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Corporates and Educational Institutes Need to Work Together in Bridging the Skills Gap

With the world economy so intricately tied to information and communications technologies, careers of today and tomorrow are directly related to these technologies. In addition, technology is changing and evolving at a break neck pace. In response, classrooms, be it in a school or college, are adapting the education system. However, it seems that Industry is changing pace at a much faster rate than the education sector.

India today is the second largest higher education network in the world. Technical education in India contributes a major share to the overall education system and plays a vital role in the social and economic development of the nation

Of India’s 1.2 billion population, 60% are of the working age. And of the 15 million individuals who join the queue of job seekers every year, only 3% undergo vocational training. On a global benchmark, the country still has a long way to go before bridging the skills deficit.

According to Manpower’s Talent Shortage Survey 2013, the talent shortages are reported in Asia Pacific, with more than half the employers surveyed in India (61%), Hong Kong (57%) and New Zealand (51%) saying that talent shortages prevent them from hiring people with needed skills.

Do educational institutions adequately prepare students for a competitive and dynamic work environment? According to a McKinsey study, while 72 percent of educational institutions believe recent graduates are ready for work, only 42 percent of employers agree.

To bridge the gap

At the core of bridging the gap is strong, deep and long term collaboration, and partnership between academicians and employers. A number of leading IT companies today are known for their long-standing and innovative training solutions for university graduates. The current system of education requires innovative, simple and practical ideas to keep pace with changes in Industry to better equip the students to stay ahead in the years to come. However, in addition to innovative solutions are required sincerity, commitment and dedication of both parties. On the part of industry, it requires specific focus and investment on this often neglected area. According to technology market researcher IDC, about 5% of the $40 billion (2.4 lakh crore) IT market in India, including hardware, software and IT services, was in the education sector. The market is expected to grow at nearly 12% by 2017.

It is essential that businesses commit and continue to partnering with academia to provide students with advanced curricula to make an impact in today’s technology-driven marketplace.

For a case in point, through Shared University Research (SUR) program, IBM partners with different Universities to facilitate deep research involving multiple disciplines, multiple agencies and the government bodies. These projects result in solutions that impact the society and the planet by focusing on applying industry-relevant technologies to solve real-world problems, through academia-corporate partnerships.

Move beyond the traditional methods of teaching. There is a growing demand of skills on Big data and Analytics mixed with business and management education. The move toward using data and evidence to make decisions is transforming other fields. Analytics spans the full scope and range of activity in higher education, affecting administration, research, teaching and learning, and support resources. An innovative approach could be to deploy analytics in the administration of a college and have students develop the analytics needed in conjunction with mentoring from Industry. This could bring in potential process efficiencies into the administration while at the same time impart practical skills to students. The same idea could be extended to have students work on projects to automate or IT enable administrative processes and thereby gain a range of IT skills.

Another critical element would be for Universities to hire faculty who are open to constant and rapid learning, and ready to embrace change. This in turn would require innovative ways to attract such people into academia. Inclusion of significant soft skills and leadership skills into the curricula or coming up with indirect ways to build these soft skills in students is another often neglected area that needs specific focus and attention. This will help build many more leaders in a country full of talent. According to estimates, India trains around 1.5 million engineers, which is more than the US and China combined.

Bring Transparency to an Opaque Process

Having companies articulate job descriptions not only by way of traditional job descriptions but also by a set of skill-based courses over which prospective jobs seekers can demonstrate mastery would also help students greatly. Job descriptions could include a playlist of courses required to prepare for the job.

In order to succeed, Job seekers not only require core skills i.e. technical knowledge, but also the applied skills to understand the business and ability to apply technology to solve business problems & the ability to articulate the value of technology to the business in simple terms.

As it turns out, deep and long term Industry academia collaboration may be the only sustainable answer to matching the emerging workforce skills with companies’ requirements.

About the Author

Mezjan Dallas

Mezjan Dallas is the Country Leader, University Relations for IBM India/ South Asia. In his over 17 years of experience in the IT Industry, Mezjan has held roles across software product development and project management including most recently managing a first of a kind services project in the manufacturing domain. He has been very closely involved in developing and nurturing talent management programs at IBM. This includes building long-term and mutually beneficial relationships with Universities across India, where IBM invests in talent programs such as its premium internship program — Extreme Blue, building curriculum and setting up of technology labs in growth areas like Analytics. He also managed the Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) for advanced research and incubation of new technologies with Universities. Recently, he worked with IIT Kharagpur on an IBM Centennial Grant that looks at a joint proposal on Urban flood management. Mezjan is passionate about the field of education, talent management and people management.

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