The COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the entire world seems to be far from over, and continues to wreak havoc. With experts predicting a third wave of the pandemic, the lifestyle changes that the pandemic gave rise to such as work-from-home and online education are set to continue for an incalculable time. While under the circumstances online classes are the only way out for students, it remains to be seen if youth who have graduated in 2021 are able to secure jobs in India.
In fact, a LinkedIn survey states that 72% of students and 65% of fresh graduates in India were professionally impacted during the second wave of COVID-19 with their job applications getting rejected. Some of the other challenges being faced by students in pursuing job opportunities include lack of guidance for skilling and increased familial responsibilities due to COVID-19. Along the same lines, leaders in the academic domain spoke to Dataquest about the problems that “online graduates” may face in India, and how they could overcome these hurdles to become employable.
Challenges Being Faced by the Batch that Has Graduated Online in Securing Jobs in India
Dr GK Prabhu, president, Manipal University, Jaipur says that although the online delivery of educational content has multiple advantages, the youth may find two major challenges: (a) lack of experiential knowledge especially in skill-based professional academic programs, and (b) lack of collaborating and networking abilities with peers and experts. “These two features are very important to enhance their employability in any sector,” he says.
Sarita Digumarti, COO and co-founder, Jigsaw Academy states that according to the latest India Skills report, students graduating in 2021 are slightly less employable than students who graduated in 2020. “There can be an array of reasons for this decline. The educational institutes, as well as students, are still adjusting to the concept of remote learning. This batch will undoubtedly lack a lot of practical knowledge compared to the ones before them. The industry needs have also changed by a great amount recently,” adds Digurmati.
Apart from the fact that students have studied online throughout the year, what makes the job market unrelenting is several industries have had to cut jobs due to the pandemic-induced recession. “Major challenge is to face an already tough job market fuelled by collapse of businesses and lay-offs triggered by the pandemic. To survive, many organizations have re-configured their businesses and processes, resulting into an array of newer job roles which require completely different skillsets. Many graduates from the batch of 2021 may be finding themselves unequipped to take up these roles. Moreover, disruption to learning and no on-site work experience in last one year may also be contributing to their woes,” notes Dr. Happy Paul, associate professor (HRM, OB and Communications Area) Program Chair- PGDM (HRM), TA PAI Management Institute, Manipal.
Abhay G Chebbi, pro-chancellor, Alliance University, is of the view that employment opportunities depend on the macroeconomic scenario. “Recruiters visit campuses to select the “best” talent available. The process usually consists of aptitude tests, technical interviews, and HR interviews. Since the economy was severely hit, most recruiters chose not to recruit at all, shrinking the opportunities significantly. The few that did well (tech sector, health care, e-commerce, edtech, insurance) recruited but in smaller numbers. Since supply and demand drive compensation, salary levels travelled south,” he says.
He further stated: AI took center stage in aptitude tests, with tech-based proctoring and evaluation. Graduates recorded videos on select topics. Interviews were precise, and anyone not fully prepared faced elimination. Mean and median salaries remain high. We have learned valuable lessons – the need for mentoring, intensive formative assessments, and engaging students in a virtual environment.”
What Can Youth Do to Make Sure They Become Employable?
As the situation continues to appear grim, the onus now lies on students to make sure they obtain the required skills to secure jobs in India. “Youth need to participate actively in group discussions on virtual platforms and improve their collaborating and influencing ability. They should also explore online certificate courses especially those focused on contemporary topics and be innovative in their approach to problem-solving,” says Dr GK Prabhu.
In the same vein, Sarita Digumarti says that staying relevant to the industry requirements must be at the top of one’s list. “Various sectors will resume in 2021 after seeing a decline in 2020. Thus, the youth must ensure they are qualified enough for the job they want to apply for. To make up for the lack of hands-on experience, they can enroll themselves in numerous courses available today,” she adds.
Dr. Happy Paul, on the other hand, is of the belief that students need to be open to learning opportunities as it is the skills, and not degrees, which will make youth employable in current times. He has the following advice for students: “Paid or unpaid, formal or informal, getting hands-on experience through industry projects and internships always add value. It is imperative to understand the business, its environment and keep oneself updated about what’s new in the industry/domain. Last, developing professional network, connecting with the experts, mentors and peer community, is another important skill for employability enhancement.”
That said, Abhay G Chebbi comments that developing 21st century skills is the only way out for students to become more employable. “Youth need to develop 21st-century skills – higher-order cognitive skills (analysis, evaluation, and synthesis), agility, and adaptation. Peer learning is more critical than teacher-led learning. Learners must take ownership of their knowledge, application, world-view, and social skills. Institutions must invest in technology–learning management systems, campus solutions, AI, IoT, and in-demand platforms. A hybrid model is here to stay. Both institutions and learners must appreciate the advantages of blending anytime, anywhere learning with face-to-face interaction,” he says.
Changes Needed in the Curriculum Owing to the COVID-19 Pandemic
While one may or may not agree with online education being the best medium for students to continue with their education, the trend is bound to be in use. However, a few changes could be introduced to help students acquire the latest skills. Here is what industry leaders suggest:
- Teachers need to be more innovative while using technical platforms, and they need to create and manage curriculum content to instil interest in students and meaningfully engage with them. Teaching-learning should be more application-oriented, and evaluation should be project-based. Experiments should be conducted through virtual laboratories by extensively using AR/VR technology: Dr GK Prabhu.
- The work-from-home culture has given rise to the dependency on online business tools and services. Being technically sound is important for almost everyone in the industry. Thus, a curriculum covering domains like Business Analytics, Product Management, People Analytics, Cloud Computing, Data Science, etc., must be developed at the earliest: Sarita Digumarti
- The curriculum needs to be genuinely revised keeping in mind the current job roles and future of work. It must be more pragmatic, and practice driven. Developing the programs with industry partnership to allow more practical exposure is the way forward. The pandemic has increased the pace of technology absorption and many organizations may continue to have flexible work arrangements, so building competencies to be productive and effective in virtual world will help. In addition, focus on entrepreneurial potential of students may also aid in producing job creators: Dr. Happy Paul.
- Quality must replace quantity – the pandemic has taught us that less can be more. We must scrap our obsession with sequential learning. Students must develop the capacity to learn in any order. The curriculum must always remain contemporary by including the latest developments long before such concepts find their way into textbooks. We must use design thinking to drive curriculum – what do employers want? How can we provide what employers look for? Faculty autonomy and commitment are vital – we need holistic educators, not “textbook” teachers: Abhay G Chebbi.