Thursday, January 22, 2015

Conversations 26 - The Employability Question

Right now, the theme of my life is getting rid of legacy! 

2015 has began positively for me, and I am able to focus on the tasks at hand and also starting to think about the future. There were some minor strokes of luck too, after I thought it had abandoned my path altogether. So, into the third week, as the expression goes, I am looking forward!

Which should start with stopping to look rearward. I have been clearing my desks - and indeed my inbox - as quickly as I can, and have started to say no to many of the propositions that come my way. I am indeed tempted by academic life, something I want to live and some of the proposals I have will perhaps allow me that, but I have now resolved to be in business for a little while longer. In fact, after my experiments with living through 2014, I can not afford not to.

So, here I am - intently focused on one problem, which, after Mckinsey, everyone seems to call the E2E gap. My day job concerns bringing the educators and employers together. Being out there on the messy ground is a great exposure for me, and in its current setting, this is global too. Despite my rather limited mandate, this is a great preparation for what has become my key focus of late, working on a model of employability preparation for the graduates in developing countries.

If that sounds like working against my own advice, it is. I have followed several employability training businesses in India, ranging from small one-person outfits to large skill development businesses, and learned a lot from listening to them. They are indeed all trying to solve the same big problem. Though I mostly disagreed with their methods, it is apparent that there is a big problem that needs solving. One approach to this is indeed to try and reinvent the whole education proposition, which I do as a part of my day job. The other approach is to see how to address this without necessarily being part of the regulated system.

In my private research, and it is a research project at this time rather than an entrepreneurial one, I want to explore the latter approach. I think the unemployed and unemployable graduates present a bigger challenge than the proposition of setting up a new education system. While I know that innovations outside the regulated system always suffer from a legitimacy gap, I have now come to believe that innovation inside the regulated framework is extremely difficult, costly and risky. The other option, trying to be within the regulated system but not following its prescriptions, is worse than being outside, because once you are in the game, you must play it as it should be played. So, my idea is to develop a model to complement the regulated system and try to find its legitimacy from outside.

Higher Education is one of the hardest thing to try and change, as many people have figured out at their own cost, but it is not impossible to change Higher Education. In fact, I shall argue that Higher Education has almost always been changed from outside, either because of regulatory change enforced by the government of the day (the reforms of Oxbridge in the 1850s, the Morill Act, to the Open University in the more recent history) or by changes brought by For-Profit activities or the media. The medical school was a predominantly For-Profit activity before the universities woke up to it, and so are accounting and business schools. The greatest change in Higher Ed, for better or for worse, has been brought about by ranking systems, mainly an invention of the media, and while most people in the universities love to hate it, they can not escape its embrace.

Therefore, my little project, or whatever comes of it, I would rather not to make the pretense of trying to challenge the Higher Ed system, but rather stand outside it and try to work with it. My starting point is to try to create a model that can work - a business model coupled with a delivery model - and I shall reach out to my friends and correspondents who have been working on parallel paths for a period of time. I am trying to leverage all the things I learned in the Education Conference that we had last week and get conversations going, though there are lots of gaps in the conversation which I am acutely aware of.

So, an end and a beginning, this is more or less the story that I am trying to craft. 

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Will be to arrive where we started
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