India is seen as one of the youngest countries in a relatively ageing world. It has an enviable demographic dividend. According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), demographic dividend implies economic growth potential that can result when the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age population.
Demographic dividend has historically contributed up to 15% to overall economic growth in advanced economies. According to estimates, India has 62.5% of its population in the working age bracket which augurs well for its economic outlook.
Reports however, alarmingly suggest that formally trained youth remain jobless because they lack the skills that employers are looking for. According to a report by UNICEF, more than 50% young people in India will not have the requisite skills for employment by 2030. It pointed out that skills among Indian youths were found to be below the global average.
Even before the pandemic, the job market was a rough terrain for the young Indian job seeker. The pandemic further exacerbated the employability scenario. In May 2020, the International Labour Organization (ILO) warned that the economic fallout due to COVID-19 could leave many young people lagging behind in the labour market. The World Bank pointed out that India’s shrinking job market forebodes that future employment scenario will be increasingly tough for the 1.3 million Indians joining the workforce each month. The youth’s predicament highlights one of India’s biggest problems: young people who are formally educated are finding it increasingly hard to get the right jobs.
Imbalance in labour supply and demand created by the pandemic along is expected to further worsen the already bleak employment prospects. In the absence of concomitant job opportunities, young people will have no choice but to accept low-paying jobs. A report by Ernst and Young India outlined several challenges in readying Indian youth with employable skills. Near absence of market-oriented curricula in educational institutes, lack of quality vocational training and inadequate infrastructure make it difficult to equip students with relevant skills demanded by the market. Lack of awareness among youth about various government-sponsored skill development programs is also a major challenge.
What is even more worrisome is the fact that Indian youth who have grown up on a rote learning pedagogy in schools are often inept at self-assessment. They lack the necessary drive and ability to develop awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses. In fact, Indian youth often lack the right attitude and not just the right skills. Though a lot has been written about skill gaps in Indian youth, not much thought has really gone into attitude gaps.
It has been often said that companies “hire for attitudes” and “train for skills”. Attitude has a direct bearing on how people work and perform. According to Mark Murphy, thought leader and author of Hiring for Attitude, around 46% of new hires fail in their jobs within the first two years. Of these, 89% was due to reasons associated with their attitudes.
A report published in Forbes highlighted that employers are not just looking for skills, as is normally presumed. They are often looking for stable headed, goal-oriented individuals who “understand their own path” and “know what they want in their career”. According to a report published by The Guardian, UK’s leading newspaper, employers look for passionate, motivated, innovative and flexible individuals. Recruitment specialist Michael Page observes that hiring managers love to see “results and achievements”. According to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers value integrity, reliability, respect and teamwork.
A BBC report on the world of work and what employers are looking for highlights commitment, flexibility, reliability, trustworthiness and honesty. Deloitte, along with the World Economic Forum, investigated the attributes that will be needed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution in its Future of Jobs Report. Communication, collaboration and being sociable were the most sought after attributes.
Most importantly, employers look for conscientious employees. A large number of survey reports and expert opinions agree on ‘conscientiousness’ as the most important factor determining hiring choice as well as for retaining employment. Conscientious individuals tend to demonstrate a strong work ethic, are reliable, dependable and show commitment. Being dependable is inarguably more important than being competent.
The India Skills Report 2020 by Wheebox and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) tries to map the readiness and employability of students in India. The report is based on an assessment of 300,000 candidates and matching it with preferences of employers. The dimensions which employers emphasize are domain knowledge, adaptability, learning agility and positive attitude.
It shows that only 49% of BTech and 54% MBAs were found to be employable. Millions of students even after finishing schooling lack hands-on learning and practical exposure. There has been an echoing sentiment in the industry to restructure the archaic education system of India. Though the New Education Policy (NEP) seeks to address this gap, it’s implementation will be a long-drawn process.
Putting attitude first doesn’t mean understating the importance of technical and soft skills. These skills are a prerequisite for any job seeker. What is however, more significant to get an edge is the right attitude. A candidate lacking certain skills can be trained to acquire those skills after recruitment as long as he has the right attitude.
It is crucial for India to ensure that its young age population is adequately equipped to seize emerging job opportunities. Millennials as well as Gen Z who are slated to be the future of India must develop self-awareness about their attitudes. In this all-pervasive technology ecosystem, openness to change and adopting the ‘new’ will be an important attitudinal construct. To become a global leader, it is crucial for India to recraft its talent landscape.
(Author Feza Tabassum Azmi is Professor at Faculty of Management Studies and Research, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. Views expressed here are personal.)