Education = Employability?
So, I would stay away from raising the question whether, philosophically, education should be for employability. I shall accept that for a vast majority of students, this is really what it should be. Particularly as higher education comes with the prospect of a lifelong debt, it is insensitive to talk about a liberal education, which may prepare the mind but leave the bank account empty. Besides, there are many people, safely perched on the ivory tower of great universities and intellectual fame, who are far more qualified to tackle tricky questions such as these.
Rather, I have a dumb question: What really is employability? And can this be taught? I got a job just after I finished my education, and for my education, and therefore believed education is meaningful. My education simply taught me things - economics, politics, philosophy - and allowed me to develop skills, computer programming, ability to talk and write, etc. I used those skills and knowledge when time came to use them, and that got me my first job, promotions and subsequent jobs thereafter. So, by definition, I got my employability from my education. But, despite trying, I couldn't figure out which bits of my education specifically dealt with employability, and indeed, I didn't have an 'employability certificate'.
Now, I don't even think I had a 'great' education: I went to a good college, but not a 'premier' one. Some of the teachers who taught us were inspiring - and the subjects they taught, therefore, were subjects favourite to me - but most others were pedestrian, uninterested, even downright shabby. The method of teaching was mostly didactic, I was never asked to participate in a debate or make a presentation for once in the college and there was no employer interaction. Despite this, I got my first job rather easily, and this happened because I knew something very well - in my case, it was Unix programming - and had a perfect score on the subject. That was a skill in demand, very specific and narrow but just right at the time, and the first interview I gave with a nascent private 'Email service' company I was offered a job.
Indeed, this may exactly prove what I am trying to question, that an effective education should be about employability. But then, there is something else that confounds this thesis. The job I got of managing Unix servers did not take me too far: It was fine as a first job and gave me an exposure to 'corporate life', but in less than two years, I was doing something completely different. I changed jobs and eventually moved out of India, first to Bangladesh and South-East Asia and then to Britain, using none of my Unix skills whatsoever. Given that I have held different jobs and was given fast promotions because 'I was able to think outside the box', I would think while my first employment, which was indeed crucial in the scheme of things, was on account of a very specific skill (though it was a small part of my education), my 'employability' came from my various interests and readings, which, in turn, were inspired by tutors and peers who held many outside interests, political views and passion to change the world.
Looking back, it is indeed tempting for me to think that the first job was what made all the difference, and may be it did. It is even more tempting to nurse my ego and think that I was really really good with programming the Unix servers and hence got the job. But this overlooks important issues: That I was lucky, that I was at the right place at the right time. Getting this job might have been due to the date of the interview, the New Year Eve 1992, and I was among the few available at the placement office for the interview. There was another person competing for the same job, a classmate, who was better than me in me in computing but, in this instance, I had better scores in Unix programming, which was specifically what the employers wanted. Finally, I got on well with the interviewer, and though we did not work together for too long (she left the job only a month after the interview), we developed a lifelong friendship which lasts to this day.