There is a new generation of young Indians – Generation Z. Born after 1995, they have grown up with the internet in their pocket. More entitled, more individualistic, and a lot more selfish than their predecessors. Their job preferences and upbringing is unique – vastly different from that of previous generations. In fact, their degrees no longer restrict their aspirations. They have a plethora of opportunities open to them, and they are willing to exercise them. Today’s engineers from IIT want to be film stars and Arts students from Delhi University want to become bankers.
To further complicate this, the job market today is dynamic and complex. The days of traditional doctor, lawyer, engineer roles are gone. There are new, non-traditional roles and careers that might be as lucrative and respected as becoming a surgeon or an engineer. Hierarchies are being replaced by meritocracies, and staying relevant has become critical.
Given that the Indian college education system is theoretical and not aligned with industry needs, students do not have the relevant skills required to succeed in their first jobs. Most of them are also first-generation college graduates without highly educated parents to guide them – they need significant support and mentorship. By 2020, there will be 200 million college graduates in India’s work-force. Yet, India struggles to effectively fill the leadership and management roles that our growing economy requires because most of our talent is not proficient to compete in the global marketplace. While at Harvard Business School, I was inspired by Mohammad Yunus and supported by the Harvard Social Enterprise Initiative to write the plan for a new venture that has the potential to solve this critical challenge for India.
My research with students across top colleges in the country revealed some startling results: 60% of students don’t feel ready for a job. When I asked students why they don’t feel ready for a job, I got responses such as: “My nervousness and shy nature.” “I know what I want to achieve but I am not sure how I will finally do it.” “Self-belief to bring about a change.” If this was the case with students from the top colleges in India, it reflected poorly on the rest of the country. According to a McKinsey study, less than 3% of engineers can be taken on for a job without additional training. With 1.5 million engineers graduating every year, it is alarming that we are producing graduates who are not adequately prepared for their careers.
I conducted further research at Harvard Business School with Indian employers and students at the best educational institutions in India. The results highlighted the 6 skills that bridge the gap between a college education and skills required at the workplace. Students should focus on developing these key competencies to become efficient leaders:
- Self-awareness and self-belief (knowing your strengths and development areas, and identifying your values)
- Life vision (identifying long-term goals for career and life)
- Perfect communication (honing written and verbal communication skills)
- The ability to work smart (solve real world challenges, manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently, use MS Office tools proficiently, internalizing the nuances of business ethics)
- The ability to make a good first impression (ability to present oneself to fit with the environment)
- Ability to secure a job (e.g., resume, interviewing and networking skills)
Not only do we need to supplement students’ education with skill training, but also provide them the opportunity to hone these skills through a work internship. The role of Indian parents is crucial here – they need to focus on practicality rather than grades because unfortunately, most of our brightest graduates are unemployable. Due to parental emphasis on getting a college degree, most students have no real-world skills because they have never worked. They need to move from the classroom to the boardroom eventually, and there’s no better time to start than in college.
Further, we need to pay special attention to Gen Z women and their approach to work. Most of the young women we train at India’s best colleges are studying at Delhi University at the likes of Lady Shri Ram College and Miranda House. Despite scoring marks close to 100% that get them into the top colleges in India, their parents support them only for their education but not for their careers. Recently, I spoke to two girls from Lucknow and Jaipur – both exceptionally bright. They were Head Girls, Club Presidents, strong orators and academically top notch. I asked them they have come so far, what next after college? Both said they wanted to study further and needed to focus on their grades; they would worry about working later and make the decision if they ever wanted to work later. They also mentioned that their parents want them home in the summer; they cannot do a work internship because Delhi is not safe. While it is heartening to see so many young women receiving encouragement to study, it is equally important for their families to support their decision to work.
Last, we need to focus on providing individual coaching and feedback to graduates for their personal and professional growth. In our primary research conducted at Harvard with students across top colleges, less than 50% of students had a mentor or guide they could approach for advice on their life and career path. Most students look to someone within their family – a parent, sibling or relative – for guidance. They do not have anybody outside their familial circle to seek guidance from. Through work internships, students can build a network of mentors including colleagues and managers. From guidance on one’s career path to addressing queries about work to acting as sponsors, these mentors provide support beyond what families can provide.
India has a distinct global advantage – it has a large demographic dividend and educated youth set to join the workforce. We need to focus on developing students’ capabilities and leadership abilities to make them more efficient and productive at the workplace. This can be achieved through the right supplemental skills training, exposure to work internships, parental support to explore opportunities beyond academics, and focus on mentorship. This will improve the overall health of the economy and turn Indian colleges into leadership factories.