Employability and the War for Talent (WFT)

India is the top remittance receiving country in the world with annual remittances of 1, 28,500 Crores which is even more than the defence expenditure of the country. Kerala and Tamil Nadu account for half of the total immigrants. The bulk of remittances are from West Asia contributed by semiskilled and unskilled labour. The demographic profile of immigrants is in transition and the next generation of new entrants to the job market need skills and competencies of a different order to leverage the demographic dividend of the country and to move up the value chain Enhancing employability and quality are major issues to be addressed expeditiously.

Over 6, 00,000 B.Tech/ MCAs and 20, 00,000 other graduates pass out every year from colleges in the country. The number of engineering graduates is more than double that of graduates who pass out of all US universities. For many of these young people the lure of employment rather than aptitude influenced the decision to choose the course of study.  Even a professional degree is not always a passport to a certain job, more so in the global context that increasingly compels to focus on quality and productivity of human resources.

Employment in the government and public sector is down from 19.6 million in 1997 to 19.1 million in 2001.  Employment in the organised private sector increased marginally from 7.58 million in 1990 to 8.65 million by 1998. Corporates are shedding jobs and the potential for job cuts is increasing. Jobs in the service sector, hotels, tourism, financial services, insurance, trade, BPO and telecom, is increasing and the trend is likely to continue. The software sector, for example, is projected to grow at around 20-25% (?) and BPO at 70%. BPO alone is expected to account for around 2 million new jobs by 2010. But these new jobs are insignificant when compared to the 16 million people who are expected to join the workforce by this time.

Employability is the capability to gain initial employment, maintain employment and obtain new employment if required. The war for talent (WFT) model is elitist in character. It is assumed that there is only a limited pool of outstanding talent that becomes even more important as companies compete on innovation, knowledge and ideas. Employability is a measure of individual contribution.  It celebrates the Darwinian struggle for success and sees income in equalities as a fair reflection of market contribution. It assumes that organizations are driven by small elite of leaders that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the work force. It also supports the view that elite should be identified and developed at an early stage. Once selected their mobility is sponsored within the organization in preparation for the leadership roles they are expected to assume. The liberation of talent model is based on a different set of assumptions of the knowledge economy. It recognizes that the problems of intelligence and knowledge have changed. There is not a limited pool of innate talent. But rather the major problem today is how to utilize the capabilities of the work force. This calls for new ways of approaching the management of talent given the fact that the majority entering the job market will be university graduates, technical or non-technical.

From the perspective of employability of fresh graduates, there exists a wide gap between what industry wants and what educational institutions offer. The requirements of firms vary depending on their business areas.  No educational institution can meet the full complement of such dynamic and fluctuating requirements. While striving to meet the academic requirements of a particular programme, some other skills that are essential to survive and succeed in the work environment are left out. Though not deliberate, this emphasis on technical excellence alone ignores the human aspects that are increasingly becoming essential in the new workplace.  Employers usually have the following expectations from new recruits.1
Work ethic, including self-motivation and time management.
* Physical skills, e.g., maintaining one’s health and good appearance.
* Verbal (oral) communication, including one-on-one and in a group.
* Written communication, including editing and proofing one’s work.
* Working directly with people, relationship building, and teamwork.
* Influencing people, including effective salesmanship and leadership.
* Gathering information through various media and keeping it organized.
* Using quantitative tools, e.g., statistics, graphs, or spreadsheets.
* Asking and answering the right questions, evaluating information, and
applying knowledge.

* Solving problems, including identifying problems, developing possible
solutions, and launching solutions.

However during the selection process it becomes quite obvious that some of these basic, ‘soft’ skills are wanting in many new graduates. Industry sources point out that only 6 out of every 100 applicants finally make it through to jobs in the ITES sector, and that too only when the selection process is conducted in cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai or New Delhi!

For people working in technology the ‘hard’ skills include the technical competencies the individual possesses, skills that are obtained through formal education and hands-on learning which are measureable and learnable and need to be constantly renewed. ‘Soft’ skills on the other hand are generally interpersonal competencies that are more difficult to define and measure. While one may, for example, learn to make a bomb, even get some practical training in this respect and also get certified to the effect, no consideration is made as to the mental framework of the student. But it is the mental framework, the ‘soft’ skills and attitudes together that decide whether the bomb adds value or adds costs. (September 11).

Besides all this, there are the cultural aspects, embedded in each one which often stands in the way of creating and sustaining a high performance system. Consider for instance, something as simple as the ability to ask questions, a competence that is essential if one is to add value in a professional high performance organisation. Over a decade of working with B- School students, we have found them extremely reluctant to ask intelligent questions. The engineering graduates and graduates from the humanities stream who do not receive much of formal training in these areas are still down the ladder. There is a world of a difference between what students  are exposed to and what they are expected to deliver when they join professional organisations. And this difference can be quite a shock. Bridging this gap and reducing the impact of such shocks is essential to be globally competitive.

Competencies and Skills

Competency is the state or quality of being adequately or well qualified to perform a task. It is synonymous with ability. A person gains competency through education, training, experience, or natural abilities. Competencies are observable or measurable Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) that stand out in comparison to superior and ordinary performers. Performance is the accomplishment of a task in accordance with a set standard of completeness and accuracy. While a person may have the skills or knowledge (competency) to perform a task, does not mean he or she will have the desire (attitude) to do so correctly (performance). In other words, competencies give a person the ability to perform, while attitudes give a person the desire to perform.

To generate superior performance, job holders need core competencies that allow them to transition into other jobs, and distinctive competencies to perform in specific positions. This requires the development of a mix of several competencies:

  • The first is a set of core or essential competencies. These are the organizational competencies that all individuals are expected to possess. These competencies define what the organization values the most in people. For example, an organization might want each individual to possess teamwork, flexibility, and communication skills. The goal of the core competencies is for individuals to be able to perform in a diverse number of positions throughout the organization.
  • The second set is the professional or individual competencies. These distinctive competencies are grouped for each job within the organization. For example, a trainer requires a different set of competencies than an accountant, and a teller requires a different set than a maintenance worker.
  • Some jobs also require a third set of specialty competencies. For example, managers require the core and professional competencies discussed above, plus a set of leadership competencies since they occupy a leadership position.

Good generic qualifications such as a B. Tech or MCA are excellent starting points. Some students will acquire additional ‘hard’ skills, for example do a course in mainframe technology or pick up similar additional skills sets to increase one’s options.  Some of these skills are relatively more stable, but others are not as the industry requirements vary from time to time and from firm to firm. But the ‘soft’ skills are more or less set in the sense that all employers look for these skills. Outstanding success is related to these skills. With a combination of these two, the candidate’s chances of securing a job is enhanced.  We will certainly find that we have more growth opportunities in the context of a growing domestic economy and greying population in the developed economies.  It is necessary to hone ones aptitudes since the preliminary screening procedure most often, is based on these aspects and skills  such as verbal ability, logical reasoning, mathematical aptitude, data interpretation, details complexity, visuo spatial aptitude and so on, in addition to developing skills to handle GDs and interviews where the ‘soft’ skills come to play a decisive role.  Hard’ skills change from time to time especially with the rapid pace of change of technologies. There are obvious limitations to students being trained in technical skills that match the requirements of industry.  At the same time ‘soft’ skills do not find a place in the curriculum, and these become critical in the selection process and later success in the career

The strategy, therefore, should be to have the maximum options available – have a good professional degree, consistent performance and good marks, have one or more ‘hard’ skills that are currently in demand and simultaneously strengthen and develop your ‘soft’ skills. Over and above the technical competencies, organisations look for the following competencies at some stage of the selection process. These are skills that will decide the longer term career prospects of employees.

  1. Communicating ideas effectively: Most job openings today seek candidates with strong communication skills, especially public speaking skills.
  1. Team-orientation and emotional intelligence.  How well can one get along with others in the workplace? Most often it is not one’s intellect, experience or skills that make one successful, but the ability to connect reflect and be a catalyst in the process of continuous improvement that makes the difference.
  1. Creative problem solving. Is one a problem solver or worse a problem creator?
  1. Multi-tasking.  Can the aspirant perform a variety of separate tasks at the same time and do all of them well?
  1. Life Long Learning (LLL). Are you willing to keep on learning: How open are you to new knowledge and continuous self-renewal?
  1. Mental maps/ models: Each of us carries a mental map of the world with us. These internal maps are the software that influences performance.  In the context of the learning organisation or continuous improvement these maps are perfected with every improvement. There is also the possibility of being stuck in-between when there is no new learning and concurrent improvement.
  1. Active listening
  1. Managing time

Given the above context, it is an imperative to develop an accelerated learning and competency development framework and methodology to address these issues on a war- footing to ensure that the demographic dividend does no turn into a demographic liability. Over the years the ALCD approach has been tested and it appears that it is certainly feasible to evolve a fast track model with the involvement of all stake holders.

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3 thoughts on “Employability and the War for Talent (WFT)

  1. This post may be referencing India yet it applies to many countries. I love your comparison of the War for Talent model vs. The Liberation of Talent model.

    The demands for knowledge and talent have changed especially as entrepreneurs become a stronger force in business. Their thinking is broader and more focused on “find the talent in uncommon places”.

    Creative problem solving, great communication skills, and ability to adapt and work with **diverse people is THE people-skills set for a future of successes.

    Teamwork is not even defined the same as it used to be. Here is a post that redefines it and offers steps to getting there:
    ——–
    http://katenasser.com/teamwork-gems-create-startling-results/

    Your post is thought provoking and quite valuable. I will RT on Twitter.
    Many thanks,
    Kate

  2. Pingback: Meta: The post on posts | First Discipline

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