Employability: Reflection and Reality
Education, the fulcrum of sustainable development, holds the key to ‘social inclusion’. It is one of the necessary conditions for advancing quality of life and freedom. In other words, universal access to quality knowledge and skills ensures that everybody has an equal opportunity to be a useful member of society.
Dealing with adolescents at a very critical moment of their lives, college education has an important mission: to provide youths with the necessary knowledge and skills to live in an advanced technological society; to prepare them for the world of work but also for further learning; and to foster social cohesion and transmit the cultural and ethical values necessary for active participation in a democratic society. In fact, two main functions of education (i.e. individual and social) converge. At the individual level, tertiary education empowers and prepares youth for life through personal development, preparation for the labor market, training for higher cognitive functioning; and as part of its social function, advances ‘human and social capital’ for nation building, redistributes income and wealth and alleviates poverty. In fact, it is argued that investing in youth will provide the longest and the highest dividend by building the social capital needed to foster pragmatic development.
Education is a process which empowers a student to think for himself/herself and make his/her decisions in life. However, the present day education system emphasizes on text book teaching, rote-learning and ineffective & mundane methods of learning-outcome evaluation. This often leads students to frustration and even depression at times. In this age of intense competition, simply earning a degree/diploma with distinctive grades from a good university or college through rigorous text book learning does not necessarily warranty a lucrative job. In the real world, employ ability today demands much more than the theories learned in colleges/universities. The mere possession of threshold competencies by a potential candidate is not considered to be adequate as organizations have started looking for differentiating competencies in their prospective employees, and only those who can display certain outstanding attributes are bound to be finally selected.
Employability refers to a person's capability for securing and maintaining gainful employment (Hillage and Pollard, 1998). For individuals, employability depends on the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) they possess, and the way they present these assets to potential employers.
We can identify four main elements in respect of an individual’s employability: the first three are analogous to the concepts of production, marketing and sales, and the fourth is the marketplace in which they operate.
An individual’s ‘employability assets’ comprise his knowledge (i.e. what he knows), skills (what he does with what he knows) and attitudes (how he does it). There are a number of detailed categorizations in the literature which, for instance, distinguish between:
These are a linked set of abilities which include:
There is obviously an important inter-relationship between assets and deployment. The extent to which an individual is aware of what he possesses in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes and its relevance to the employment opportunities available may affect his willingness to undertake training and other activities designed to upgrade his skills etc.
Another key aspect of employability is being able to get a particular job, once identified — sometimes included under career management skills, but is given prominence as a separate element here due to its crucial importance to securing employment. It centers around the ability to demonstrate ‘employability’ assets and present them to the market in an accessible way. This includes:
Employability is a “multi dimensional concept” which encompasses much more than simply the development of “key skills” , and we need to understand the significant distinction between employment and employability. Actually getting a job is different from having the “potential” to obtain an appropriate graduate job. A useful definition that takes into account many of the dimensions of graduate employability is suggested by Yorke:
“a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that makes graduates more likely to attain gainful employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, thus benefitting themselves, the workforce, the community and the nation’s economy at large”
Similarly Lee Harvey argues against a simplistic “magic bullet” model of employability and emphasizes that a number of other factors that could be considered relevant are personal characteristics, age, gender, attitudes, external economic factors, etc. Potential employers particularly value broad based attributes, such as communication skills, motivation, independence, analytical capabilities, confidence, team spirit, leadership, social-ability, sound decision making, and problem solving proficiency.
Despite the increasing demands from employers that the university graduates should hit the ground running, it has been observed that a large majority of them are not even ‘oven ready’ for high-level employment. Even those with the smoothest transitions has to learn once they take up the job, and often, rely on training or learning done during extensive school/work experience prior to taking the degree, in order to get and hold down the sought after position.
There exists a great disparity between market demands and the skills of Nepal’s educated youth. Every year nearly thousands of graduates pass out, but almost two thirds of this need to be re-skilled, in order to get gainful employment. Today, the labor market requires knowledge workers and skilled professionals. By 2020, it is estimated that the world will face a scarcity of 40 million skilled working people, says a report. Even in Nepal, there is going to be a dearth of competent man power as compared to the number of skilled jobs existing in the market. This disparity is mainly due to many factors, few of these are as follows:
* Low motivation amongst students to cultivate other required skills and develop differentiating competencies. They believe that obtaining a degree/diploma is the ultimate objective of all university education and that it entitles them to lucrative employment opportunities.
* Courses offered by universities are mainly text oriented and highly academic in nature accentuating the theoretical components. They are not designed to foster professional competencies demanded by the labor market
* Educational Institutions prescribe written tests/examinations and consider these to be the major criteria of all evaluation processes. No due weight is allocated to innovation/ creativity, thus compelling the students to rote-learn and duplicate the writings of text books
* Inadequate linkages and bonds between institutions and the industries. Students often find it difficult to secure proper employment immediately after completing their course.
Employability not only depends on whether one is able to fulfill the requirements of specific jobs, but also on how one stands relative to others within a hierarchy of job seekers. Taking the supply and demand of labor into account challenges the idea that credentials, knowledge and social status alone will guarantee a good position in the labor market. In a recent skills survey, 64% of employers said they were not satisfied with the levels of business and customer awareness among the perspective candidates.
Therefore, there is always a dire need for employability as a major program. The Program believes that the vast majority of graduates do have many of the capabilities employers need, but it's not universal and not everyone has them to a high degree. It also believes that the university courses and degree results do matter to employers and it is expected that higher education should be fascinating and inspiring as it develops powers of thinking and analysis. The Program acknowledges that qualities like managing time, working in teams, communicating, sifting evidence, analyzing, presenting facts and solving problems under pressure are or should be intrinsic to all university education.
Sometimes life has its way of manifesting things which are best for us. This is not an opening line for something motivational or powerful. Rather I am just going to narrate a journey- which, in some ways, has made me the person I am today. Let’s rewind back some years and visit my high school days, shall we? I was a shy, introverted and academically good student all my life. So naturally there were expectations from me. After high school, people expected me to choose the right path, pick a good college and do what kids of my age were supposed to do; get good marks and pass with flying colors. I went to the capital city and screened the best management colleges to get my Bachelor’s degree and luckily I got a slot in one of them. But as I said, life has its way of manifesting things. I could not study in Kathmandu and came back to Biratnagar, and started college-hunting again. I have always been curious about things and this curiosity led me to one of the pre-university classes conducted by Merryland College Biratnagar. I am not going to exaggerate the findings but let’s just say the experience was different. I was used to writing notes in jet speed, trying to catch up with the teacher and mugging those notes to ace my exams but that day I learnt things in the most creative way possible. I gave a presentation on my first day and surprisingly there were no butterflies in my stomach, no nervousness or anxiety at all. I discovered a new aspect of mine and it changed me forever.
I joined Merryland College with the aspiration of discovering all those aspects which had been hidden for years behind the veil of shyness. Our teaching methodology was a three way process that included Lecture, Tutorials and Workshops. We would learn things and then practice it in our daily life to strengthen our knowledge base. Being a partner institution of University of Wolverhampton, our course was internationally based and suited our needs as a global student and global citizenship. We would learn about business habits, patterns and subjects across the world. Audio-visual classes were a new normal and it helped us understand things better. From economics to finance, from entrepreneurship to global business, we were polished and prepared for the global job market. I did assignments on subjects that ranged from Marketing, Strategic Management, Entrepreneurship, Human Resources and many more, and got in-depth knowledge of the local as well as global business environment. I got to interview entrepreneurs and CEOs, which further helped me in networking professionally.
After I graduated I found myself a different person. I have stood up the mob; I have invented my own being, a new identity. I graduated from college almost 2 years ago and have been working ever since. I was in digital marketing industry few months and currently, I work in one of the most prestigious banking institutions in Nepal. The vigorous training and practical knowledge I gained in Merryland College Biratnagar have proved very useful in conducting myself at work. Being in the banking sector, it’s very important to have team work spirit and apt communication skills along with good banking knowledge. The team-building, communication and leadership skills I learned in college, have made me amiable and prone to appreciation at work. It has made me quick to learn and adapt to the work environment, and has determined my professional life in various ways.
In conclusion, my college has molded me into a confident and sociable person who likes to take charge of situations, face challenges and prove myself as a leader again and again. As the result, today I have been able to shape my professional career ahead as the Nepal government official, an Assistant in Nepal Bank Limited. In all these years I have understood that the current job market is extremely competitive and tight. Books will certainly take you to it but only practical skills are going to help you survive. I am eternally thankful to Merryland College Biratnagar for shaping my future.
Therefore, based upon by own reflection and reality, I can logically underpin the fact that the graduate employability is a serious global concern. The world of work expects graduates to accumulate both hard and soft skills; qualifications and competencies.
I was clever, wise and intelligent; and received appropriate inspiration and guidance on time.
How about you?
Ms Shubani Jha
Merryland College Biratnagar Alumni