The term 'employability' has gained considerable currency in the recent times in India. One of the reasons has been the 'tectonic' shift in the demographic patterns in India in the last few years.
India is expected to have the world's largest young population by 2025 and India will remain young till 2065. But whether the young Indians will really be employable is a harrowing question that is puzzling the academicians, sociologists, administrators, policy makers, and the business houses. Another daunting challenge is whether India will be able to generate a sufficient number of jobs to accommodate the soaring number of youths, independent of their employability.
The focal point of this article, first in a series of three, is to deliver a preliminary appreciation of the term 'employability' and a few associated aspects.
Several researchers and scholars have defined or elaborated the term 'employability' in different ways.
Hillage & Pollard, 1998: 'Employability' refers to an individual's capability, for gaining and maintaining the employment. For individuals, 'employability' depends on the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) they possess and the manner in which they present their KSA to their employers.
Professor Mantz Yorke (2004): 'Employability' can be defined as "a set of achievements - skills, understandings and personal attributes - that make individuals more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community, the society, and the economy at large".
It must be made clear that 'employability' is not the same as gaining a job or an assignment. Rather, it implies something about the capacity or capabilities of the individuals to function or perform in a job 'satisfactorily' and be able to move across various jobs and thereby remaining 'meaningfully' employed & employable throughout their work-life.
Berntson (2008): There are four main elements in respect of an individual's 'employability'.
Assets - This comprises of an individual's knowledge (what does he know), skills (what he does with what he knows) and attitudes (how does he act). However, merely being in possession of employer-relevant knowledge, skills, and attitudes is not enough for an individual to either 'move self-sufficiently' in the job-market or 'realize his potential'. An individual also requires the capability to exploit his knowledge, skills, and attitudes, to market them, and sell them at a 'reasonable value'.
Deployment - These are a linked set of abilities which include diagnosing occupational interests & abilities, knowing what work opportunities exist & their entry requirements, decision-making skills, transition skills, and job search skills. There is evidently an important interrelationship between the knowledge, skills, and attitudes and (their) deployment.
Presentation - Another key facet of the 'employability' is being able to get a particular job. It is about the ability to demonstrate 'employability' related knowledge, skills, and attitudes and present them to the market in an accessible & understandable way. This includes the presentation of the self, qualifications, references, testimonials, credentials, work experience/track record, and so on.
Context of personal circumstances and the job market - Finally and crucially, the ability to realize 'employability' related knowledge, skills, and attitudes depends on the individual's personal and external circumstances and the intricate interrelationship between the two. Personal circumstances predominantly include parental care responsibilities, disabilities, and household status. Whereas the external circumstances include the number of jobs in the market, job market regulations & benefit rules, and employer recruitment & selection behavior.
One of the key elements that affect the individual's 'employability' is the way the education system operates in a given country. Most of the developing countries, including India, even today deploy the pedagogic method for imparting the education up to the graduate degree.
Pedagogy literally means the art & science of educating children, and often is used as a synonym for teaching. More accurately, pedagogy embodies 'teacher-focused' or 'teacher-centered' education. In the pedagogic model, teachers (and even parents) assume responsibility for deciding about what will be learned, how it will be learned, and when it will be learned. In short, the teachers (and parents) direct the learning process. The pupils or sophomores have no role to play, whatsoever, in the process of acquiring and assimilating education.
Whether the pedagogic method is the best model for child education or not, it is definitely inadequate for adult learning, particularly when it comes to work or career-related education and learning. By definition and reality, all individuals at the graduate level are aged around 18 and for their studies, they require a far more dynamic and 'involving' approach that takes into account their individual experiences and aspirations.
So enters the term Andragogy, which was proposed Malcolm Knowles in the late 60s.
Andragogy originally defined as "the art and science of helping adults learn" is now viewed as a solid alternative to the pedagogic approach of education and refers to 'learner-focused' or 'learner-centered' education for people of all age groups.
A large number of research studies carried out across the world clearly indicate that the education system in most of the advanced countries is more andragogic than pedagogic. There lies a lesson for India, which will have to overhaul its education system at least up to the graduate level, if the 'tectonic' shift in its demographic patterns has to yield dividends and not a disaster.
Also, Malcolm Knowles, who studied adult education extensively, has suggested six key principles which I think merit inclusion here, especially in reference to the meaning of the term andragogy.
Adults are internally or intrinsically motivated and self-directed - Adults resist learning when they feel others are imposing information or ideas or actions on them, without any plausible reason or logic.
Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences - Adults like to be afforded opportunities to use their existing knowledge and experiences and apply them to their new learning experiences.
Adults are goal oriented - Adults become ready and 'willing' to learn when they experience a need to learn in order to cope more satisfyingly with the real-life tasks or problems or difficulties.
Adults are relevancy oriented - Adults want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to accomplish in life.
Adults are practical - Adults move from classroom mode to hands-on problem-solving mode, where they can recognize first-hand, how, what they are learning applies to life and the work context.
Adult learners like to be respected - This means taking an interest in them, acknowledging their experiences, regarding them as a colleague equal in life experiences, encouraging expression of ideas & reasoning and feedback at every opportunity.
Malcolm Knowles also had suggested definitions of an adult learner, which are useful to note.
Biological: The age at which an individual can reproduce.
Legal: The age at which an individual can vote, drive, etc.
Social: When an individual begins to perform adult roles such as full-time worker, participating citizen, spouse, parent, etc.
Psychological: When individuals develop a self-concept of being responsible for their own life.
So, the way forward for India, appears to be threefold.
(1) Re-validate the contextual relevance of the pedagogic approach for under-grad and graduate levels.
(2) Consider introducing the andragogic approach even on an experimental basis in government schools and colleges.
(3) Weave the relevant principles of the adult education in the framework of the entire education system.
Of course, such changes will call for extensive consultations with diverse constituencies, but there is a definite and an urgent need to overhaul or 'modernize' the education system in India.
It is necessary to register that due to the faster availability of the information, extensive use of technologies and due to possible mutational changes over last few generations, the learning curve and capabilities of today's children are different from that of the children of the 80s & 90s. In general, today's children are far more active, expressive, mature, and most importantly want to 'design' or 'plan' their careers far earlier than what their parents had done.
The students at the undergrad and graduate level want to participate in the decision-making process affecting their education and careers more than ever before and I am sure you too would agree on this. After all, India is a democratic country and democracy entails participation in the decision-making process.