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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. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Your beliefs determine the actions you take in achieving your career goals

Some like to believe that they should spend their effort on developing their abilities or talent, while some believe in producing results. Let us pause for a minute and understand how these two beliefs can lead us in taking divergent actions. 

Input view of career ( what should I be?)

Input view of career lists down the key abilities/traits that will help one develop his/her talent.It helps a professional to understand the key abilities that he should built. This inside-out view is very popular among positive thinkers and self-help writers.

Every self-proclaimed self-help writer keeps on coming with his own list of input abilities and traits: Become self-aware, Be confident, Set priorities right, Be motivated, Learn to communicate, Follow your passion, Become Emotionally intelligent and so on. Some call the list as Seven Habits of success, others call it 3 Laws of success, while few name it as The secret of success. Everyone claims that his list of abilities/traits is more accurate than anyone else's list. You will find huge followers of every author supported by clever and robust marketing. Trainers join the bandwagon teaching these abilities to aspiring youngsters.

Input view of career has two big shortcomings:

One, this list of abilities/traits required to bring out your unique talent keeps on changing based on whose book you are reading. This view naively assumes that if you develop these 'abilities/traits', you can achieve anything in your career. And there is no criteria on which one can ever prove that one list is more 'right' than other list.

Two, these authors assume that this list of abilities/traits can be developed by anyone, at any age. It has been discovered now that this is no more valid. Some abilities like confidence are contextual and therefore cannot be 'developed artificially'. Some, like communication, look easier to develop but require too much of preparation. Some, like self regulation, can be developed at young age like learning a bike. Some , like self awareness, require age to develop. Some, like emotional inteliigence, can be 'naturally' developed by parents but very difficult to develop on your own.

Because anyone can 'list the best combination of abilities/traits', there are millions of books that have printed a big list of 'abilities and traits' that will carry us to our destiny. All these suggestions are well-meaning, but do not help. When it produces desired output, it is more by chance. 

Output view of career ( what can i do) or Result oriented view

Result-oriented view is outside-in view of career. It helps a professional to produce the results/outputs to achieve the desired goals. To produce these outputs, one may require a set of abilities which can be 'mobilised' either by oneself or through others. This view is more practical, because it makes us function at our best with our limited abilities.

As you can guess, sports professionals and music professionals use this result-oriented view to produce outstanding work-outputs in their work of sports and music respectively. In these single-dimensional professions where outputs have clear boundaries, this view of result works like magic.

Result-view is more useful for professionals, because it is far more practical to use one's given abilities and achieve what one desires with it. Isn't it more practical to achieve with what we have instead of trying to becoming a 'perfect' person?  If you see any successful person, you will always be surprised. You will notice that, despite his imperfections, weaknesses and shortcomings, he has managed to achieve something extraordinary. We know that only ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. 

Your actions in career are determined by these beliefs 

If you believe in Input-view of career, you will always keep on growing your abilities and virtues. For every problem in your life, you will find a solution inside you. If you cannot get a job raise, something is wrong with you. If your relationship is not working, you need to change something in you. If you feel stressful, you cannot manage your stress. If you cannot achieve your goals, your intentions are not honest. In other words, you will try to become a perfect human being who has huge willpower, extraordinary persistence and other virtues.

If however, you believe in result-view of career success, you will focus on the results. You will mobilise the requisite abilities from outside or from within. Instead of striving to become 'perfect human beings, you will focus on developing just 'enough abilities' so that time is better used to produce the desired results. For you, the key to succeeding in career is mobilising your abilities innovatively to achieve the desired results. You will believe that extraordinary results can be achieved without building extraordinary abilities.

Enlight framework is result-oriented view of career. Enlight framework assumes that our abilities unfold if we engage with the work. Unfolding is partly in our influence, but mostly out of our control. And more importantly, it is the synergy of our abilities that matters, not individual abilities. Otherwise, even our virtue like self-awareness can become a liability.

Do you believe that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results ? What are your beliefs?