Education-For-Employment: Rethinking The Employers' Role

One of the missing pieces, a big one, in the Education-to-Employment conversation is what role does the employer play. 

We know that a large number of graduates come out of school and can not find a job. Educators, in some cases resistant to the idea that a job should be seen as an outcome of education, are being held responsible for what is becoming a big social problem. Policy makers and Media are leading the conversation and demanding greater accountability, for a successful outcome defined by productive economic engagement (job or enterprise, whatever), from the educators. Several new-age Education institutions are exploring different educational models tied more closely to the outcome, including more responsive curriculum, pedagogy that mirror workplace practices, intensive career preparation for senior students as well as setting up facilities such as incubation centres connecting students with Capital and networks to start their enterprise. In summary, despite resistance from some quarters, the educational institutions are increasingly open to the outcome expectations placed on them by everyone else.

What about employers though? The dominant idea is to treat them as consumers of education. I would tend to think that this is broadly shared by the employers themselves. We have a business to run, they tend to say, and educators must prepare the students so that they find work. This is commonly accepted, and we see the Education-to-Employment as a value chain, students come to school, schools prepare them and employers hire them. We expect the employers to be meritocratic and only hire the best candidates, and hence, place the onus on the schools to meet the requirements.

The question is, though, whether the Education-to-Employment problem can be solved this way. It is a problem to be solved, because graduate unemployment erodes the legitimacy of education, and in the end, of the whole middle class society. While educators have some, even may be the primary, responsibility, can they really make a dent without active participation of the employers? Is it okay to see the Education-to-Employment as a value chain, or should we view this more as an ecosystem, with employers playing a more engaged role? Can one really design responsive curriculum when employers are not really responsive? Why do we accept that the employers must be meritocratic but education must be democratic? And, if we do, and allocate education a more crucial role in maintaining democratic societies, why would not this preference reflect in our policy-making, where we would put the interests of the 'Job Creators' first? Do employers really create jobs, or merely consume Human Resources?

If we eschew the socialist rhetoric, which may put the interests of business owners and everyone else in opposing, conflicting terms, we should see that there should be a common interest in educating people from all quarters. We are all beneficiaries of an educated society, and employers themselves are products, not just consumers, of the same. There should be no essential irrationality in employers getting engaged in education (though the stock markets may not think so) and in fact, every strategic reason to do so. 

However, despite all the common sense appeal, today's employers may be too de-materialised, too wedded to the stock market, and disconnected from the community to care. The common conception puts them almost outside the society, a sort of independent economic agent which should be exempt from all sorts of public accountability, including paying taxes in some cases. Imagine, particularly, the role the large multinational companies play in developing countries, such as India or the Philippines. They are usually invited by the governments of these countries, with tax exemption and other sops, to set up shop there, so that local people can have the jobs. They operate completely outside the social dynamic, without the responsibility to change anything in these countries. If the education system fails to deliver and they can not find educated people, they leave. And, these are only extreme examples. The cold logic of business applies to all sorts of companies. Today, the stock market logic will drive an American manufacturer to send the production to China, and even a start-up would rather hire programmers in a low-cost location. The business of business is business, as Economists will say, and we have surely accepted that.

This may indeed be the core of the education-to-employment problem. This logic would surely lead an employer to automate operations and incur capital expenses, rather than engaging themselves into education provision (other than hands off CSR, which is often too little and too disconnected). As we know with other pesky issues such as the climate, ecosystems fail when one constituent starts to assert its divine right to consume. The education-to-employment problem may indeed be quite similar.


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