July, 2018

The other day Vetrivel, my servant maid’s son came home with his resume. I was very happy to see a well-dressed, young engineer seeking a job. I have special affection for him since his father who is a mason, built our house 30 years ago. His parents have toiled for years to send him to a professional college, buy him a laptop, pay his fees and put him up in a hostel just so that he doesn’t have to toil as a labourer. And today he is a civil engineer wanting to get into the organised industrial sector. It is indeed a matter of pride that in our country youngsters are able to dream and achieve despite their economic or social status. This was unthinkable a few decades ago. But how is the job market ? Does it welcome anyone who has a degree in hand ? First of all does a degree prepare one for a job ? Does college education make the youth employable ? The answer is a big NO. Education, Employability & Employment seem to be traversing on different paths which rarerly converge. Without additional skill based courses, even an engineering degree which was the most sought after (and which unfortunately still is for the Indian middle-class) doesn’t fetch a decent job. Students need to constantly upgrade themselves to become employable. Added to this is the right attitude to take up challenges and work hard.

I was taken aback when Vetrivel said he wants to take up ‘design assignments’ in an engineering firm rather than toil on a construction site. Reason ? “Long hours ma’am ! I have to work beyond 10 pm every day. It is tough. I want to work on the computers.” Apart from a degree from a non-decrepit college in Tamil Nadu, he had no internship experience, no additional skill based courses, not even an exposure to the various engineering technology tools nor an articulate way of speaking. But he wanted a white collar job. It took me and my husband a full 1 hour to explain to him that while it is ok to dream about working in an AC office, he must first dirty his hands on a construction site, learn it the hard way, pick up some skill based knowledge and most importantly go around with his mason father who perhaps has better knowledge about construction than him ! We felt this experience would be better than a mere degree, in facing interviews. He nodded and went back but am not sure if he really understood the need for skill and experience vis a vis a degree.

A couple of days later, I was speaking to Rohit, a BCom graduate from rural Karnataka who had accompanied his elder brother to help him in some electrical work in our office. The elder brother Sudhakar is a jack of all trades – fixing broken taps, leaking commodes, fixing the mirror on the wall, laying the floor, replacing electrical wiring to getting the walls painted to cleaning the sump to…..I can go on. He is our man Friday for all such odd jobs. He does it himself and has associates to support when required. I was surprised to learn that after picking up these skills, he is earning 5 times more than what he was in a similar job. He is feeding 8 mouths and supporting 2 siblings in their education, not to talk of the savings for his sister’s wedding. Somehow all this didn’t seem an achievement for his younger brother Rohit. When asked what are his next plans after BCom, he shyly replied “Ma’am I want to do an MBA”. I asked which college. He replied there is some institute near my place which charges only 40,000 per year. I was shocked. What sort of education will he get from an MBA which comes at this price ? What will the qualification prepare him for ? What sort of employment can he expect ? Immediately I got into an uncalled-for counselling mode “Rohit, for heaven’s sake do not take up MBA from some unknown college. You will not learn anything and you will waste your brother’s money also. At any cost do not take up a BPO job. You will find yourself nowhere 2 years from now. Why can’t you join your brother and help him to expand his clients ? Pick up some skills that will help you in the long run rather than do another MBA.” He seems to have understood but did not acknowledge.

Amidst all this is Mala, a young girl who is working in a start up after her Class 12 due to financial problems. Her mother feels going to a college for a degree is better. I had to intervene and suggest that she continue to work, pick up some skills, gain experience and pursue a degree in an open university. In all 3 cases, I saw youngsters misguided to acquire a degree without the requisite skill sets to become employable. Who knows, with the skills they could become employers themselves ? Job-givers rather than job-seekers. Wouldn’t that be better than pursuing some qualification aimlessly and without a purpose ? Times have changed. Circumstances are different. Need of the hour is a Degree + skill. Not Degree alone. A Skill + Experience is even better. Ideal would be Degree+Skill+Right Attitude……All the Vetrivels and Rohits and Sudhakars and Malas need to be convinced. They and their parents are stuck in the 1980s and 1990s India where a university education would give them better life. Today it is different. Hope the Government is also listening and revamping the education system to make it more skill based. Education, Employability & Employment must converge !

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