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How To Solve The Talent Crunch

Akhil Shahani - Manging Director of the Shahani Group of Institutions
Akhil Shahani – Manging Director of the Shahani Group of Institutions.

How To Solve The Talent Crunch

India’s economy is back on track, and renewed optimism means that CEOs in most industry sectors are investing in growth. However, the one dark cloud in this sunny picture is the huge shortage of talent that India Inc. is facing, especially in white-collar jobs.

A recent global survey indicated India faces the third-highest talent shortage globally with almost 64% of Indian employers having open job positions for which they find it difficult to get candidates. These figures get more amazing when you consider that we have around 605 million young people under the age of 25 who could potentially fill those jobs, but are facing rising unemployment rates.

Where is the gap?

Sure, we can blame India’s outdated higher education system for not producing employable graduates, but as industry we also need to take some of the responsibility.

Let me illustrate my point with an analogy. Supposing you met a chef from China, who had never stepped out of his country and told him to cook a nice dish made of lentils. You might be expecting a delicious ‘Maa ki Daal’, but the chef will produce a dish that combines lentils, noodles and tofu in an Schezwan sauce! He will then be bewildered as to why you do not like his creation. From his point of view, he has cooked the best possible dish based on his understanding of what a nice dish made of lentils is.

The problem is that both of you approach the idea of a nice lentil dish from differing viewpoints based on your past experiences and current wants. What you both need is a recipe book that allows you a way to agree on what ingredients this dish needs to have, how it needs to be cooked and what the final dish looks like.

Similarly, many good colleges and universities want to produce employable graduates for industry. However, since much of their curriculum and pedagogy has been derived by career academics, they are able to define an ‘employable’ graduate as someone who has performed well in the assessments created by these same institutes.

The current assessment methods comprise of exams and projects, which measure how strong students’ theoretical knowledge and logical reasoning are. The top performers in these parameters are showcased to industry recruiters as the most ‘employable’ among the colleges’ graduates, however many recruiters do not consider performance in college exams as the most important indicator of how desirable a potential job candidate is. Colleges then wonder why the highest quality candidates as per their own measures do not always get the best jobs on graduation.

On the other hand, when industry recruiters say that they want employable candidates, they have not defined a common standard for what ‘employable’ means. Some characteristics that recruiters variously say that an employable candidate should have at the entry-level are a strong work ethic, being a self-starter, good communication skills and ability to learn on the job etc. However, there is no agreement among recruiters (even among similar companies in the same industry) of five or six basic parameters that define how employable a candidate is or even an objective way to measure this.

Each company uses its own standards to judge the suitability of a job candidate. Since industry does not present colleges with an alternative way to measure their students, colleges can only use the exam-oriented assessment methods they currently have to determine the quality of their candidates.

How to bridge this gap?

As per the example with the Chinese chef trying to cook Indian daal, what both industry recruiters and colleges need is a ‘recipe book’ that allows them to agree to a few common parameters as to what an employable graduate is and also a common way for colleges and companies to measure their students along these parameters.

A well-known business school gives an example of how this could work. This institute has devised a ‘Corporate Readiness Score’ in consultation with almost 150 industry recruiters, where it assesses its students on the five employability parameters most cited by industry. These are Professionalism, Leadership, Communication Skills, Critical Thinking and Industry Knowledge. Its students are periodically assessed along these five parameters using corporate ‘Assessment/Development Centers’ which is used by many companies to assess the skills and development needs of their own employees.

Using the principle of ‘What can be measured, can be managed’, the use of these corporate employability parameters encourages the students to develop these abilities in themselves as they now have a way to measure something that will help them in their career. The outcome of this system is also encouraging, as these students have performed much better in their job roles than their peers from other institutions.

Of course, this is a limited example and one college cannot solve the country-wide talent shortage we are facing. However, if industry bodies like CII or FICCI get involved in this process and work with its members to define common standards of employability, this will give a system for other colleges to adopt and build their students towards.

Many colleges are able to alter their curriculum and operations to comply with academic regulatory bodies like UGC and AICTE. It is not likely that they will have much difficulty complying with industry standards once they have been articulated and made widely accepted by recruiters.

No doubt, this creation and adoption of employability standards for white-collar jobs will be a long-term effort that will involve the ‘triple helix’ of Industry, Academia and Government to implement. However, without this effort, India faces the real danger of missing out on our demographic advantage and being consigned to years of slow growth.

At Yellow Spark, we believe that people make a business successful, and nurturing talent is at the heart of all this. If you are looking at ways to develop a future-ready workforce to support your fast-growing business, write to us – contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Akhil Shahani is the Managing Director of The Shahani Group, which runs a range of colleges in areas like business, media, real estate, finance and others. His colleges incorporate global industry-oriented education systems that make their graduates truly employable. Akhil is the recipient of many awards for his work in education like the Jamnalal Bajaj Award, Bharat Shiromani Award, PIMR Outstanding Educationist Award, Rex Karamveer Chakra Gold Award, the Bharat Gaurav Award and the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award among others. Akhil was invited by Yellow Spark to share his views in an article as a guest writer.