Friday, May 15, 2015

Education-to-Employment Gap - Need for A Joined-Up Approach

As more and more students go to college all over the world, the problem of education-to-employment gap become more and more significant. Though data varies from country to country and discipline to discipline, it is safe to assume at least 50% of those who are in college today will not find an employment. Despite this, the queues to join colleges are becoming longer, as the promise of Middle Class life is the mainstay of the social arrangements that we have now, and every now government in every country comes to power promising the magic formula of creating the jobs for educated (or skilled) people. This creates another problem, that of educational access. There are simply not enough seats in colleges for those who want to join them, at least not in good colleges and not in the areas where these students are. This creates a second problem - of educational access. Add to this the Global Workforce Shortage, that companies wanting to fill positions can not find workers, and one gets the picture of a complete global tragedy. 

One big problem of these gaps and problems is that they are all labelled. Instead of having the generic meaning, the way I used it here, they all have very specific meanings endowed to them by various consultancies that coined them. So, McKinsey owns the Education-to-Employment gap, as they coined it. The Global Workforce Crisis is owned by Boston Consulting Group, which takes a slightly different perspective of the same problem. The problem of educational access is owned by various people, as we have different perspectives to it in different countries. In Africa, where there is simply not enough seats, it is a problem owned by Development Agencies and Charities, whereas the access to GOOD higher education is a problem in India, and the Government seems to own it. This means that there is no global view of these problems, and no joined up approach, despite this being a global problem - and fundamental to the middle class societies we live in.

McKinsey, while making the point about Education-to-Employment gap, urged for all hands on the deck. Such fragmented approach hardly facilitates one. There are those who talk about bridging the E2E Gap but would not want to engage with educators or regulators. Educators, on their part, see all this as a neo-liberal conspiracy and would not entertain a coinage by McKinsey to enter their vocabulary. College education, despite its lofty rhetoric, has always been a game of power and entitlements, and the E2E gap (or whatever you call it) has fallen in this trap.

Indeed, the tragic consequences of this are borne out by those unfortunate students who continue to believe in the promise of the college. There are people in developing countries who would mortgage their land to send their children to college, giving a new meaning to the Jomo Kenyatta's half-joke (“When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”). Allowing this to happen may put everyone in trouble. Educators lose their legitimacy, businesses their consumers, and governments, their control. One should not see ISIS as an isolated phenomena in the Middle East, but rather a deep problem for legitimacy of the nation-state system that we have come to develop. Nation states need the hopeful Middle Classes, and losing the middle class dream is fatal for them.

So, yes, all hands on the deck! I was recently hearing Nick Donofrio, now-retired EVP of Innovation and Technology at IBM who also served in the Board of Commission on the Future of Higher Education in the United States, speak, urging the new Education Start-ups, who wish to create a new model of Higher Education outside the current regulated structures, to get out there and get involved in the ground realities of Higher Ed, rather than staying outside the structure. While this makes abundant sense, the entitlement-based thinking that dominates Higher Education is really difficult to get beyond, and the start-ups tend to falter (as did mine) when the regulatory hangover draw most of their energy.

I think the big question for any start-up to decide upon is whether they are in the game of Disruptive or Sustaining Innovation. Disruptive may be the buzzword, but not every business is, or should be, disruptive. In fact, the start-ups solely focused on E2E gap is in the business of Sustaining Innovation, as they are building a better, more relevant, product. One could perhaps build Disruptive models in the area of Educational Access, where they can bring non-consumers to education (like the French school, Ecole 42). From that perspective, one could perhaps see who should be inside the system - those building sustaining innovation - and who should be outside - those in the disruption business! But, we still need a joined-up approach, with its first principle being the need of a diverse education sector, which is beyond these artificially imposed labels.
 




  



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