[MTC Global] Not Skills gap please… its Skill needs!

Author: Santhosh Chandrasekara Kurup
Chief Executive Officer, ICTAK

In the last few weeks, I have been a part of at least 4 conferences on skills, changing technology etc. The common theme in most of the discussions was 'Skill Gap'. As usual a deluge of advises flowed from experts to Academia towards improving the skills gaps. And every time this topic comes up for discussions, the leaders of Academia (Management, Administration and even senior faculty members) will quietly listen to the barrage of issues that they need to address on skills gap. Having spent three years in this ecosystem I realise that such interpretation gives a perception amongst listeners that 'I am OK you are not OK', which is not the intent though.

I would strongly suggest the use of "Skill Needs" rather than "Skill gap", due to the following reasons

(a) Purpose of University is more than creating employable work force (Of course that is the larger mandate, but still there are others as well); In the Survey conducted by ICT Academy of Kerala, 18 % of students in engineering colleges wanted to go for higher education, 10% wanted to get to do something on their own. Even amongst students who wanted a job, we found them wanting to join Civil services, Music/Cinema and even politics. One cannot consider it a gap when the population in the analysis has such differing aspirations.

(b) Unfortunately in India, we still consider Engineering as a sought after education stream and hence parental and social pressure on students to get to professional colleges are high, even if their interests and capability may be elsewhere. The Universities in Kerala (I think it may be true with other places as well) has put up the first time pass percentage amongst Engineering students at around 40 %. Most data points on skill gaps include the students who according to universities are not yet ready for Engineering graduation. Leaving the anomalies of University mode of examination (we have seen that around 15 - 20 % of such students are still capable of becoming wonderful employees), a large population of students should not be evaluated, as they are considered ineligible by University itself.

(c) Imagine a situation where the skills development activities are yielding great results, and more than 70 % of graduate become employable – does companies have that much demand to fulfil? perhaps not! We produce nearly 700 thousand engineers every year and the IT demand at the peak time was around 250 thousand people. When the supply is more than demand, the selectors get a chance to pick the best among the applicants. Extrapolating the non-selected as unemployable can be misleading.

(d) A recent survey suggests that around 60% of internal staffs of large corporates will need re-skilling to meet the newer demands of technology industry. The survey goes on to say that out of that around 35-40% are not re-trainable! Mind you, these are employees who came through a stringent selection process and are with companies for over 5 to 6 years! When demands are continuously varying and when companies are struggling in managing such dynamic environment, it will obviously be more harder for academic ecosystem to match with the expectations.

Having said all the above, Academia should not assume that 'all is well' at their end – they certainly have lots to improve. But let us put Academia and Industry on the same pedestal ('I AM OK YOU ARE OK') and open up a collaborative environment for learning and sharing. Skill Needs would sound positive in that context than being called as Skill 'gaps'!

Best Regards,
Amalendu, MBA
A Proud MTCian since 2009

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