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Employability in the future

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EMPLOYABILITY

Interpersonal skills are expected to become more sought after; It may so happen that your employability skills get you your dream job rather than your technical ability, writes Debajyoti Mohanty of Elets News Network (ENN).

With technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) disrupting the market, the nature of human work is changing and so are the rules of employment. Jobs of the future will require high levels of social and emotional intelligence, critical thinking and problem solving capabilities, also known as employability skills.

Language skills and cross-cultural awareness have become very important as the world is becoming increasingly connected and people coming from different cultures now work towards a common goal. On the other hand, skills like creativity, negotiation and collaborative problem solving can make one flexible enough to adapt to the rapidly changing employment scenario.

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Technology can automate routine, rule-based kinds of tasks, but it cannot carry out human functions such as showing empathy, making somebody feel understood, knowing how to define and solve complex, ambiguous problems. Interpersonal skills that can only be performed by humans are expected to become more sought after. It may so happen that your employability skills get you your dream job rather than your technical ability.

In this environment of uncertainty, looking towards universities to produce human resources with the right kind of skills is no longer the norm. Today’s graduates are entering into a fiercely competitive job market which can be characterised by highly disruptive and fast-evolving trends. With rising university fees and shrinking returns, investing in getting a formal degree has also become debatable.

Empirical data seems to suggest that employers are open to recruiting graduates for jobs outside their specialisms. The reason being that these graduates themselves are following their interests instead of sticking with the choices made by them at the ages of 16 and 18. There should be nothing strange in the idea of an engineer doing an administrative job or an art student going into sales and marketing. Except for the medical profession, which involves a strict routine of accountability, most career paths are open to lateral entry.

Employers want graduate freshers to be better prepared for the workplace. Therefore the universities now have a mandate to produce graduates who are responsive, have a good understanding of how the industry functions, and are ready to face constant change.

To measure employability, the emphasis is being put on the university’s ability to get its graduates employed in the discipline of their qualification. Instead, the focus should be more on building career foundations rather than finding jobs. Clarity regarding career paths and the exchange of knowledge between academia and industry would go a long way in addressing this issue.

Skilling programs are one way to achieve this, but building the whole program structure without the intervention of employers would make it redundant. When it comes to improving employability, academia and industry are working in silos, at large. Convergence between the two happens at the end but the collaboration is lacking during the journey. This is why graduates have almost zero industry knowledge at the end of their degree program.

In the current market, employers do not desire changes in higher education as it involves a risk of losing specialists. On the other hand, employers want the educators to focus more on providing skill sets required by the industry including soft communication, problem-solving and analytical skills. According to some studies, more than half of the fresh graduates in management and engineering are considered unemployable by the industry because they lack the skill sets required, despite having specialised knowledge. In such a scenario, the students need better career counselling so that they can work on their strengths and also gain essential skills required for different sectors.

‘Skill gap’ is often a complaint, but graduates have to face an ‘experience gap’ in reality. It is so because most employers prefer to hire young people who have spent a few years in the industry instead of hiring fresh graduates. The need of the hour is for academia to recognise employability as an important objective and make flexible changes to accommodate direct industrial instruction and discovery learning. Integrating life skills in education degrees, facilitating on the job training, internships and apprenticeships are the front-foot steps for improving employability.

We have not yet found the right way of going from education to employment but the parameters involved are becoming increasingly clear. The need of the hour is a collaboration between educators, employers, administration, youth and parents, working together to change the entire ecosystem – perception, attitude, policies, and the approach to education as well as employer’s investment in employees.

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