India is considered one of the youngest countries in a relatively aging world. It has an enviable demographic dividend. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the demographic dividend implies a potential for economic growth that can result when the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age population.
The demographic dividend has historically contributed as much as 15% to overall economic growth in advanced economies. India is estimated to have 62.5% of its working-age population, which bodes well for its economic prospects.
Yet reports alarmingly suggest that formally educated youth are still out of work because they lack the skills employers seek. According to a UNICEF report, more than 50% of young people in India will not have the necessary skills for employment in 2030. He noted that the skills of young Indians are below the world average.
Even before the pandemic, the job market was rugged terrain for young Indians seeking employment. The pandemic further exacerbated the employability scenario. In May 2020, the International Labor Organization (ILO) warned that the economic consequences of COVID-19 could leave many young people behind in the labor market. The World Bank noted that the contraction of the Indian labor market portends that the future employment scenario will be increasingly difficult for the 1.3 million Indians who enter the labor force each month. The situation of young people highlights one of India’s biggest problems: young people with formal education are finding it increasingly difficult to get the right jobs.
The imbalance in labor supply and demand created by the pandemic is expected to further worsen the already bleak job prospects. In the absence of accompanying job opportunities, young people will have no choice but to accept low-paying jobs. A report by Ernst and Young India outlined several challenges in preparing young Indians with job skills. The near absence of market-oriented curricula in educational institutes, lack of quality vocational training, and inadequate infrastructure make it difficult to equip students with the relevant skills demanded by the market. Lack of awareness among youth about various government sponsored skill development programs is also a major challenge.
What is even more concerning is the fact that young Indians who have grown up with a rote learning pedagogy in schools are often inept at self-assessment. They lack the drive and capacity to develop an awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses. In fact, young Indians often lack the right attitude and not just the right skills. Although much has been written about the skill gaps in Indian youth, not much thought has been given to the attitude gaps.
It has often been said that companies “hire for attitudes” and “train to develop skills.” Attitude directly influences how people work and perform. According to Mark Murphy, thought leader and author of Hiring for Attitude, about 46% of new hires fail at their jobs during the first two years. Of these, 89% were due to reasons associated with their attitudes.
A report published in Forbes highlighted that employers aren’t just looking for skills, as is commonly assumed. They are often looking for stable-headed, goal-oriented people who “understand their own path” and “know what they want in their career.” According to a report published by The Guardian, the UK’s leading newspaper, employers are looking for passionate, motivated, innovative and flexible people. Hiring specialist Michael Page notes that hiring managers love to see “results and accomplishments.” According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers value integrity, trustworthiness, respect, and teamwork.
A BBC report on the world of work and what employers are looking for highlights commitment, flexibility, dependability, trustworthiness and honesty. Deloitte, in conjunction with the World Economic Forum, investigated the attributes that will be needed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution in its Future of Jobs Report. Communication, collaboration and sociability were the most sought after attributes.
Most importantly, employers are looking for conscientious employees. A large number of survey reports and expert opinions agree that “conscientiousness” is the single most important factor determining hiring choice and job retention. Conscientious people tend to demonstrate a strong work ethic, are trustworthy, trustworthy, and show commitment. Being trustworthy is indisputably more important than being competent.
The India Skills Report 2020 from Wheebox and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) attempts to map the readiness and employability of students in India. The report is based on an evaluation of 300,000 candidates and compares it with the preferences of employers. The dimensions that employers emphasize are mastery knowledge, adaptability, learning agility, and positive attitude.
It shows that only 49% BTech and 54% MBA were found to be employable. Millions of students, even after finishing their studies, lack hands-on learning and hands-on exposure. There has been an echo in the industry to restructure India’s archaic educational system. Although the New Education Policy (NEP) seeks to address this gap, its implementation will be a lengthy process.
Putting attitude first does not mean underestimating the importance of technical and social skills. These skills are a prerequisite for any job applicant. However, what is most important to gain an advantage is the right attitude. A candidate who lacks certain skills can be trained to acquire those skills after hiring, provided he has the right attitude.
It is critical for India to ensure that its young population is adequately equipped to take advantage of emerging job opportunities. Both millennials and Gen Z who are programmed to be the future of India need to develop self-awareness about their attitudes. In this omnipresent technological ecosystem, openness to change and the adoption of the ‘new’ will be an important attitude construct. To become a global leader, it is critical for India to redesign its talent landscape.
(The author Feza Tabassum Azmi is a professor at the Faculty of Management Studies and Research, Muslim University of Aligarh, Aligarh. Opinions expressed here are personal).