Thursday, April 04, 2013

A Programme for Global Employability

We have been working on a programme for 'Global Employability' for a while . The shape of it now finally crystallising, after labouring on for several weeks and exploring various different ideas.

This is indeed as much a statement about our approach to education as it is about the subject matter of employability. We have researched the area quite extensively, particularly as we had to explore not just what it means in the UK, but also what it signifies in our key target markets, such as India. We find a pattern, a pattern that we were keen to break away from. Most of the programmes we reviewed takes employability in some sort of old fashioned, static sense, which is no longer valid in our crisis-prone post-recession world [As the entrepreneur and author Tim Clark says, Career is a verb now!] What we do at U-Aspire is solely focused on preparing our students for this, contemporary, world of work. Our starting point is to align with a world shaped by possibilities of technology and globalization. This is deeply embedded in all we do, the education we offer. So, in the end, we ended up challenging the whole idea of employability and have built our programme from scratch.

 Indeed, to start with, we did not simply see the point of a certified course, when the only proof of employability is having an employment. But, as we explored the courses and talked to people who take these courses, it was easy to see the requirement.Career options today are vexing even for the Brightest. Besides, this is not just about getting a job: There are many people without a job, but there is also a great number stuck in dead end jobs without future or hope. If education has to be about hope and change, one has to look at the whole 'employability' phenomenon with a fresh pair of eyes, and overcome both the lack of ambition embodied in the current crop of employability programme as well as the limited perspective of the 'employability' skeptics.

Employability, seen from this aspirational perspective, is not about getting to the lowest rung of the career ladder, somehow getting through the door. Employability is, and this is our starting point, about being in charge of one's life and being able to do something that one wants to do. So, it is about the switch from being career victim to the owner of one's own career, calling the shots and crafting the strategies.

This is indeed employability thinking upside down, because the existing programmes (no matter what you call it, employability training in the UK or 'finishing school' in India) are all about writing CVs and developing better dress sense, set in getting through the door paradigm. We want to develop instead a programme where one thinks of one's own career in more active form, something that one can plan and transform. This is, we surmised, right for our audience, ambitious and bright students all over the world, and consistent with what we are trying to elsewhere in the business, creating courses fusing Enterprise, Technology and Creativity.

So, our employability programme looks quite different in shape: This is less about a desperate jobseeker and more about the 'start-up of you', as Reed Hoffman calls it. This is about being in charge, understanding the global opportunity, actively seeking to define a career for oneself and having practical and workable strategies to achieve so. The skills, writing the right CV, dressing up better, ability to present and converse, all appear in context, but they are not the point: The point is to put the learner, the owner of one's own self, in charge.

Why do we still call it an 'employability' programme? Does that sound unambitious? Our view is that employment isn't dead, at least not yet: The companies are hungry for smart employees, who create value for their employers by creating value for themselves, by moving forward in their lives they move their companies forward. This is the kind of employees our programme is designed to enable. This is indeed about employability, but its aspirational 21st century variety.

The programme we designed now is, therefore, full of ambition, intensely global and constructed of tools and ideas right from the playbook of modern social media and business thinking. This is about connecting people globally and unleashing the power of aspiration, of enabling everyday entrepreneurs who bring new ideas to our daily lives, and of starting a new conversation about work and life. We connect experienced global mentors and ambitious learners, and bring in real employers to create a long term view of what employability means.

We started off somewhat as sceptics but have become a real converts now: Designing this programme was as pleasurable as anything we have done yet.

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