Thursday, April 23, 2015

The SIM Model of Employability

In my conversations about Skills Training and Employability, I have started using the SIM model. This is indeed based on my various conversations over the last five years with employers and educators, and attempts to understand why the Employment-to-Education gap persists. And, indeed, SIM is the shorthand for the three dimensions of this gap, Skills, Information and Mobility, which I wrote about earlier. (See here)

Instead of seeing Education-to-Employment gap as a massive cognitive failure for the Educators, or an original sin emerging out of narrow self-serving attitudes of the employers, this model allows me to see why such a gap may exist. Indeed, over time, I have come to feel that I should be speaking about the problem in plural, or problems, because these three dimensions are really three distinct challenges to be overcome. And, anyone focusing on any one aspect of it is likely to be frustrated by the outcomes.

Consider the frequent complaints from the Skills Training providers and the policy-makers in India. They complain that they can not meet the targets because people do not want to move, while jobs and people are in different areas more often than not. Focusing on skills development, they tend to overlook that mobility is part of the problem that they were paid to solve. The more focused Hiring Departments spend a lot of time on Information part of the equation, reaching out to as many college campuses as they can, but remain disengaged from the skills part of the equation. And, while educational exchange programmes target mobility and cultural familiarity, they often become social exchanges disconnected from the skills aspect of the discussion.

Indeed, the problem is not just about partial perspective, but even within categories. Employers often define their requirements in hard skill terms, sending educators scrambling to prepare people for Analytics or Cyber-security, while looking implicitly for softer abilities such as ability to learn. The employers have no handy metric to ascertain such softer aspects, and the leading employers, being at the top of food chain, do not feel the necessity to lead the way. On the Information side, the real time change in skills and jobs are poorly understood by the educators, and often too disruptive for their content-heavy model to adapt to. And, finally, education mostly remain a place-bound activity, made attractive by an idea of social life and middle class stability, and the question of mobility remains somewhat uncomfortable, at least in the developing societies where such mobility is perhaps most needed.

My work, and some of this blog, will be now focused on developing this model further, as I plan to do in my work context. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Explaining The E2E Gap

Education does not readily translate into employment, hence there is a E2E gap, says McKinsey. It is a double whammy - we face an unemployment problem as well as a labour force problem - and causes all kinds of difficulties. On one hand, growing populations of young people, unable to find gainful employment, become disaffected. On the other, companies can not achieve optimum levels of production or service, and often operate sub par. This is a big problem, getting bigger, and this has resulted in some earnest discussion about all the elements of the E2E chain, flexible labour force strategies, more employment orientated education etc. 

While the Skills gap - education is not creating enough skilled workers - gets the maximum exposure, it is only a partial reason for the E2E gap. The reasons why E2E gap exists can be classified in three parts - Skills, Information and Mobility (how is SIM for an acronym?). 

Skills is a big problem, and educators endlessly debate why this is so. Driven by student desire, they are frantically looking for ways to find better curriculum. However, it is the key assumption - that one can develop a technical/ professional rationality divorced from practice, as embodied in curriculum of any kind - is the problem. In a fast-moving real world, practice has come to demand all those things we assume one needs to do in detachment - critical thinking, creative imagination, analysis - and the practice of education has no answer for this. The skills side of E2E gap can not be closed by better curriculum unless it is conjoined with practice.

Information is the other big problem. Most students only have a fairly vague idea about the world of work, and often they are driven by wrong expectations. The educational institutions only make it worse, as they sell hopes of a better life. Again, such hopes are disconnected from the real world, and the student can not begin to grow an idea about career before they have plunged into it. The educators often try to help with Career Planning, but in the fast-moving context of jobs and careers, planning is no longer possible. The only way to develop an idea about a career is to observe one, or multiple careers, and draw lessons from it. (See my earlier post about Career Planning Vs Career Design)

The third problem for E2E gap is Mobility. In most cases, the people and the jobs are not at the same place. At one level, capital is more mobile than labour and always will be. The social ties hinder how mobile a jobseeker could be, and various visa restrictions put additional barriers to it. But, even within geographies, this remains an issue. This needs to be addressed at several levels. In a global mobile world, some form of mobility training should be part of the educators agenda. Indeed, with efficient availability of information, some of the barriers of mobility should go down, but given that the less mobile are often not connected and do not speak in English (or in any other language other than their local one) will still pose some challenges to information dissemination.

Closing the E2E gap is a big agenda for educators, companies, investors and governments. At one level, everyone seems to be talking about it. But we rarely see anyone taking a holistic view of the problem, and dealing with all three components of the SIM. It is a big and urgent problem, and we will do better a joined-up approach to this.

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