How to bridge the skill gap to make freshers organisation ready

A look at whether our colleges are actually making students ready to face the realities

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Graduating at the top of the class at management or engineering colleges is a great achievement. It means the person has managed to beat the brightest minds in the sector. Many assume that is also the badge for the topper’s smooth inclusion in the workforce and for an even brighter future in an organisation. That may not be entirely true. The skills that a person learns at premiere professional colleges and what are actually needed to survive in an industry characterised by cutthroat competition, are quite different. A high score may help a graduate land a lucrative job but staying put in that job is an altogether different conversation.

A survey conducted by PayScale back in 2015 revealed that 60 per cent companies felt that new graduate hires lacked critical thinking skills and 56 per cent lacked attention to detail. About 44 per cent faulted in their writing abilities, while a good 39 per cent had public speaking issues. As is obvious, the gap is quite wide between what is taught in colleges and what is actually required to survive the corporate world. Organisations, on their part, do introduce elaborate onboarding initiatives to acquaint the new joinees, but is that enough?

Academia and industry are two different worlds, with different purposes and ideologies. The rapid pace of changes is compelling these two realms to come together to address and solve real-world challenges.

Gautam Srivastava, head – talent management, performance and engagement, HDFC Ergo General Insurance

Debjani Roy, CHRO, Mind Your Fleet, is deeply into academia and industry collaboration as she feels that is the only way to address this skillgap. Shedding light on what exactly is the issue here, Roy explains, “ Out of all the students who graduate every year from top-notch engineering colleges, the employability is sub-optimal in India. Out of those who are employable, the dropout rates of engineers are phenomenal. After three to four years of working in an organisation, either they realise or the organisation realises they are not culturally fit. They are so lenient in their mental makeup that they are unable to adjust with the dynamic situations of today, which need far more agility and flexibility. These are certain things they don’t learn as part of their curriculum. As a result, when they move out of their graduate schools, they are good engineers, but when it comes to leading teams, understanding competencies, delegating work and showing leadership skills, maximum aberrations are found.”

Roy also adds here that even the internships are at hardcore engineering organisations. They are never really encouraged to look into the context of culture because they are never told that organisations do not necessarily work based on just competencies, but also people behaviour. “Behaviour and culture are two distinct absentees in the curriculum of an engineer. As a result, they are very uncertain or insecure about handling emotions. They start very late, when they are already in the organisations. Once they start rising in the ranks, organisations tolerate them because at that level it is more tactical work and less strategic. When aberrations start surfacing, they put L&D initiatives together,” Roy points out.

Effective Induction training, on-the-job rotation, project studies, presentations and short-term mentoring give the right conditioning to make them business ready.

Babu Thomas, CHRO, Shalby,

The gap is expanding now. Due to the pandemic, opportunities are less, organisations are getting tougher on merit and performances. They are not willing to flatten their bulge. Mind Your Fleet is a start-up of 42-employees, out of which 36 are IIT graduates. It is a high-tech niche organisation in the area of transport aggregation. Roy explains that start-ups always face paucity of time. Despite that, the senior leadership of the Company double up as coaches and mentors. “We offer individual sessions or mentoring programmes on their styles. We are looking to scale up the programme in the next 18-24 months to 150 people. When that happens, we will have to think sincerely about more structured programmes,” Roy informs.

A few years ago, a survey for the Confederation of British Industry had revealed that character is the single most important asset, which makes recruiters hire school and college pass-outs. However, 40 per cent of these employers were quite unhappy about the same in fresh graduates. It included reaction to obstacles, reflecting on self-improvement, and showing a compassionate personality. Babu Thomas, CHRO, Shalby, is of the opinion that individual attention is needed for freshers, unlike other employees. It is important to instil in them passion for what they are going to undertake, along with a clarity of purpose. “Effective Induction training, on-the-job rotation, project studies, presentations and short-term mentoring give the right conditioning to make them business ready. Nowadays, colleges too have such sessions for outgoing students. We had conducted an MT boot camp for 15 days for 22 MTs last year.”

Behaviour and culture are two distinct absentees in the curriculum of an engineer. As a result, they are very uncertain or insecure about handling emotions.

Debjani Roy, CHRO, Mind Your Fleet

HDFC Ergo General Insurance has internships / live projects aligned to key projects, which enable the young talent to apply their academic knowledge in the real world. The six-month management programme, is a blended environment of classroom and on-the-job rotation, with built-in touch points. Gautam Srivastava, head – talent management, performance and engagement, HDFC Ergo General Insurance, says, “Academia and industry are two different worlds, which operate on different pedestals. Both have different purposes and different ideologies. However, the rapid pace of change in the outside environment is compelling these two realms to come together to address and solve some of the real-world challenges.”

Srivastava believes academia and workplaces are required to work collaboratively to produce ready talent. However, it poses many challenges. “In terms of industry challenge, there is the issue of courses being market-aligned, or solution oriented to address concerns, or skill-ready to deploy manpower or operational / practical in approach. When it comes to academic challenges, it’s funding and infrastructure, equal partnership, placements, feasible goals and investment of time,” he lists out.

Organisations don’t just hire fresh graduates from premium campuses but tier 2 and 3 as well because it is better to train people early and train them the way one wants. It is important to know how culturally fit they would be in an organisation. Anurag Verma, VP, HR, Uniphore, explains, “Most of the companies these days are connecting early, much before the placement drives. Sometimes they connect with the students in the second year. They engage with the campuses and say, along with the curriculum, if they want to make a career with them, they can undergo certain programmes and certifications. It is optional, of course, and ensures that certain graduates get absorbed for sure. So, the companies have first choice of selection while the students have first choice rejecting it. They will not sit for other selections. They get to intern as well, which gives companies an idea of their skills.”

Most of the companies these days are connecting early, much before the placement drives. Sometimes they connect with the students in the second year. They engage with the campuses and allow students to undergo certain programmes and certifications, along with the curriculum, if they want to make a career with them. 

Anurag Verma, VP – HR, Uniphore

Verma does point out here that such a facility can only be expected from more established organisations. The ones that can’t afford such elaborate processes go for internship options. “The graduates are given strategic projects to work on and a PPO (pre-placement offer) is extended. It’s the organisation’s commitment to the student that once they finish their course, they will be absorbed. Now they have the time to work on any of the skills that were lacking in these students before they are ingested in their company’s workforce,” Verma explains.

At Uniphore, the head count is not too high. Currently, it is 300+ people globally. It hasn’t reached the level where the Company can connect with the students early on. “But, we definitely have a programme at the strategic level. We take interns in the tech domain. They are allowed to work full time with us as well later. We take higher research scholars in speech, like from IIT-Madras. There is a big need for academic institutions to change their pattern and make graduates future-ready. Some institutions do have career labs or special curricula.” He also believes that the pandemic has made the process easier. The biggest change is that one no longer needs to be on the campus for these interactions.

It is quite clear that our colleges teach well but not enough to make graduates ready to take on the uncertainties and problems of the real corporate world.

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