Let’s begin with employability rates of the cream of the crop of India’s higher education 1.5 million engineer graduates every year (52% employable); 3,60,000 MBA graduates from 4,000 B-schools (61% are unemployable). Why? Acute skill gaps and no work experience, cites the India Skills Report 2018. If this is the state of affairs of the crème de la crème, what becomes of the rest of the student population?

A preponderance of lack of preparedness in graduating students is why India faces its youth unemployability crisis leaving employers scrambling to find new ways to re-skill and up-skill. 

Sadly, amidst the hue and cry, a massive opportunity is being overlooked. Aptly expressed by Andrew Weaver, Assistant Professor, School of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois, “Thinking about the real financial and institutional mechanisms necessary to make, say, apprenticeships work, is far more productive than perennially sounding alarms about under-skilled workers.”

Vocational training methods such as apprenticeships are a proven method of preparing youth for jobs. With the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, to truly prepare our teeming graduates for the world of work, alternative skilling methods such as apprenticeships must become a national imperative. 

Measuring Preparedness

While most skilling and education programmes are caught up in an ‘enrollment’ frenzy, it hardly does anything to the fundamental measure of preparedness. When students leave the education system are they ready for what comes next? In other words, what is their college-and-career readiness? Unless this gap is addressed with an all hands on deck approach we will continue to bemoan the skills-jobs mismatch. 

Embracing Apprenticeships

We must admit our role in making things harder for our youth. Employers continue to exalt a traditional college degree with a predominance of jobs making a graduate degree a pre-requisite. This is not always necessary as there are jobs aplenty in high-growth sectors such as services, where a graduate degree does little to amp the employability quotient. Take for instance, a sales position on a shop floor. It is obvious that the most important skills of benefit to an employer would be excellent interpersonal skills, product knowledge, commercial awareness, basic level of IT and numeracy skills. In this typical scenario, why do we continue to advertise most positions as ‘Bachelor’s degree required.”

Also Read: Not embracing apprenticeship leading to engineering skills gap

Employers and recruitment agencies alike have fallen into the 3-4 year degree trap – whether the degree is of any relevance to the job in hand. This causes ‘degree inflation’ which can become extremely detrimental for workforce planning, preventing employers from finding the people they really need – those with skills, with hands-on practical trade-specific knowledge that can add instant value to the workforce. And that is what apprenticeships are. An apprentice comes already prepared for the job, the industry or the trade. 

Habits can be changed with a concerted effort. The next time we reach into the ‘degree bucket’ for our future employees why not consider an apprentice instead? Indisputably, apprentices are a potent package deal- with the ability to hit the ground running and deliver on performance, efficiency and productivity. 

Apprenticeship Stipends

Contrary to popular belief, the value of  preparedness of an apprentice to the workplace can trump that of graduates with irrelevant degrees. Let’s look at findings from the Stipend Primer 2019 by TeamLease Skills University- a first-of-its kind mapping of apprenticeship payouts in the country. Apprenticeship programs fare extremely well over other skilling initiatives, with 67% of apprentices gainfully employed. The most headline drawing finding however, is the significant wage premium that apprentices command- nearly 41% more than stipulated minimum wages in a majority of sectors and cities.

Read: Deconstructing the Apprenticeship Stipend Primer 2019 – Part I

Clearly, something is working well for the apprentices. In certain professions, an apprentice is much more valuable than a sea of run-of-the-mill graduates. 

Moving Up the Value Chain

It’s not to say a traditional college degree is completely defunct. But the value of on-the-job experience even without a degree is being felt across sectors including tech companies like IBM. The IBM Apprenticeship Program for example, ‘creates new pathways to employment for candidates without an advanced degree’. The focus here is on 360-degree long-term career progression through an immersive work-based development programme, with plenty of hands-on training under the guidance of an expert mentor. Expounding on his experience with IBM’s apprenticeship programme, Rick Bowers, VP, Cloud Technical Support IBM, has said, The New Collar [apprenticeship] program has been extremely successful with our organization…..I think we’ve uncovered a great new pipeline of technical skills.”

Also read: The Earnings Gap; Skills Matter; Not Degrees

In Summary

The key takeaway is that by limiting ourselves to hiring only those with a traditional college degree, not only are we vastly reducing our talent pool, but also doing a huge disservice to our youth who can be more valuable to employers through the apprenticeship route. 

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