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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Are Colleges using inappropriate ways of teaching employability skill?

NASSCOM had done a survey of Engineering graduates way back in 2005 and discovered that only 25% of the graduates are employable in IT sector. Even now these reports claim that this % has increased barely in the last 5 years. These kind of reports have put colleges in the defensive for wrong reasons. Because, as it happens in any story, there are two sides to a story. 

On the one hand, colleges can never prepare graduates for a job. Because, education is training for careers not jobs. Let me explain. 

Every job requires specific narrow skill sets and no education can train a student in all the specific narrow skill sets they might need for all the different jobs. For instance a mechanical engineer can work in Automobile, Fertiliser and many other job situations. It is not practical to develop different skill-sets required by each of these companies. 

When companies, especially software companies, ask for employable students they ask for a narrow skill set, say in programming, testing, or software design, they need in their employee to help them become 'functional from Month-1'. It reduces their investment in training and make their business more competitive. This strategy makes lot of business sense for companies, but expecting a graduate to develop narrow skill set required for a company is impractical.

On the other hand, If narrow skill sets required for a job can only be imparted by a company, what can graduates learn in a college ? Graduates can get trained on a broad skill set ( let us call this employability skill set) that are generally applicable in someone's career. Many colleges impart this training of employability skills, But they seem to be using wrong method. 

1. Skill of communicating: Of all the three secondary skills required in every job, this is the most talked, but also the most misunderstood skill. 

The ignorance of this skill set makes it difficult to develop this skill set. Some think learning communication skill only requires 'English-speaking'. Some consider it as matter of dressing well Some believe that it is a skill set required only in 'Sales'. 

Due to lack of clear understanding of communication skill, colleges cannot follow a simple step-by-step process of imparting this skill set. This skill of communication has to be developed for various situations like presenting a view, disagreeing on someone's ideas or making a proposal. This skill can be best taught by making students present their 'assignments' to the class, or talk on topics of 'technical interest'. 

Morever, written communication is as important as oral communication in a job.  In a job, mails, documents are important ways of communicating. A graduate is ignorant about drafting different letters: Official letter of complaint, mail to a team member who knows everything, mail to client team, mail to boss on an important issue of conflict. This training can perhaps done best by classroom training. Surprisingly, this training is not imparted by most of the colleges. 

2. Team working skill: Last year, I attended a training course done by a famous trainer for a Tier-II MBA college for fresh MBA's. In this training, largest number of modules were meant to teach on how to function as a team. In a classroom environment, one can hardly learn this. 

A better way to teach this skill is to create 'live situations'. For instance, another college, where i worked for a short time, forces students to function as a team in all their projects and assignments. With repeated practice, this skill becomes ingrained in all the students of the college.

Important part of the team working skill is to establish boundaries between team members, holding them accountable, understand and incorporate the dependencies between members and managing inevitable conflicts between the team members.

3. Planning skill: This orientation helps a student plan an event on the paper and then learn to manage the inter-dependent steps to accomplish the final objective while executing those planned activities.

Many colleges, I have observed, make the mistake of teaching this skill in a classroom. Or make them learn a Planning software programs to make a plan. 

This skill can best be learnt by using events in a college. For instance, planning an event of '15 August' or 'Techfest' , or planning a 'talk by entrepreneurs', helps the student to understand the sequence of actions to be taken, importance of dependent actions, and then monitoring the actions so that the plan is executed according to the schedule. Like the communication skill, students learn this skill better when they are given a 'practice ground'. 


Employability skill is just a package. I therefore call this secondary cognitive skill. Without the primary cognitive skill of the basic discipline - be it engineering, arts, commerce or law - this skill set is not useful.  

To be employable, colleges know that graduates need communication skills, presentation skills and team working skills. But they are using inappropriate methods to teach this skill. Colleges call trainers to undertake 'personality development programs' for their passing graduates. Because of these programs, the graduates have learnt to wear ties, dress well, write good resumes and speak 'better English'. But this does not help the graduates in developing these 3 skills. 

Graduates, instead, need something different. They need a proper balance of  'classroom training' along with 'situational training'. They need to offer few classes, but use the college events/situations smartly to help the students practice the skills. Because the students do not have to speak fluent English, instead they must learn to communicate their 'technical' understanding of a subject in a 'workable' English. They do not have to present themselves impeccably, instead they must explain their technical understanding of a subject in a simple and effective manner. 

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