Indian education has not changed much since over three decades. Covid-19 has drastically changed the way various industries work and has created a number of challenges in our career paths. It resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. Colleges and students were not prepared for prolonged campus closures. Both face a variety of challenges going forward.
In an interview with Dataquest, Lokesh Anand, Associate Director, Organizational Excellence, Harappa Education, talks about the challenges and outcomes. Harappa Education is a pioneering online learning institution offering career programs on foundation skills to enhance employability, aims to become a high-quality learning destination for all young professionals, regardless of their area of specialization.
Excerpts from the interview:
DQ: The pandemic has already affected many jobs, and careers. How do you see this crisis and how will a candidate become resilient in this situation?
Lokesh: According to a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum’s ‘Jobs Reset Summit’, 57% of Indians fear losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A virtual working model has further added to the challenge, as employees are unable to experience the psychological safety of ‘belonging’ that comes with a physical workspace. So anxiety is certainly high, even for people whose jobs are relatively stable.
Another report by McKinsey highlights the challenges of maintaining output with a virtual team. As companies contemplate returning to the workplace, a new set of skills are likely to emerge to aid the transition. According to the report, companies must create a talent strategy that develops employees’ critical digital and cognitive capabilities, their social and emotional skills, and their adaptability and resilience to change.
For job seekers, recruitment cycles are certainly becoming longer, as companies are being cautious in hiring. Patience and optimism, along with selective company targeting will certainly help in becoming more resilient. Dedicating energy to customizing job applications, rather than mass applying is likely to give better results.
Many business models are changing dramatically during the pandemic, so understanding the hiring managers’ mindset can give candidates an extra edge. They are inundated with mass applications, so a customized cover letter/email will help get you noticed. Because business demands are very dynamic, hiring managers will place a premium on candidates who have demonstrated their capabilities in uncertain environments. That’s because the roles they are looking to fill have a lot of implicit uncertainty in them due to the pandemic.
This is also where learning and upskilling can become a differentiator. Addition of skills aside, it signals to a recruiter that you are adaptive. You may not have had control over the circumstances created because of the pandemic, but if you are able to demonstrate that you adapted to the best of your ability, it will always catch the eye of a good recruiter.
DQ: What is the best approach for a fresh graduate to prepare for a challenging time ahead?
Lokesh: Fresh graduates not only have very limited practical industry skills, but more often, since most colleges in India do not teach basic foundational skills, they are not adequately prepared for the nuances of the workplace. To address this core gap, we at Harappa Education introduced a unique curriculum of 5 Habits and 25 Skills, delivered through an engaging online-first approach: the cognitive (how to think, reason and problem-solve), social (how to communicate, influence and build relationships) and behavioral (how to grow, act and lead), the skills that employers seek at the workplace.
Our courses are designed to help fresh graduates upskill for the new world of work. For instance, our Speaking Effectively online course will help them speak with clarity during interviews, and improve their public speaking and presentation skills. Similarly, our Thinking Critically course will help students simplify complex problems, ask the right questions to move a discussion forward, and argue better.
Our flagship course, Embracing Change, is meant to enhance one’s ability to adapt to change and reframe failures and setbacks into opportunities—a much needed skill today and always. We believe these Habits and Skills can be very valuable for fresh graduates to focus on.
DQ: How do you build a strong employer brand?
Lokesh: A strong employer brand has many elements but good talent looks for organizations which a) add value to your career (compensation, exposure), b) value you as a contributor, and c) are driven by values. So we try and work on these three broad principles, by offering competitive compensation and benefits, a challenging work environment that stimulates personal and professional growth, and a great work culture based on empathy, transparency and respect.
As a Learning & Development brand, we also invest in many internal training programs on skills like management excellence, working with data, compelling writing etc.
DQ: How do you expand the candidate reach and build a recruitment strategy?
Lokesh: We liberally use our networks along with the usual platform based hiring. Referrals are a very underrated channel for attracting the right talent, and we run a very lucrative referral program. We have also started working with multiple top tier educational institutions, which gives us access to some of the best alumni networks in India.
DQ: What challenges do you face in attracting the right job candidates?
Lokesh: Companies today need employees to be self-starters, identify possible opportunities to collaborate cross functionally, and build daily habits that will enable them to work seamlessly and create business leverage. According to various reports, talent professionals and hiring managers across industries feel that foundation skills are just as important, or more important than hard technical skills. However, owing to a core gap in our education system, the candidates are often not well-versed in foundation skills.
Apart from foundational skills, the other challenge is screening and filtering candidates as the volume of applications is very high. All applications at Harappa are screened personally by a recruiter—we don’t use any resume parsing. This is very time intensive, but has also helped us in making many ‘inspired hires’—people who are not a good match on paper but do exceedingly well on the job.
DQ: What skills are you looking for when hiring new employees, which often can be discovered in the first interview?
Lokesh: We are always looking for the 5 Harappa Habits during our rigorous interview process—a candidate’s ability to think critically, solve problems, communicate with impact, collaborate effectively, and lead themselves and others. We believe someone who demonstrates these skills will be able to succeed in any job role, provided they already possess the technical expertise.
Each candidate is also evaluated by at least 3-4 members of the team to ensure that we are bringing the best talent to Harappa.
DQ: Do you provide skilling programs and certification to find the best match for a profile?
Lokesh: Harappa does offer certificates to learners completing our courses. Employers have started paying attention to these certificates. Our hope is for Harappa’s certificates to become the gold standard for establishing proficiency in these foundational skills.