Here’s Why Just “Academic Excellence” Wouldn’t Get You Hired

Posted on May 13, 2013 in Education

By Hardik Vaidya:

Exams ask: x3 + y3= 100, find the possible solutions of (x, y)
Employers ask: So tell me something more about yourself. Tell me about a time when you faced a really tough challenge, and how did you sail through it?

I hope you get my point. No?

Ok.

If the youth has worked incredibly hard to enter & graduate from their universities or schools, and cannot land a decent job for a living, something is terribly wrong somewhere in the process or the expectation gap of the individuals who graduate, the educators and the companies that hire or maybe both the reasons mentioned above. This, no doubt, will lead to angered and frustrated individuals, who have expectation for the stars in their eyes & are under heavy debts under their belts.

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A recent McKinsey report titled Education to Employment, carried out a study to assess the extent to which the Employers, the Educators (providers of education), and the youth themselves, agree that the new graduates/hires were adequately prepared. The results were quite startling.

Employers: 42%
Providers: 72%
Youth: 45%

There is a huge expectation gap between the Employers, Educators and the Students. Currently in my role as a primary school teacher, I hate to admit that the community of educators, even in the higher learning institutions, aren’t a 100% sure that the education provided is certainly making the graduates employable in today’s market. If the metrics used while admitting the students in universities were the same as the metrics used by companies to hire, then I would’ve completely agreed to give all the relevant exams their due importance. But I’m quite curious to know, home many companies actually ask for these test scores and take a call on whether to make the hire. But I definitely think that is clearly not the case.

Institutions are preparing the kids to master some skills so that they ‘score’ well in the exams. In this process, something very significant is getting compromised; the individual’s learning curve. Because we need to ‘fit’ on a scale, everything is designed around these numbers. Institutions are trying to force feed the minds with the hard technical skills to pass the exams, but in the bargain are losing out on teaching the finer points of life which are incredibly important to face the challenges of life. Exams such as the ones we use for undergrad or grad schools admissions, aim to quantify the verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing and critical thinking skills that have been acquired over a significant period of time. Taking these forward, entire curriculum is designed to fit the numbers. I can safely assume, that since these types are easily quantifiable, it is easy for the institutions of primary, secondary and higher order learning to quickly brand someone as ‘in’ or ‘out’. Employers don’t easily such calls on hiring so easily. Employers look, not so much at the technical skills, but at the process that individual uses to think and arrive to solutions.

Popeye says, “I y’am what I y’am”. He explains my point quite succinctly. Employers look for the right fit and not really a person who scored 800/800 on the GMAT or full score on Economics 101.To give you a brief glimpse, even the most premier consulting firms often offer MBA-like training to their new recruits to learn the business knowledge required to solve problems and sends many of its non-MBAs to a 3-4 week mini-MBA boot camp to learn the most important tools and concepts. That essentially says something if I’m not mistaken. So, employers are not only hiring for problem solving skills, but also hiring for a much broader range of traits.

When I spoke with founders, CEOs or hiring managers in various organizations ranging from for Profit to Not For Profit companies, besides the minimum threshold of intelligence, they heavily look for qualities like;

1) Initiative
2) Willingness to learn and work hard
3) Professionalism
4) Written & Oral Communication
5) Personal values
6) Integrity
7) Commitment
8) Team player
9) Flexibility
10) Problem Solving Skills

How exactly are the educators or policy makers of higher education making sure these extremely important soft skills are given their due importance in the educational journey of a youth? According to a NASSCOM-McKinsey report, in India, only 25% Engineers and a mere 10% generalist fresh graduates are employable. This is a really sorry state of affair. Curriculum at higher level should be designed to educate the youth broadly and not train them narrowly.

As I end this, I’d like to make some implementable suggestions to try and narrow this gap in some way:

1) Mandatory Internships, beginning right from primary schooling, are an excellent way to build connections, understand the world and test the learning in classrooms in real-time.

2) More face time with the employers and speaker sessions from industry experts to seek what are the current hiring trends and needs in the market.

3) Curriculums designed to include Public speaking, Writing, Presentation and value based learning.

4) Instead of creating a pipeline of job seekers, it would be extremely useful to the country’s economy to create a pipeline of job-creators. So, courses designed to allow entrepreneurial thinking will prove to be of great value in the longer run.

3.5 billion people are expected to be a part of the global workforce by 2030. Are the concerned people listening?

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