Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Developing Training for Global Employability

Employability programmes are hugely interesting, particularly because they are so popular but still means nothing in particular. While employability schools, courses, self-help materials and even, almost absurdly, certifications are cropping up everywhere, inherent in those programmes is an admission of failure of the education process itself. It is like getting another medicine when medicines have failed, which indicates how students approach education - not with the usual, healthy scepticism of a standard consumer, but with faith befitting a true believer, which bestow more than usual responsibility on an educator, though, at the same time, it makes life easy for a snake-oil salesman.

However, despite my usual aversion for 'employability' programmes, here I am - designing a programme for global employability! I am not hypocritical: I didn't start this, but this is what the customers want. A number of business schools I have been speaking to want a finishing school programme, and even the students want it. The redeeming part of this conversation is that they want something for 'global employability', rather than just how to be employed, so I am taking it for more than which shirt to wear for an interview, going beyond the usual common sense staff, and exploring issues and challenges related to development of a global career.

To be fair, it is not easy to develop a global career. Many people stumble upon it serendipitously, but few build it consciously. And, for those few who deliberately developed a global career, this involves an enormous amount of effort, to cultivate a global social network and development of global skills, something that indeed needs training and a helping hand. So, while we may end up calling it an employability programme (or may be not, I am toying with terms such as Global Career Development), the idea is radically different: This is about understanding the cultural landscape, identifying opportunities, building social capital and connecting up. 

In course of my research on employability programmes, I came across a somewhat common format: The student is giving a battery of tests and finally a recommendation, about who he is and what career s/he ought to pursue; then, some training on common sense etiquette, dressing and presentation issues, some advice on CV writing (though Gurus could never agree how CVs should be) and finally, some motivational fluff about everyone can do it. For me, I want to stay out of all these three elements. I believe testing may be fine, but giving definitive 'career recommendations' are downright dangerous, because we know so little about how careers are evolving and all our tests and data are so last century! The common sense etiquette is, well, common sense, and one surely needs to go beyond this if the objective is equip the learners for a global career. Lot of these training programmes tend to become consumer brands and attitudes, to the extent that the trainers end up lecturing on the merits of a Swatch or a Chanel; indeed, I am taken to the concept of a personal style, and would rather have the learner come up and define a personal style for himself/herself rather than being beholden to the brands. And, the same goes for CV writing: Whether the CV should be twenty pages or one, largely depends on the job one is applying for and the applicant. If I am a member of Royal Society and have several publications, I better write twenty pages and put all of those in. If I am not, and only trying to be a salesman, I should write a punchy one-page CV which reads like a sales letter! And, finally, the motivational fluff is out too: That anyone can do it is a given, and if one is not aspirational, one wouldn't be in the course I end up writing. 

That's enough ranting! So I am constructing the global employability programme giving equal emphasis to global and employability. On the global side, indeed, I am building an unit to explain the cultural nuances and factors that one must clearly get to manage the global bosses, coworkers, suppliers, customers and subordinates: I am exploring ways to develop global psychological capital, global social capital and global cultural capital, among our learners. Beyond the jargon, we are trying to make them curious, engaged, interested in the world: We are trying to explain to them that global employability is not being an isolated zombie inside some global company office and earning dollars, but belonging there, developing a career and being successful, which means engaging with local norms and customs, making friends and learning and respecting the ways of life. This is indeed very real for me: I have been reasonably successful in my stints in Bangladesh, South-East Asia and England, but not before I learned enough about the country and culture I was in and made local friends. My Linkedin contacts are for real, in any country visit, at least half the people I get to meet are my Linkedin contacts who have become friends, and they come from all over the world. This needed careful cultivation and sincere engagement, and this is what we are trying to convey to our learners.

On the other side, on the employability front, we are working on the framework, eloquently presented by Reed Hoffman and Ben Casnocha in their Start-up of You, that every person is a start-up. Instead of prescriptive views of life and fixed formats of career, we are developing tools, ideas and activities to let the students explore their assets, interrogate their aspirations and explore the market realities; to engage in ABZ planning, wherein they not only fix themselves into the Plan A, but know how to get to Plan B, and also have a fall-back plan; to encourage them to take risks, to adopt and to build networks. We are working alongside them to leverage the power of social media, getting a Linkedin profile properly done up, connecting with people who may help, understanding their social media engagement profile and getting them to tweet and blog, to unleash themselves into the wider world and to connect across the borders. The CV, if they get to write one, is only a derivative of all these activities.

However sceptical I am about the employability stuff, I find this effort immensely interesting. I find this to be an area ripe for disruption: When traditional career models are broken, and no one is courageous enough to admit it, here is our opportunity to create a new kind of education, aligned with the realities of the marketplace, and I suspect, even in line with what the students already think or know.

   

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