India is facing a ‘skills gap’. The youngest country in the world, we are blessed with a demographic dividend – a singular scenario in which the share of our working age population exceeds our non-working age population. Such a population make-up presents a unique opportunity to accelerate economic growth. Many countries over the years have cashed in on this demographic dividend to put their economies on a higher-growth path. In India, it is just what we need to boost our countries economic prosperity. Yet, we could well miss the bus. It’s true that it’s a bit premature to say we have squandered the opportunity handed to us by this demographic dividend. But it’s equally true that we have been slow to respond.
The average age of India’s population is 26-28 years old, according to the latest edition of the India Skills Report. Yet, the report found that employability among the country’s youth stood at just 46.2 per cent. While this was an improvement over last year’s 45.9 per cent employability figure reported in the 2021 edition of the survey, the improvement is worth noting given the size of our population. But it still means that less than half of the participants who took the test that the survey uses to determine employability were found to be employable. The report indicates that we are certainly moving in the right direction. But are we moving fast enough?
A paradigm change
The trouble is India’s education system is antiquated. Yes, like with most sectors, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a “tech-celeration” in the country’s schools and colleges. But these advances are uneven, with only certain schools and certain sections of the population equipped to make the most of this opportunity. And anyway, while the means of imparting education may have become digitized, has what is taught and how it is taught really undergone a sea-change? Again, there are differences. India’s B-Schools, among the most evolved practitioners of education, churn out among the most employable candidates. For instance, about 55 per cent of the MBA graduates tested as part of the India Skills Report were found to be employable, up there with B.E. and B.Tech graduates. This marked an improvement from the 46.5 per cent found employable last year.
But as savvy as business schools are, they can only add on to the building blocks of lower education students have acquired, which is their greatest limiting factor. You can, after all, only teach students in the way they know how to learn and that is determined by the quality of lower education. At the same time, though, they also need to make a shift. The last two years of the pandemic have really driven a paradigm change.
Skillsets of the future at the best of times are difficult to predict. In the age of rapid technological shifts that we live in, it is harder still. Yet, in many ways the pandemic accelerated our leap into the future. It brought the future to our doorstep and gave us, not just a glimpse, but a living experience of the future in the present.
It has allowed us to parse the new trends this has given rise to and cast our minds further forward than we otherwise would have been able to, helping us anticipate to a greater degree, the shape of the future to come. Certain skills and areas, which weren’t earlier as prominent, have emerged as key business differentiators. These include sustainability and ESG, governance and ethics, innovation and entrepreneurship, even connected mobility. Corporate reputations, judged along these parameters, are everything. Consumers today are more aware and conscious and their purchase decisions are influenced by their perception of how responsible or sustainable a brand is, how it works with local communities, how strong its corporate governance is. Our business schools need to bring these new dimensions into their curriculum. Quite a few have already started working on it. But, if at a rough estimate there are 5,000-6,000 business schools all across India, are they all moving in that direction?
Another area of priority should be to lay down a digital backbone for all other skills students are being equipped with. The pandemic has demonstrated just how reliant we are on technology. If anything, it has made the world even more technologically immersive than before. This is something that’s here to stay, with many employers adopting a hybrid work model going forward. Artificial intelligence, data collection, analytics and interpretation is something that is becoming an increasingly embedded part of our day-to-day lives, not just professionally but also personally. As a result, technology skills are indispensable to the modern-day leader regardless of where his or her specialization lies, be it sales or finance.
But how do we spur B-Schools to make these changes? Paradigm shifts are driven by industry, schools as a result can only be reactive rather than proactive. The answer lies in striking closer collaboration. Corporates and B-Schools already work quite closely with each other but what if room for even closer collaboration, characterized by greater hands-on, practical experience and a more equitable flow of knowledge, existed? At Schaeffler for instance, we have set up SHARE (Schaeffler Hub for Advanced Research) of technological excellence at universities around the world. In Asia, we have SHARE in NTU, Singapore and in China. Besides, we are supporting University Consortium in Thailand for advanced research. We are also evaluating similar opportunities in India.
This is a novel step that fits with our core philosophy of pioneering motion and is our way of equipping the youth with skills that can transform them into a future-ready workforce. But ultimately, as much as this pandemic has taken us into the future, it has also demonstrated the power of disruption. As much as it has given us a clearer glimpse into what lies ahead, there are always going to be disruptive forces we can’t predict. The next steam locomotive, motor-car, or smartphone is only an idea away. The key to future-readiness lies in creating a workforce that is open-minded, flexible and always hungry to learn.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.