Ability and Visibility- Education and Training

This article is published in the March’2008 of the Education magazine Educare.

Style and substance

Skills that you need to work upon to succeed in life

In my previous article, I had tried to bring to light certain wrong perceptions connected to practical life that may aggravate the already over-stressed students. It was more focused on negatives -what to avoid doing. This article is about positives — what to do to be abreast of the realities of practical life in the current world.

When I did my postgraduate management course in 1991 from the International Management Institute, one of the first golden thumb rules that we were taught in the corporate context was “Produce that which can be sold and not sell what you have produced”. It seems that management institutes are violating this principle because a lot of institutes are coming up to promote employability training or employability enhancing to supplement the efforts of conventional education, which is proving to be grossly inadequate.

The situation is best explained by one such company, Hero Mindmine’s employability enhancement module on their website http://www.heromindime.com :-

Hero Mindmine’s finishing school initiative got born out of one of India’s most recalcitrant problems – the dearth of employable talent, despite huge numbers of engineers and MBAs graduating from thousands of institutions. This problem has assumed dangerous proportions now and threatens to jeopardise the very growth of the Indian industry and economy.

Researches carried out by several independent agencies, including NASSCOM and CapitalH, have all converged to the conclusion that the professionally-educated Indian fresh talents (engineers, MBAs etc.) display severe competence handicap in areas that are most critical for entry level positions in jobs.

Apart from gaps in technical, subject related skills and knowledge, there are glaring soft-skills and personality-linked inadequacies in the young professionals, which hinders their ability to comprehend their roles in the correct perspective and therefore impacts their professional performance in their first job.

Hero Mindmine and CapitalH together have created and tested a slew of highly-focused and effective employability enhancement programmes for graduating engineers and MBAs. These programmes run parallel to the academic activities of a student and clinically focus on developing her exactly in the areas that a typical entry-level job in a large organisation demands.

Using specially-developed training and skill-building techniques and methodologies, Hero Mindmine trainers carefully guide students away from theory and into the application environment. Numerous top recruiters have responded extremely favourably to this initiative and Hero Mindmine plans to launch the finishing school concept in selected engineering and business management institutions.

Another module explains how the IT Employment Suitability Test (ITEST), based on assessments in nine critical employability dimensions, aims at testing the employability of fresh engineers in the IT Industry. Similarly, the BizTest assesses fresh MBAs on five general parameters and five function-specific parameters to spot the best available talent among students.

It almost seems that they are running some kind of parallel education, which is more skill and talent than knowledge-oriented or in the exact words used above, the aim is “to guide students away from theory and into the application environment.”

In addition to saying the same thing about the inadequacy in the above mentioned skills in students for entry level jobs, another company, www.astrumonline.com goes a step further in its section on youth training:

Astrum’s experience in working with corporates provides it the unique advantage of understanding the industry expectations from the new joinees and training them even before they are employed through mid-to-long-term phased interventions across India. We are also designing and delivering faculty development programmes at various educational institutes. This is something like the cart pulling the horse; they are trying to influence conventional education.

I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with Astrum in an engineering institute on the outskirts of Faridabad. They had modules on communication skills, which involved ex-tempore public speaking, creative writing, mock interviews, group discussions etc, and last but not the least, problem solving in maths. When I expressed surprise that third and fourth year engineering students were doing problems which I do with my 12-year-old son who is in class VII, one student told me that it is not that they don’t know these things but they are expected to be direct and fast in solving problems. The emphasis was on speed along with accuracy and another issue was that they were a little out of touch as they had not done such problems since high school. The speed and accuracy reminded me of my practical management course where they tried to cover the entire MBA curriculum in nine months. The idea, they said, was to simulate real life situations where one has to think on one’s feet with little time and sometimes limited information. That turned out to be true because practical management life is a lot like one-day cricket.

That apart, I have seen engineers in my working life who don’t have what is called commercial sense or financial savvy, which dents their career prospects considerably. In previous articles, I have referred to my super efficient boss, an engineer-MBA who got several double promotions and then went on to establish a business of his own; in my last meeting he told me how he had joined a software company run by four engineers as they still felt uncomfortable with balance sheets despite practical experience of years of operation.

Where English in general and as one of the favorable legacies of the British rule is concerned, it is perhaps the shortsightedness of the education system that even so many years after independence, even though we have English as one of the main mediums of imparting education, students passing out of colleges are not confident of communicating fluently. This is because colloquial English is quite different from English as an education imparting tool and can be learnt only by practising conversational speaking and writing in English, which in many semi-urban and rural parts of India is more an exception than a rule.

The English barrier can be quite a formidable. My father, a chartered accountant who passed out in 1963, told me once how even after years of apprenticeship in CA, in his first job, he did not initially have the confidence to dictate letters and would write the whole letter himself before reading it out, which wasted a lot of time. One of his assistants, who is a brilliant accountant, is still not able to write simple inter-office memos properly or able to lead English speaking people under her, which affects her career prospects adversely, apart from causing inter-personal problems. When my father got transferred in 1972, as a seven-year-old, I was catapulted to upper middle class Delhi from lower middle class Bombay and it took me 11 years to break the English barrier despite studying in one of the best schools and staying in a posh locality. My mother-in-law, even at 70, laments not being able to communicate in English when both her English speaking daughters concede that she is far more versatile than them. An extremely active social worker, it is as if not knowing English nullifies her achievements. My son studies in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, where Hindi is the medium of education till secondary school, after which English takes over for both the local and global effect.

The problem these days is that with business process outsourcing proving to be India’s core-competence and with all the multinationals coming to India because of the economic boom, English has become an absolute necessity. In China, English has been made compulsory from kindergarten. That itself shows how the stock of English as an International link language has grown considerably over the past few years. The problem is not just communication skills. One of the faculties at Astrum pointed out to me that some of the engineers in the rural and semi-urban areas were good technically but would not even read the newspaper regularly, with the result that they had very little to contribute in a group discussion of substance, which could make them feel alienated and out of place in the current work ambience. That makes it more of a culture problem as well. Both form and content or style and substance have to improve and they have to be encouraged to be well read as well.

Some institutes believe in tackling the problem from a young age. Dinesh Victor, the managing director of Chennai-based SIP academy, says, “The latest findings in the growing body of medical research on early brain development reveal that social sensory experiences during the early years have a direct effect on children’s capacity to learn in the future. The findings confirm that early interactions and experiences play a vital role in brain development. Our programmes help in brain development in children, who are just beginning to learn and discover. This is only possible by making both sides of the brain to work, so that any major puzzle can be solved in seconds.” According to their website, their SIP Abacus and Brain Gym programme, is currently available in eight countries, in which more than 2,50,000 children have benefited across 1,000 learning centres. In India since 2002 more than 50,000 children were trained in 20 states by October 2007 and they plan to penetrate the smaller towns to help children improve life skills.

Their Global art programme aims at developing the artistic and creative potential of children. The SIPAmal programme (accelerated mental learning) recognises that each of us has a preferred way of learning that suits us best. When you learn the techniques that exactly match your personal learning style, you will be learning in the way that is most natural for you. Bill Gates has mentioned this in one of his books. Because it is natural, it is easier; because it is easier, it is faster. Accelerated Mental Learning uses the five senses of the children to develop and balance their mental, physical, social interaction, emotional, personality and self-confidence. It also helps children to overcome
‘numeric phobia’ and enhance their confidence towards their academic excellence. Their mikids and orator programmes are geared towards developing language skills. In Delhi, a programme with the same objectives is conducted by www.creativeeducationalaids.com/

The world famous authority on thinking, Edward de Bono has explained in his wonderful book Teach your Child How to Think, how thinking is a skill which needs to be imparted instead of blindly stuffing facts and information. A good intellectual is not necessarily a good thinker and it is one’s thought process that can differentiate in the internet era where knowledge is easily available. Analysing uniquely well or having a good synergistic understanding of one’s subject with other factors is what is needed than mere knowledge of facts. It seems that this parallel system of education is more geared to achieve all this. Some of their techniques also enhance memory, concentration and application skills, which actually give an insight into the child’s innate potential which is the main purpose of education.

Where communication is concerned, it is up to the students to decide where they want to end up. Some of the Pakistani cricket captains, though equally great in terms of ability vis-à-vis their Indian counterparts, have cut a sorry figure in the post-match presentations because of their inability to communicate effectively. One excellent example from the cricketing world is our current one-day captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Considering the fact that he comes from a lower middle class background from a small town, he speaks very well and can be a role model in this context for similar people with rural and semi urban backgrounds.

Though having communicating ability without the requisite intelligence is actually missing the wood for the trees, in practical life, vice-versa can be equally dangerous. One has to know how to project and sell oneself, as ability without visibility has no meaning. One can flatter to deceive badly and fatally — that first impression can turn out to be the last impression.

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