The biggest challenge for both job-seekers and job-providers for quite a long time now has been ‘employability’. Employers have found it difficult to find job-ready talent and job-seekers have struggled to find jobs where their skills match the job requirements. Many surveys conducted in this area point out that freshers, just leaving the education system to enter the job market, often feel that they are not prepared for the work life. This brought into question the lack of effectiveness of the education system and practices. In the past, schools were content with preparing the students for getting into a top-ranked college with no thoughts of preparing them for the future work-life, barring a few basic life skills. Due to technology, globalization, and demographic shifts, our economy is transforming at a breakneck speed which requires a qualified workforce. The onus lies with schools for educating students for workforce needs and helping them secure gainful employment.
Though it is not possible to predict with surety about the kinds of jobs that will be available in future, we know with certainty that students will need to have a variety of skills, especially the ‘21st century skills’, to become part of future workforce. As per Education Week, “employers are struggling to find workers with so called ‘21st century skills’ such as information synthesis, creativity, problem-solving, communication, and team-work. In yet another study, it was found that most school based job training programs were using the same old strategies, in spite of major changes to workforce needs. Since the question of future work scenario is unanswerable, it is vital to help students plan and prepare for multiple futures, develop their unique human attributes along with flexible skills that can be applied across different settings. A new foundation of readiness is the need of the hour.
To lay this new foundation of readiness for future, many strategies may be involved for effecting significant systemic and institutional shifts within education. Some of them are:
• Encourage Teamwork: For success at work place, team work is a necessity. To enable students to understand the importance of effective communication, compromise, and sharing credit, tasks encouraging teamwork have to be given to them through projects and assignments.
• Teach Complex Thinking Skills: In the workplace, it is not sufficient just to reach the goal, but is important to reach there by choosing the best path among many. This requires many skills like innovation, creativity, and the ability to look at a task and not only see the outcome, but also imagine various ways of achieving it. This can be reinforced in schools by providing students with contexts for decision-making and solving problems.
• Teach Real-Life Skills: Real life involves students putting knowledge into use and managing their own finances and life plans. Hence, it is imperative that instead of focusing just on whether students have learned the content, schools need to focus whether they are capable of applying them in real-life situations. Schools should focus on whether students will be successful in their financial, personal, and professional spheres. So, when students ask, “will I ever use this in real life”, educators need to have an answer with an example for them. Further, they should be provided with life skills like civics knowledge, networking skills, and the ability to manage their finances.
• Connect Students with Professional Mentors: Providing students with work-based learning experiences such as internships and apprenticeships will help in advancing equity and economic opportunities for students with regard to future job-market. Interactions with professional mentors will aid in the development of positive adult-youth relationships which is essential for skill-building, role-modelling, and coaching for students as they progress in their learning journey. It will enable connections to broaden social and professional networks and develop deeper understanding of any specific profession’s requirements and scope. Schools should facilitate these connections in and out of the school setting.
• Provide Career Counselling: Providing career guidance to students in high school is very important as it provides a greater understanding to students regarding their strengths and weaknesses, along with their aptitudes and interests and ways to leverage their academic assets. Career counsellors help students in knowing about various career options, overcoming the confusion of taking up the appropriate subjects towards a suitable career, and gaining understanding of special skillset requirements for careers of their choice.
• Teach Students How to Respond to Failure: Resilience is a skill that is needed to move forward successfully after failure and it is skill that every employer covets. Hence students should be taught this in school – how to respond to failed tests, projects, or courses, learn, improve, and move forward after failing.
• Develop Information Literacy and Digital Fluency: With easy availability of information in today’s world, it is an absolute necessity to possess the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use information in the appropriate context and situation. Since in the workplace, information and knowledge are used for preparing effective reports, presentations, sales and marketing material, and more, students should be trained to showcase their comprehension of important concepts and material through papers, discussions, and presentations. Also the ability to use a wide variety of technological resources in workplace requires digital literacy, which can be cultivated in schools by engaging the students in online platforms, exposing them to different types of software, and using various kinds of course materials (videos, virtual labs, e-books, and more).
• Provide Well-rounded Curriculum Including Skill-Based Subjects: A range of skill-based subject options and entrepreneurial courses must be provided to students to choose from. Critical-thinking, problem-solving, and time-management skills, which are the requisites in any work-place, are fostered through entrepreneurial courses. Since there is no magic solution that can ensure their success in work-life later, providing students with a well-rounded curriculum including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), history, communication courses, music and arts, skill-subjects, entrepreneurial courses, can be helpful.
In conclusion, it can be said that for thriving personally and professionally in life after school, students exiting the education system will need to be prepared for radical societal and workplace changes. School systems have to evolve in terms of their structure, programs, and teaching strategies that will align well with the essential requirements mentioned above, and prepare students well for the work-life in future by honing the right skills. Schools need to respond to the demands of the job-market by extending and adapting to what, and how they teach, with the objective of bridging the distance between the classroom and work place. At every level of education, professionals, mentors, and educationists should work together to confront and conquer the skills gap and reconfigure the education-to-work pipeline.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.