career choice

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Skill Gap – 3 : Doing Something Practical About It

Published February 4, 2015 by vishalvkale

The MBA is considered among those courses that are a ticket to a good life and earnings, it is considered among the most-sought after qualifications a person can have – if done from the right institution. To some, it is one of the most hyped courses, while to others, it is the only target and the only qualification. And yet, this course and its degree holders are the one that are among the most challenged. Similar is the situation with other professional courses at the Graduate and Post Graduate Level, in particular Engineering. 
And yet, surprisingly, it is the students of these courses that are finding getting a job to be a tough ask. Outside the top few colleges, placements are a real challenge. Even in cases where placements are done, the right job or a lucrative job is rare, to say the least. Placements usually require a compromise on the part of the student, who is understandably keen to land any job in this tough market. And even then, a good number have to remain jobless
Further, we are seeing a stunning spectacle of seats going unfilled in MBA colleges, and the closure of institutions. For example, as this article clarifies, 147 schools closed down last year. For a nation which is supposed to be going through a skill shortage, this is both sad as well as surprising. On one side, companies are crying skill shortage, bemoaning the lack of quality trained manpower, and on another – the institutions which can provide the manpower to companies- MBA, Engineering and other colleges are going through strain – either closing, or unable to attract students, or are going jobless, in a classic case of the supreme irony! This would even be a laughable joke, if it werent so tragic at so many levels…
This points to a deep seated problem at two levels – firstly on the part of hiring managers and organisations, as I delved into some detail in previous articles on my blog : Skill Gap and Skill Gap 2. In these articles, I noted the sad and pitiable status of training cutting across functions in companies; as well as the reluctance of companies to get into the situation, roll up their sleeves and craft a solution to the problem. 
Given the reluctance of the organisations to do anything about it, I can only conclude that these organisations lack the skill sets required to craft a solution to this vexing issue, something I shall go into greater detail in my next article on this matter. We then have no choice but to look at the other side of the equation, given that the people actually facing the problem have no intention of either solving it, or lend a helping hand in solving it. 
The second level of the problem is within the MBA courses and colleges itself, who in my experience have both the willingness as well as the ability to craft a solution. As a matter of fact, much of what I state will already have been thought of in colleges across the nation, of that I am certain. The key question here should be, what can these institutions do that is doable as well as logical?
Here again, there are two levels : one relatively easy, requiring little specialised knowledge and readily doable over a short time-frame; and the other exceptionally hard and time-consuming, requiring deep specialised knowledge and conceptual clarity of a high degree. The first is increasing industry-college linkages, and the other refurbishing the design of the MBA {or the core curriculum in degree courses} course itself. This article dwells on the first aspect only, given that the second is rather a tall order, especially for a blog post. 
The moot point in this is that the industry has shown itself to be completely unwilling to engage itself with colleges and institutes outside the top few in a meaningful manner, restricting their interaction to giving pointless and empty feedback regarding what students lack : in effect, brushing their hands off the problem and walking away! This leaves the colleges and the students both up a creek, so to speak : hunting for vague meaningless terms like “soft skills”!
The net result is that the people facing the problem in full : the students, the colleges {in particular the placement and administrative cells} – have little precise knowledge of exactly what the industry requires, for the perfectly simple reason that no one in the industry has ever taken the trouble of telling them in function and role-specific terms as to what is required. The reason for that, as we shall subsequently see in the follow-up to this article, is that companies themselves haven’t even a farthing’s idea as to what exactly this ethereal and by now almost legendary skill gap is in practical terms. 
Thus, the people who should know, dont; and the people who are the interface, the people who can link to the students and sort out this mess – the professors and teachers – cannot help in the absence of information. This leaves the gap open for vocational training services, which come at a cost, and, while effective no doubt, can with a little thought be made far more effective and pertinent. 
The solution is simple : catch onto professionals who would like to make a difference. Please note my usage of words, carefully : I did not state hire professionals as teachers and professors. I stated clearly, catch the professionals who want to make a difference. Trust me, if colleges across the nation make a determined effort, they will find ready talent across functions and levels – Engineers, Doctors, Managers, Marketers, Finance Specialists : the whole lot of professions – who would want to make a difference. All they require is an alternative, one which offers them a career option. 
I also did not state increase salaries to the level of the industry; the reason is straightforward. The industry can always pay more, there is zero chance of all institutions matching industry packages. Some might, but certainly not all. Second, there is the hope factor: so long as you are in the rat race, there is always a hope that you will get the promotion or the new job. Third, matching packages will run the risk of attracting people who are in it for the money, not for the love of the profession. What is required is giving entry to professionals, and a decent package that can ensure a decent life. That is it. 
Next, set up expectations from these professionals, in a defined framework; a framework that asks them to give some value addition from their industry experience. These cross-over professionals should be clear in their mind that their task involves both covering the syllabus as well as grooming students for corporate life. Interaction with such professionals in a classroom over a sustained period of 2-3 years is bound to have a powerful impact. This will of course require tweaking in the class allocations, with additional time being given to such professionals, alongwith some performance measurement criteria in terms of deliverables. Critically, for this to succeed, this has to be taken up with an almost missionary zeal. The make or break will be the professionals you hire, who should share this zeal and passion. 
The start will perforce be slow; but it has to be done. For in my considered opinion, as I shall cover in the next article, the industry cannot be relied upon to sort out this mess; it just does not have the requisite skill sets for this. Neither is the training institutes route a permanent solution; these are excellent; no doubt : but are hamstrung on two parameters : firstly, low acceptance in the industry, and second, high resistance to external intervention by industry as well as colleges, which is completely understandable. This will have to go hand in hand with a solution to another problem that is also a core issue : the availability of the proper study material at the right price and in the right language : which is a massive, massive issue… but that is an entirely different story, to be taken up in the concluding article in this series…

The Skill Gap – 2 : The Way Forward; Focus On What You Can Change

Published July 1, 2014 by vishalvkale

I am penning this article based on my experience as a corporate guy with nearly 16 years work experience cutting across Indian companies, as well as MNCs. What makes me slightly different is that I have been a visiting faculty in 3-4 management institutes, and have managed to develop relationships with quite a few students. These institutes range from top ones to unknown ones, and thus represent the entire cross-spectrum.

I am also an active blogger, and regularly attend blogger meets across platforms like Indiblogger and Blogadda, where I meet and mix with teens, 20-somethings as well as 30-somethings.

Thus, I have seen the so-called “unskilled” people at 4 levels –

* hiring manager;

* team leader / area manager / segment manager / regional manager;

* Professor and/or guide

* Friend, or group member, having been talking to and conversing with them as one of them.



THE BACKDROP

As I observed in my previous post on this – The Great Indian Skill Gap, the so-called Skill Gap is vastly different from the perception. I have read several news articles that wax eloquent on this, as well as a few surveys – all have the same verbiage and meaning; but fall short on specifics, Furthermore, most are a survey of hiring managers, and are frankly based on the gift of gab. This is by no means in the category of an exhaustive research. 


The answers to the questions are based on personal experience, and the background of that experience, the company policies, industry realities, specifics KRA requirements etc is not taken into account. 

The phraseology is wonderfully indistinct, and proves nothing either way. What does “lack of technical competencies” mean in specific terms? It can mean anything under the sun. It needs to be specific, this is just a general statement. This statement can also be construed to mean that companies are setting the bar way too high. This is way too general a statement, and we can draw no conclusion based on this. The technical competencies vary widely with the role, function and the industry. There can be no generalisation; we can conclude nothing based on these reports. 

Frankly, it could also mean that employer expectations are rising too fast, and employer willingness to invest in training is waning too fast. This hypotheses has not been tested; hence, one simply cannot draw the conclusion that there is a skill gap from such data unless the reverse hypotheses is tested, and not on hiring managers, but on a more exhaustive research. Only then can we state anything for certain!


ABOUT SKILL SETS AND COMPETENCIES

It is not about setting the bar high; it is about hiring for skills that are just not required for on-the-job performance! Our intake process does not measure KRA-Specific skills, but rather wavers all over the place, including all and sundry items in addition to job-specific skills in the guise of gauging personality. And the fun of it is that this judgement is passed by people who themselves have precisely zero knowledge of psychology, or personality! The entire process is highly subjective and prone to error which is perhaps why frequently positions go unfilled or hiring gets delayed. 

And the description “technical competencies” cannot be so vague – especially not in a high-level report, on which basis strategic vision documents are created. It has to be specific – and it will vary from industry to industry. For example, for underwriting in insurance, the core skill is knowledge of documents & their veracity; basic finance; insurance theories, concepts and processes; and so on. No college teaches these skills; and oral communication is not a pre-requisite. Neither is an excellent knowledge of English a requirement, given that documents can also be presented in the Vernacular. 

Anything else is frankly immaterial insofaras underwriting is concerned. A similar case can be stated for other functional skills – the moment you go specific, you realise that the organisations are equally responsible for bloating the entire affair out of all proportion. I say this as I have seen all sides of the coin – the college, the young brigade as well as the company side. Whether or not the candidate can speak English is immaterial, as is any other point not mentioned as a core skill. Not all jobs require you to be technically savvy, or speak English at all {let alone fluently}

The focus on hiring managers in survey after survey is fallacious; this requires a deeper research to get a handle on this entire matter, which is far too complex to rely on one set of individuals alone. Few hiring managers are skilled in psychology, and yet “bad attitude”, and “personality mismatch” feature as rejection reasons. How can a person who has zero knowledge of psychology pass judgement on these parameters? Far more critical, how can any decision on future direction be taken on the pronouncements of these people?


TRAINING SCENARIO

How much emphasis is placed on training? How much emphasis is placed on skilling the candidate in specific KRA-designed training programmes by companies? Nil. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Nothing. Cipher. Induction programmes are unimaginative affairs, listing things a simple google search will reveal. You require an induction for that? What for?

How many hours are devoted to periodic training that is KRA specific by companies? Again, very near zero. Training is looked upon as a waste of time by line managers. A training programme nomination is looked upon as a warning, as is treated as a first step to sacking by more than a majority of line managers. Periodic training to refresh skill sets is absent across functions. Simple fact.

How can you blame candidates or universities in such a scenario? The companies are not willing to invest in their own people, whom they call “assets”, and want to earn profits from their performance? Furthermore, no company is wanting to engage with universities and colleges outside the top 10-15, and communicate with and work with these colleges. Arent the companies a part of our society, our culture? Shouldnt they do it – if not for nationalist feeling, then out of a pure play profit motive?

I am not absolving the colleges of the blame – just making a simple point that this is far too complex a matter. 


THE WAY FORWARD – THE CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE  

Let me clarify. I once had occasion, during my tenure as a visiting faculty, to check what my students are using as study material. The non-regular students were using translations into the vernacular; these students were further not in the A-Graders, or even B-Graders. Now companies immediately scream at this juncture : English Problem! No Skills! Prima Facie, this seems logical, and spot-on. Except, on deeper analysis, this is exposed as a fallacious impression. 

First, is the knowledge of English mission critical? In most roles, it isnt. Fact. Then why reject because of this? Next, how do you expect a student from the heartland and hinterland, schooled in poor schools or local languages to upgrade to flowing top-level English in the space of a heartbeat? Impossible – it cant be done! Does this mean that this person has no talent whatsoever? 

The next point follows from this – if the person cannot even understand English, how can anyone expect him to be functionally an expert, or at a par with those who can, given that most top-level books are in English? At this point, companies reject, scream “Skill Gap” and wash their hands off the entire matter. Seems logical – except that it is anything but, as deeper thought reveals.

As Corporate India moves into the smaller towns / smaller colleges in big towns for its hiring, this is going to be a persistent problem. This is not really a problem – it is a signal that Corporate India is not in sync with the ground realities, and needs to modify its processes and procedures, and undergo serious introspection. 

The reality is that only the creamy layer is exposed to good schooling; this is an external reality. Hindi / Marathi / Bengali / Tamil / Telugu etc are the medium of instruction. Corporate India has yet to realise this reality, let alone accept it. Books and quality material, access to resources are absent in this layer. Schools and parents alike cant afford it. This is a hard reality. 

Does this mean that this entire set of people, or a large majority among them, is not worth hiring? Has anyone given them a chance, by proper timely training interventions before deployment on the job / regular interaction with college managements and faculties and such like? No! Then how can you assume that they cant perform, when you are using standards of judgement that they just cannot meet, and are therefore manifestly unfair? 

This isnt socialism – I am talking pure capitalism and perfect business sense. You have a vacancy; you have candidates who have passed an exam pertaining to that required skill set; and you dont hire! You choose – note that – actually choose – to leave the vacancy open in a hyper-competitive market! Amazing! 

Not one corporate in my experience has tried to retrain these people. And, sadly and shockingly, in corporate India itself there are people who have overcome these handicaps, reskilled themselves, and succeeded – thereby proving that this is a gap that can be bridged. And if it can be bridged, it ceases to be a gap, and becomes a ground-level challenge that needs attending to. 

Trust me – there are students who are raring to go, given a chance at reskilling. It is in corporate interest to give them that chance. Either that – or cry skill gap, leave positions vacant and impact your business competence. Corporates are running away from the problem, not trying to solve it. 

They are a part of this nation; they are a part of this society. That they should get in, dirty their hands and get it done is beyond debate. The pay-off? Talent. And there is plenty of latent talent – try interacting with these students. I did. And was stunned, humbled and shameful. 

Remember : Focus on what you can change, the circle of influence. The socio-economic factors, the schooling issues are way too complex and are in the circle of concern. Changing that will require decades- and you want business performance in the near term. 

My point is that this is not so simple, and has many, many facets and roots – Socio-Cultural, Economic, Political, Business etc. This does not lend itself to simple and-or situations. In the meantime, we in Corporate India need people. 

Any youngster will have dreams and aspirations, that is natural. It is the absence of dreams that is a problem, not how tall they are. Similarly, not all can communicate their feelings and thoughts. That is again a human trait. Does this mean that all those who cant communicate are worthless, and have no talent? Obviously no. What is needed in counselling – which is not done, or proper guidance as to what suits which person. This is the most significant gap in educational systems. 

What can WE do should be the question? That is our circle of influence. Remember – we require people as much as they require jobs. Our need is in some ways greater than theirs. We can either sit and cry as to the failures of the system – or roll up our sleeves, plan and execute strategies that will bridge the gap. The latter course is a sure guarantee of success. The former isnt. 

What we can do is step in, fill the perceived gaps in chosen institutes that have the potential of meeting our needs, and work with these institutes round-the-year, through monthly seminars with students, one-on-one counselling sessions,and other such activities. This will cost next to nothing, and give us a strong understanding of the prospective candidates to boot. In the pressure for immediate results, we forget to nurture new talent; we set the bar too high due to our internal deliverables which are demanding, so say the least. The need of the hour is a long-term approach. To be specific, choose and target specific colleges in smaller towns and cities – Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi, Surat, Nasik, Akola, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Bhuj, Agra etc. Work with these places – you will get talent, and at a lower cost. Win-win situation 

This will also go a long way in reducing employee turnover, reduce stress, build engagement. Survey after survey is showing rise of dissatisfaction, unbearable stress, physical diseases, mental diseases in Corporate India. 


In my experience, students do respond to counselling, and proper guidance. Problem is, they dont have anyone to approach for help and guidance. We can play that role. The pay-off? Talent. Assured talent, and tie-ups with institutes that will last years, as also fulfilling your CSR mandates in a sure way.

The Right Career Choice…

Published April 25, 2013 by vishalvkale

THE RIGHT CHOICE
The most important decision of our lives – the career choice – is frequently the one which gets the least serious in-depth thinking and analysis. There is a tendency among youngsters to follow the trend; or do something because everyone is doing it. This includes the MBA degree, Medicine – or whichever field you can think of. Even after you have completed your professional education, little thought is given to which organisation, or which specific work-field to go into. Yes, some people do give it deep thought and choose something they are passionate about, or talented at, or which suits them. But quite a few dont. This article is meant for those who dont. 
First, in my 14 years work experience, I have noticed something – and that is the unfortunate fact that earning money has little provable relation to doing something of your choice, or having a career that you are happy at. Innumerable employee satisfaction surveys have proven that most people are unhappy at their jobs; there is little work satisfaction. Paradoxically, most of these ladies and gentlemen are also earning good money – or at least enough money to afford a decent lifestyle. It isnt about money; the human mind,with its untapped and little-understood capacities, can overcome obstacles  and force the body to perform, thus ensuring that job requirements are met. But this is an adjustment; it has its costs in terms of health – physical as well as mental.
 It is possible to train your mind and body to do something you are not interested in; but with the passage of time, dissatisfaction at your daily routine creeps in. The practical needs of providing for self and family ensures regularity and performance on the job – but your mind is increasingly at odds with your reality. This has its tell-tale effects on your health as well – as can be seen with the rising incidence of lifestyle diseases as well as high Blood Pressure, Diabetes and Heart ailments. Yes, it is true that not all dissatisfied people get the above diseases – there are other causes for them. But even if you escape these diseases, the sceptre of dissatisfaction leaves you with a feeling of yearning, of a lack of something vital in your life. You dont enjoy your life and your job as much as you could have; your job becomes a mere tool to provide for your family. 
There is also another side to this – a bad career choice can lead to failure as well. This does not mean that you as a person have failed; just that you attempted to do something that you are not good at, or talented at, or interested in. Life can become a struggle for such people. That is why focus and attention needs to be given to oneself and one’s abilities at the right stage of your life – and that is during higher secondary school, or during undergraduate studies. 
The greatest obstacle in front of students in this endeavour is the students themselves; the total lack of interest in reading is a fundamental obstacle that will need to be overcome. Reading keeps you aware of latest trends, developments as well as exposes you to new career choices; it gives you ideas as well as develops your mind and enables an analysis of the self. Apart from this, students tend to disregard elders’ opinions. You as a student need to broaden your horizons, to make you better aware of the world around you and the options it offers. Taking this up with your peers, seniors and elders in the know will only broaden your horizons, expose you to new ideas; you dont have to accept everything they tell you. The decision is yours – it has to be yours. And to make a decision – you need information – which can only be garnered by the means stated above. 
Each individual needs to identity what areas he or she is good at, talented at or interested in; then all that remains is a choice of the most remunerative and attractive career option from among these. This does not mean you are guaranteed a successful career – just that you will be dong something you enjoy, or are good at. Life is a struggle – any way you look at it. A career of your choice (as opposed to the herd choice) will at least ensure that you are mentally at peace with what you are doing; this will give you a greater stress-bearing ability, as well as act as a force multiplier. Job disstatisfaction may still arise – but you will be in a better frame of mind to deal with it – and other challenges that come your way. For one thing is certain – challenges will come your way, whatever you may choose to do… but the right choice will give you a wider range of weapons to deal with the challenges…
In this series of 4 articles, I shall attempt to delve into this issue – that of career choice, as well as the Mid-Life crisis, and rampant lack of job satisfaction in greater detail. The last 2 have several other parameters apart from career choice that need to be taken into consideration – but that is another story…