It's time for educators to acknowledge what even a first-time recruiter knows - that Purple Squirrels do not exist.
Employability has become a buzzword in education for several reasons. Governments want to measure and employability - both how many students are getting jobs and at what starting salary - is a neat metric to present to the taxpayers. Private investors in education know that employability - private benefits from education - is the raison d'etre for private education to exist. Whether the faculty, or for that matter, the students, at least most of them until the final weeks of their final year, care about employability is a matter up for debate, but this is definitely the big topic in the Education Conference circuits.
But, sadly, purple squirrels are not real. Employability is an empty goal.
Part of the reason for this is the same as we can't always find the right people for the right job. That gap is both spatial and temporal: As we would say colloquially, one has to be at the right place at the right time! It's a game of Chance, like it or not, as well as of the geographic distribution of talent. The delta effect on employability the right educational offering can make is much smaller than - as we know - being at the right place at the right time. In one sense, freeing up global migration (admittedly, impossible in the current political climate) will have a much greater effect on employability than any transnational education plays.
Moreover, the structures of the economy are changing. 'Skills gap' is local and specific, and in most cases, impossible to bridge with a closed economy mindset. For example, Kenya may have a real shortage of systems architects and the emerging new service industry may be crying out for the same. But, in such a scenario, even if an institution seeks to create an educational programme to bridge this skills gap, those efforts will be stymied by lack of qualified tutors (there is a skills gap, remember) and the fact that most adequately trained graduates would prefer to migrate to a location where the requirements for systems architects are better established. You may not want to be a cyber-security expert in India, despite the obvious need, because the government's cyber-security programme is too limited and obscure, and being seen as a 'hardware guy' may not be an asset in a marriage. In fact, the (again, impossible) solution to skills gap may indeed be sending home all the qualified immigrants in developed countries and a complete ban on skilled migration, which, in turn, will break the global trade and economy. Whatever it is, it is beyond an educator's power to solve.
Then, there is that awkward question of aspiration. How many times have we heard placement staff in private universities complain about the students who don't want to take jobs that are offered to them? Aspiration is a virtue that motivates the student and makes education possible; however, it works against the real business of getting a job when most of the mankind is overeducated for the jobs that are really available. Graduates settling for jobs that do not require graduate-level skills or aptitude drives the national job figures and the route to 'employability' may often lie through the stripping of the aspirations.
That may sound horrible, but the reality of what goes on as 'employability training' is often just that. Imagine attending a college course for several years (and paying thousands of dollars for this) before being told that you will need to be made 'employable'. At that moment, if you are not getting angry and questioning whether you will be swindled all over again, you have to scale down your judgement and sit in a class which will, in all likelihood, centre around telling you to accept your limitations and crawl in front of the first employer who will have you.
This is indeed a bad place to be and one would argue that the whole point of the 'employability education' is that no one really has to get to that situation. It will be in situ and not after the fact. Employability intervention will not be, in their vision, a remedial intervention, but the entire point of education. The curriculum itself will be aligned to what 'employers' want and the rest will automatically follow.
The trouble is with this mythical, disembodied employer who always knows what she wants, can communicate this in the language of the curriculum and doesn't change her mind after the educators have produced the purple squirrel she wanted several years ago. [At this point in the argument, I insist that I was merely being politically correct in my use of gender and not sexist as, Quelle horror! employers do behave like prima donnas all too often]. Curriculum, however it's designed, is a fixed thing, designed with the goal of standardization, stability and measurability, and is always an awkward fit for the modern work-world of flexibility and continuous learning. Its ability to capture, articulate and examine employers' ever-changing priorities is very limited indeed.
This challenge is well-recognised and the whole argument about employability being about soft skills come from this. But this takes the soft skills argument too far: Soft skills are critical for employability only in their absence and allocating overt priorities to it result in superficial education. The whole soft skills business, as it looks to bridge the gap of social capital, is, by definition, remedial; detaching it from the social and economic contexts, which is what usually happens, produces the opposite of the intended outcome: An inauthentic personality ever insecure about one's own self.
In summary, therefore, there is no educational secret sauce to the 'employability' challenge. No AI, no curricula, no personal branding would solve an issue arising out of fundamental structural change in middle-class life and work, globalisation and technological change. One should recognise that universities have always been about jobs - be it for lawyers and clerics in the middle ages, administrators, managers and engineers in the later ages - and they have, contrary to claims, evolved with time. Rather, the challenge represents a systemic shift and the solution needs an approach that combines an understanding of local and global work trends (and the interaction between the two).
This is why we need to go beyond the shallow discussions about employability. I have met people who thought they had a global solution to labour market based on their survey of a few American IT companies; we need to go beyond such nonsense as any solution needs a clear understanding of local job markets and all the nuances of geography and culture that comes with it. Besides, it needs to be solved at a personal level, by engaging the 'whole person' of the learner (which is, perhaps, the point missed by process-based bureaucratic universities). Impersonal, ignorant claims about employability through teaching of soft skills have had their day; we now need more serious and engaged approaches.
Therein lies the case for looking beyond 'employability'.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.