The importance of skilling and starting early

A big reason behind India’s falling employability rate lies in the difference between what students study and what employers want. To overcome this, students require a combination of soft and technical skills.
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Today, there is a considerable gap between what students learn in schools and colleges and the industry skills that companies demand. What’s worse, this gap is widening. This is evident from the plummeting employability rates in India, which stood at 45.9 percent in 2021. And, this is a steady decline from 47.38 percent in 2019 and 46.21 percent in 2020. In a nutshell, not even half of the Indians who graduate are employable. 

A big reason behind India’s falling employability rate lies in the difference between what students study and what employers want. To overcome this, students require a combination of soft and technical skills, in addition to academic excellence. The onus of integrating relevant industry skills in an academic curriculum lies on educational institutions. Only with the right skills in their kitty can students become actually employable. However, this is only the second step. 

The first step towards bridging the gap between skilling and institutional learning must be an identification of the key areas that require upskilling. Schools and colleges need to understand the importance of students building these skills early on. Consequently, institutions of learning can incorporate diverse skill development opportunities from government and non-government setups into their curriculum.

Indian institutions often end up ignoring soft skills for employability - critical thinking, problem-solving, time management, and communication and presentation skills.

The importance of skilling early

In the pursuit of creating a conducive environment for theoretical learning, Indian institutions often end up ignoring soft skills for employability - critical thinking, problem-solving, time management, and communication and presentation skills. These make for well-rounded individuals that are better positioned to not just land a job but also to make a real contribution to an organization.  

While India has a literacy rate of roughly 74 percent, just 42 percent of citizens are employed. Literacy is but a stepping stone towards acquiring real-world skills employers demand. These include technical expertise, practical training, transferable skills, digital skills, and other abilities necessary for sustaining a job.

Besides, it is no easy feat for educational institutions to keep up with the pace of upskilling required in today’s world. Hence, they must be open to integrating technology programmes that attempt to plug the gaps.

The Indian education system urgently requires an overhaul. It is critical that skilling and education are integrated into schools' curricula so that students learn the importance of both at a young age. For this to happen, they must have access to skill development classes at both the primary and secondary levels. Let’s take a look at just why starting early is the way to go for skilling our workforce. 

Improved employability and job opportunities 

Acquiring specific skillsets opens up more employment opportunities for graduates. For example, engineering graduates can open themselves up to many client-facing and servicing roles by improving their soft skills. 

The present job market is highly competitive, and even entry-level roles may require certain base skills. An evolving job market and a cut-throat economy necessitate a holistic skillset. Learners need cognitive, social, and emotional abilities. Cognitive abilities include the ability to comprehend complex ideas, react swiftly to new events, apply logic to a situation, and generate out-of-the-box ideas. In addition, navigating interpersonal interactions and developing leadership while working in a team demands socio-emotional skills.

Acquiring relevant skillsets early on can help students land desired jobs. Educational institutions can do their bit by providing industry-specific training and encouraging students to take up formal apprenticeships.

Upskilling is the missing ingredient that makes formal education more valuable

Reduced drop-out rates

A recent study by the National Statistical Office (NSO) reveals that 1 out of every 8 students enrolled in colleges or schools in India drops out before finishing their education. More than a whopping 62 percent of all dropouts happen at the school level. 

It turns out that the primary reason behind discontinuing education is not always economic. Often, students and parents fail to understand how formal education boosts employability for skilled roles. However, when students learn practical skills along with their curriculum, they can build a clear understanding of their career options and trajectory. 

Improved retention

In the unfortunate event where companies lay off employees, as was seen during the pandemic, a trend emerges. Employees with multiple skillsets are typically retained or are the last to be laid off with higher chances of priority rehiring.  Sure, the pandemic is temporary, but this situation teaches us that employers always prefer workers that are constantly willing to upskill. 

A tool for long-term professional growth

Acquiring new skills, be they technical or non-technical, doesn't just make students more employable; they also empower them as individuals. By learning key skills in network building, collaboration, time management, and communication, workers can continue excelling in their jobs and even pivot to new industries.

Food for thought 

On the one hand, India has a highly educated and young population that is unable to find work owing to a lack of suitable skills. Early vocational education and training are critical for providing the youth with lifetime learning opportunities, improving their employment chances, and closing the market demand-supply gap.

Upskilling is not a support act for mainstream education. It is that missing ingredient which makes formal education more valuable. No wonder a host of government initiatives recognise this, especially when it comes to imparting technology-based skills.

Then, there are initiatives by the Edunet Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on technology, employment, and entrepreneurial skilling. The organisation focuses on project-based learning where learners interact with professional technologists, incubators, and other industry volunteers. 

The work of both the government and non-profit foundations is much more vital now that educational institutions realise that there’s a widening skills gap. This realisation and initiatives in skilling will enable India’s workforce to realize its true potential.

Edited by Diya Koshy George

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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