offered by Barclays’ Connect with Work, a programme that provides people facing barriers to work with job-ready skills and connects them to businesses that are recruiting – bridging the skills gap.
“My mentor through Barclays’ Connect with Work Programme helped me channel my thoughts and to prepare for the stringent application process that is required to be selected to work at a multinational corporation. There were rounds of technical tests and interviews. My mentor pointed me towards certain e-learning links to brush up my knowledge specific to the area and helped me practice the video interview, which was quite new to me. I got selected and have been working in my dream organization – General Electric, since May 2019," adds Yash.
A little guidance goes a long way
While India is touted as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, it is finding it hard to fully leverage its demographic dividend. The only way to power this growth is to brings its young workforce up to speed.
A recent study by the Government’s NSSO – called the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) shows that the real challenge is that India’s youth is unable to find jobs in the big cities. The survey further points out that unemployment among urban youth in the age group of 15-29 years has been rising for four quarters, and stood at 22.5 per cent in the March , 2019 quarter. This is despite the urban youth spending an average 11 years in formal education.
At first glance, overall numbers may seem discouraging to those about to hit the job market. But, look deeper and there are contradictory trends. For example, reports indicate that the IT & ITeS (IT Enables Services) sector – one of the key employers in the country - is hiring aggressively from campuses. Similarly, audit firms EY, KPMG and Deloitte have also announced major hiring plans. Clearly then, more than a lack of jobs, the real challenge is the widening skills gap between what industry needs and what our youth is trained for.
“I was happy I had been placed in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry and was enjoying being part of the lively atmosphere. However, the daily grind of dealing with irate customers was pulling me down. It made me nervous and my performance was dipping. I thought I should just leave the job," says Devoshree Nandargi, a former student of JSPM College, Pune employed with a leading IT company since August 2019.
She adds, “But a mentoring session with my mentor from Barclays’ Connect with work programme gave me a new perspective. My mentor had handled a team of customer service associates as part of her previous role and gave me valuable advice based on her first-hand experience. She gave me excellent practical tips. For example, she asked me to stick a picture of something that makes me smile at my desk along with a small mirror. She said looking at the picture and taking a deep breath between calls helps de-stress and looking at the mirror while I speak on the phone ensures the smile reflects in my voice. My performance stabilized and I decided to stay on in the job. Now, I’m looking forward to being a team leader like my mentor."
The Indian education system has always emphasized the need for ‘high grades’, which is misleading for students. They believe that a high score is enough to land them a high-paying job, while the reality is completely different. A mismatch between the university curriculum and industry requirements is a significant reason for the shortage of talent.
“Our (Indian) university system does not prepare us for professional, and communication skills. We speak to employers regularly, and they tell us about the value system needed. We focus on confidence building and behaviour at the workplace," says Manjiri Joshi, CEO, Global Talent Track (GTT). GTT has been an implementation partner for Barclays’ Connect with work programme for the past four years. This year alone, the Barclays’ Connect with work programme has trained, placed and mentored 62,000 students.
Students as pathbreakers
“You will find that the graduates we work with are the first in their community to become a graduate, so it is quite path breaking. There are many firsts here - in terms of first woman to work in the household, first to become an engineer, and the first person to get a white collar job," says Joshi of GTT.
She adds, “Access is not about money alone. The value system - how to behave in a professional environment - that is missing with these students. This is because they haven’t seen it in their family, since they do not come from a professional background."
Organizations like GTT and International Association for Human Values (IAHV) are on a mission to make India’s youth more employable by traversing campuses across the country and working with thousands of students. These NGOs are supported by corporates such as Barclays.
“As part of Barclays’ Citizenship strategy, the issue that we are trying to solve is one of the pressing problems of our generation – the unemployment of youth in the country. The idea behind our Connect with Work programme was to equip people looking for jobs with work readiness skills and create pathways into work," says a Barclays spokesperson.
Soft skills take the centrestage
Apart from being up to date in terms of technology, soft skills are fast becoming the differentiator between candidates. Global firms are on the hunt for candidates who possess excellent communication skills, confidence, a professional attitude and top-notch work ethic. In fact, with several mechanical and repetitive jobs today getting automated, workplaces are increasingly focusing on unique skills that set a candidate apart. As per a World Economic Forum report, cognitive abilities such as creativity, logical reasoning and problem sensitivity will be required in jobs in 2020.
“I was lost in the world of a huge corporation with new industry jargon, global teams and time zones. I used to make mistakes without realizing, mix up time zones, offend people without meaning to on work chat. I was miserable at being pulled up. My mentor once again coached me on the nuances of communication norms expected in different work and geographical cultures and what I was doing wrong," says Yash.
Even as 50 million enter the workforce every year in India, 75 percent of them are not job-ready or industry-ready. This is something regularly faced by corporate, where the recruitment divisions receive a large number of applications, but only a few qualify for an interview or clear it.
“Here is where we can help, by offering people the chance to train in the skills that they need for the jobs that are available. Working with our partners we’re helping university leavers who are seeking to enter a number of different industries as well as professionals who want to equip themselves for future jobs," the Barclays spokesperson added.
As India sets aggressive growth targets for itself, it needs to be recognized that this ambitious goal can only be achieved by skilling its young workforce. To be highly competitive among global peers, partnered initiatives between industry, academia and the Government need to achieve a critical scale and thus make deep impact in society.