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Employability in India: Talent crunch across industry forces stakeholders to point fingers at a spiritless education system

Sulekha Nair
India's education system needs to do its bit to help students future-proof their employability levels.

Predictions about the India's job market are not comforting. Artificial intelligence (AI) driven woes apart, experts feel that if educators don't pull up their socks, and revisit how universities prep youngsters for the future, the existing talent crunch would only worsen, all against a backdrop of an ever growing pool of job seekers.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), in a report, has projected unemployment in India at 18.6 million for 2018, higher than the 18.3 million in 2017. The World Bank (WB), in a report, has warned India -- a nation of 1.32 billion people must create 8.1 million jobs a year to maintain its employment rate.

But, by 2019, IT technical specialist hires will fall by more than five percent. By 2021, 40 percent of all IT staff will hold multiple roles, most of which will be business-related rather than technology-related, according to Gartner. The research firm also predicts that by 2020, 75 percent of all organisations will experience visible business disruptions owing to infrastructure and operational (I&O) skill gaps, a huge increase from 20 percent in 2016.

"Accessing the right talent, placing the right talent at the right time is a challenge many Indian businesses face," management consultancy AT Kearney's MD and country head, Vikas Kaushal, said in an interview to the Mint.

Bu what ails India's job market? A talent crunch across sectors is said to be the reason behind employment opportunities drying up even when there are vacancies. The education system needs to do its bit to help students future-proof their employability levels, said stakeholders.

The curriculum has not kept pace with the rapidly changing times and therefore vacancies can be hard to fill, said Kris Lakshmikanth, Founder Chairman and MD of The Head Hunters India. Employability will improve when the syllabus reflects the demands of the industry."Educational institutes churn out graduates who lack skills required to work on-site. If you were to deploy a chemical engineer to a plant, he/she won't know what to do as they does not have that training."

"The single most important thing I find missing in our education system is its ability to help individuals understand why they are studying what they're studying; what are their strengths and how can they impact society," said Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder, Mettl, an assessment and skill-measurement company. "The second reason is this culture of working really hard, to aim to be a perfectionist. It is important to understand that the student or the prospective employee is competing not just among peer groups in India but globally," he added.

When companies recruit from campuses, some like Infosys train recruits for six months before putting them on the job. But of late, firm that don't have that luxury, train freshers for a month and ask them to take a test.

A Japanese firm that set up an ancillary unit in Karnataka approached Lakshmikanth for help with hiring CNC machine operators. "We cant find five good candidates against the company's requirement of 200. The skills required for the job are not taught in the five or six colleges," he said. The employability issue will worsen as the years go by, as many jobs will be lost to robots, he added.

Only 20 percent of the five million students who graduate every year get employed, industry lobby Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) said in a report, published last year.

Some skills, like data analytics, or data science in itself, are not sector-specific. Technological expertise is needed across sectors. So if young data scientists were to look for jobs only in the IT-sector, that would not work. Niche job skills are needed across the sector, said B Suresh, Chief Sales Officer,, adding that irrespective of the market scenario, 'good talent' is always in demand and in short supply.

A's survey found that the current optimism regarding job creation, and the existing talent crunch, only emphasise the need for up-skilling and re-skilling. The survey polled over 1,500 recruiters across industries.

"There is a misalignment between industry requirements and available resources, which is a major concern for recruiters across sectors. It is vital to the health and long-term viability of an organisation to ensure that its employees have the appropriate skills for their roles; it is also conducive to overall employee satisfaction to have people working at jobs that they are well-suited for and enjoy doing," Suresh added.

But things could change, said Kapoor, pointing to online education. It is only a matter of time before freshers or mid-career employees head online en masse to acquire skills and be job-ready. Corporate 'digital business universities' will eventually emerge to close the skills gap, Gartner added.

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