My dreams for India

As elections approach in India on the 18th of April, I was reflecting on my aspirations and hopes for India. My country is one that will always continue to inspire humanity. We are a nation that have gone through many changes over the last five millennium and will continue to undergo change. India has absorbed, bewildered, amazed and inspired humanity for as long as time itself.

I was born in a small village. Both of my parents are both from small villages in Tamil Nadu. The framing of my life’s context and those of my thoughts are shaped by my own personal experiences of my India. My reflections below are very much around urgent areas that should be improved for the betterment of my fellow Indians.

Retain our pluralism

The beauty of India has only ever been amplified by her pluralism. In recent years, the violence and deaths surrounding the beef bans leading to cow vigilante violence has reached a crescendo with the flames of discontent being fanned by self-interested groups. In this cauldron of violence, it is not just the Muslims but also other well-meaning Indians, such as Swami Agnivesh who has promoted social and communal harmony have been attacked physically.

The rising persecution on religious minorities is a trend that is also of grave concern. It is not merely the Muslims but the Christians who are also increasingly being targeted in spates of communal attacks and tensions.

India should always remain a land where pluralist ideals are supported and upheld. A land where people of all faiths, all backgrounds and all creeds are treated with respect and dignity.

My India has always been a cauldron of hope, freedom and succour to all people. My hope and my desire is that the carefully woven social fabrics of society are not damaged beyond repair.

Economic reform

We have witnessed a number of real economic turbulence brought on to the people through demonetisation which impacted the poor and rural community more than others. Going to my villages, and seeing people queuing up for hours in the extreme heat to withdraw money to purchase daily essentials was painful. It wasn’t like the experts, including the Reserve Bank of India, did not warn the authorities who implemented demonetisation that it was going to rock the economy.

People were driven to beg for their own money from the banks. This has caused an economic impact that is still being felt two years on.

The poor and confused application of the Goods and Services Tax also did not help and small businesses (who are the lifeblood of the Indian economy) were hit particularly hard.

Economists often refer to the demographics dividend which India enjoys, namely that of a young population. However, in order to enjoy the benefits of a young population, there needs to be a relentless focus on creating jobs and enhancing employability options the people, particularly the young. A focus on manufacturing needs to be coupled with the new skills that people will need in order to be gainfully employed in an age of automation and robotics.

There needs to be better access to capital because there isn’t sufficient lending in the economy, particular to small and medium sized businesses. A well-regulated capital market that supports the government ambitions and aims is crucial for funding to help grow the economy.

Protect intellectual diversity and discourse

I referred earlier to India’s traditions of pluralism. The intellectual diversity and discourse of India has been what kept us at the forefront of innovation and scientific advancement and discovery. Sadly, we are seeing a regression in this aspect. We are seeing press freedom being curtailed, we see increasing marginalisation and reciprocal condemnation by leading Indian thinkers and we see the active undermining of Indians who only seek to protect the nation, such as the ex-RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan.

India’s progress can only be further enhanced if it allows for a diversity of views and opinions. We do not exist in a nation that allows for group think. It is only when people have the right to challenge, question, shape and ultimately improve our thinking that we can continue our progress as a nation.

Smothering dissent leads to a state of autocracy which is against the very soul of who we ought to be as a nation.

Resolving deep seated societal problems

I have written in my blog often on the dangers and perils of economic inequality. Economic inequality remains one of the biggest challenges in India. Creating meaningful employment, providing educational access, supporting social mobility and improving the quality of life for all, rather than just the few, will be crucial for India.

Failure to do so will see the economic dislocation lead to a social fracture that will hurt the entire nation. The more we can do to strengthen the underlying economic structure and spreading the wealth more broadly, the better our chances of harmonious progress.

Economic alienation and rising extremism go hand in hand. Efforts to stem one will help reduce the other.

There is also a growing North-South divide in India, with the central government losing both influence and favour in the South. This has not been helped by the active alienation of the South by New Delhi, be it in term of support or recognition of the contributions made by the Southern states. The Indian journey since Independence has been one where the different states from the North to the South have had challenges but with a common view of progressing the nation together. However as things stand, there is simmering resentment in the South. Part of this is driven by a notion of Hindi-supremacy which the Southern states object to. Another part of this is that despite being the economic engines of the nation, southern states like Tamil Nadu only get a small proportion of tax revenues compared to the significant federal funding the northern statues like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh get.

India still has a large distance to travel in terms of what we do to address the endemic problem of corruption. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks India 81st in a list of 180 countries with a corruption index lower than the global average. The scourge of corruption is a drain on the people, it is an virus that will suck the lifeblood of enterprise and productivity from the nation, eventually rendering it lifeless. There are no quick fixes to this but considering how we fairly remunerate our civil servants will be one important step. Our policemen, soldiers, public administrators and other civil servants need to be given a fair wage which will help reduce the temptation to boost their income through other means. More punitive and bold measures are required to penalise those who bribe and those who get bribed.

Protect our farmers

Finally, my hope for India is how we protect our farmers – our cradles of security. Our farmers should be cherished and treasured for the sacrifices they make year on year. They take on debt, they toil in the fields, they struggle without water in drought after drought, they see their peers committing suicide in the thousands, and yet they persist. Their persistence is what feeds the nation.

My hope and my dream is that the farmers of India are given the respect and the support they need. Their success and well-being is the well being of India. When the farmers of India fail, then India as a collective will have failed.

I come from a small farming community of padi fields and coconut plantations. I have witnessed first hand the bureaucracy that strangles farmers from getting insurance money that is rightfully theirs, months after it is due to be paid. I have seen how they struggle without water after having planted the seeds and applied fertilisers. I have seen their pain in not being able to pay back their debts. I have seen their struggles first hand. My hope is to provide a voice for them, to help my fellow Indians realise that when our farmers flourish, then all of us flourish.

As an Indian, I remain an optimist. These are but temporary challenges, and I remain confident in our collective ability to continue our onward march towards progress. Jai Hind.

As the beautiful song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” goes:

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

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The resurgence of the Indo-China education paradigm

A really important shift has just taken place in the world of international Indian students going abroad. For the first time ever, there are now more Indian students studying in China than in the UK! According to the Times of India (and other sources), there are now 18,171 Indian students in China against 18,015 in the UK, the numbers for 2016 reveal.

UK has always had a strong allure for Indian students (indeed the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru attained his education in the UK). The strong historical, cultural and social links meant that UK was a favoured destination for Indian students pursuing their studies.

This has now changed. A combination of factors, from Britain’s immigration policies, Brexit, China’s emergence, and greater availability of information has meant Indian students are now taking a much more diverse approach as to where they obtain their education.

Indeed, Indian students are the fifth largest group of international students in China (after S. Korea, USA, Thailand and Pakistan). This number is expected to grow in the coming years.

India and China have both shared a close historic education link dating back to at least 1,000 BC from ancient Taxila (where Chinese scholars met to discuss and learn logic, mathematics, astronomy and science) to Nalanda (from around 5 CE).

Over time, it is through education and dialogue that both these historic neighbours will forge even greater collaboration and partnership. There is scope for greater learning of best practices to create a harmonious and progressive approach to education.

Dhanushkodi Dreams

I had the pleasure of visiting the most south-eastern tip of Rameshwaram, a place called Dhanushkodi (a word which means ‘tip of the bow’ as the Ramayana epic has Lord Rama marking this as the spot to connect Sri Lanka to India with the tip if his bow). This entire village was destroyed almost to the day on the 23rd of December 1964, 52 years ago by the Rameshwaram Cyclone of 1964.

This area is under just 30 kilometers from Sri Lanka (Talaimannar) and was a bustling port city during British rule. It is also a spot where the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar meet. The ruins of a bustling port city can still be seen here and is a reminder of how immensely powerful nature can be. This area remains fairly difficult to reach but efforts are being made to make it more accessible for people to reach and regale in the beauty of the place.

My forefathers used to ply the trade route between India and Sri Lanka through Dhanushkodi and it was a thoroughly humbling experience being here.

The unassuming flower – The books that shaped the life of APJ Abdul Kalam

 

apj-kalam-my-journeyI recently read Abdul Kalam’s (the 11th President of India and one of India’s greatest sons) biography, ‘My Journey – Transforming Dreams into Actions,’ which was a brief book about his early childhood, his development and anecdotes about how his life was shaped.

In the book, Abdul Kalam touched on the topic of books that shaped his worldview. I wanted to share his thoughts about books and the ones that shaped his life as he himself said: “the transfer of thoughts and ideas, ideals and principles is a part of the circle that is life.”

Abdul Kalam describes books having always been “close companions” in his life life and how he used them to help him“understand the world.”

The works of Leo Tolstoy, Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy were constant companions of Abdul Kalam. He also was moved profoundly by the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Lewis Caroll and Wlliam Butler Yeats.

He however highlighted a few books that had a last impact of him.

lightfrommanylamps
The first was ‘Light from Many Lamps,’ which was an anthology of inspiring stories by various authors and edited by Lilian Eichler Watson. He describes the impact this book had on him as thus: “If I am ever in danger of being swept away by my own emotions, this book brings about a balance in my thinking.”

 

 

thirukkuralThe second book was the Thirukural by Thiruvalluvar, a collection of Tamil rhyming couplets.

Written over 2000 years ago, the Thirukkural is arguably one of India’s greatest written work and discusses the human condition, ethics, morality and virtue.

He describes this particular kural (or rhyming couple) as one that has influenced him profoundly:

 

உள்ளுவ தெல்லாம் உயர்வுள்ளல் மற்றது

தள்ளினுந் தள்ளாமை நீர்த்து

(Think of rising higher. Let it be your only thought.

Even if your object be not attained, the thought itself will have raised you.)

 

 

quran-gita
Finally, the religious texts of India, including the Quran, the Vedas and the Bhagawat Gita were also instrumental in Abdul Kalam’s development.

He considered that these religious texts “all hold deep philosophical insights into the plight of man and have helped me resolve many dilemmas.”

 

From the Quran, he narrated how an excerpt from verse 35 of Surah An-Nur (‘The Light’) had a particularly profound impact on him,

نُورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ

“Light upon light. Allah guides to His Light to whom He wills”

From the Bhagavat Gita, Abdul Kalam narrates the words of Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the battle of Mahabharata (during another vision of the garden where all the flowers which blossomed in the morning now fall to the ground)

See the flower,
how generously it distributes
perfume and honey.

It gives to all,
gives freely of its love.

When its work is done,
it falls away quietly.

Try to be like the flower,
unassuming
despite all its qualities.

 

Abdul Kalam once wrote a poem which he used to recite to young people he met which best describes his feelings about the written word:

Books were always my friends
Last more than fifty years

Books gave me dreams
Dreams resulted in missions

Books helped me confidently take up the missions
Books gave me courage at the time of failures

Good books were for me angels
Touched my heart gently at the time

Hence I ask young friends to have books as friends
Books are your good friends.

This was the legacy of the great Abdul Kalam.

“Hard work and piety, study and learning, compassion and forgiveness – these have been the cornerstones of my life.”

Former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam Died At Age Of 84

 

 

Muzzling a rockstar central banker – the Indian way

This article reflects only my own personal thoughts and do not reflect the official position of any other organisation. Responsibility for the information and views expressed this article lies entirely with me. 

The news of the resignation of India’s central banker Raghuram Rajan has unsettled Indian investors, and rightfully so.

Rajan was one of India’s best central bankers and was a cornerstone in driving the Indian economy over the last three years.

Here is a man who in 2005 at a conference in Jackson Hole made some prescient statements about how financial developments have made the world a riskier place and called out the systemic risks posed by banks to the global economy. (His speech can be found here: https://www.imf.org/external/np/speeches/2005/082705.htm). He was derided as a luddite who was misguided. However, the developments of the 2008 financial crisis proved him right and a number of his proposed safeguards have since been implemented.

Some may question why the current Indian administration has removed a man who is widely recognised as an architect of India’s growth story.

It goes back to 2014, when Rajan questioned Modi’s “Make in India” campaign and cautioned against “against picking a particular sector such as manufacturing for encouragement, simply because it has worked well for China. India is different, and developing at a different time, and we should be agnostic about what will work.”

Last year, Rajan also questioned the rising of sectarian tensions and intolerance propagated by factions associated with the currently ruling government.  In a speech to the Indian Institute of Technology last October, Rajan lambasted the rising intolerance and stated: “India has always protected debate and the right to have different views. Excessive political correctness stifles progress as much as excessive license and disrespect.”

This is consistent with the pattern of behaviour displayed by the current Indian administration .

What have Modi and his administration achieved in the last two years:

 

So what does this administration do in response? Remove one man who can help make a difference and help improve matters.

Another great article here: By getting Raghuram Rajan out, Modi may have won, but India has lost

I am genuinely concerned at the state of affairs in India and despite the sometimes effective PR campaign Modi’s government may run, the cracks are beginning to show.

India’s always been a home to alternative thoughts, ideas, ideologies, religions, faiths, beliefs, ethnicities and ways of life. We have been a beacon of hope and democracy for all and it is very sad to see the very edifices of inclusivity and secularism crumbling.

 

 

Where technology lost to tradition

Over the last few decades we have seen numerous examples where technology has usurped tradition, leading to plenty of hands wringing, worrying and eventually acceptance of technology’s dominance over the things that we previously thought were ‘the way things are done’ or tradition.

From going to a travel agency, or flagging for a taxi, or buying takeouts , we have now ditched habits and activities that were previously taken to be the de-facto way.

In the light of these changes (and some undoubtedly have had a huge benefit in people’s lives), it was interesting (and perhaps heartening) to read an example of how tradition managed to stand strong in the face of overwhelming technological progress and indeed even strike a blow and reign supreme!

This is the curious tale of the dabbawalas.  A recent Bloomberg Business article, Startups Haven’t Replaced India’s 19th Century Food Delivery Service (February 3, 2016), highlighted how over 400 technology/app driven businesses backed by over US$120 million of funding  have failed to dislodge a 120-year old, traditional food delivery enterprise. The aspiring new-age disruptors failed to make a dent whilst single-handedly decimating traditional black cab/taxi or travel industries.

Only a handful of 400 food-delivery-tech start-ups are still in business after having lost much of the VC funding and thousands of staff, despite spending millions on technology, promotion and advertising.

I thought it would be useful to take a closer look at the conditions that have led to the enduring success of these dabbawalas (from ‘dabba’ which means lunch box or tiffin carriers – the ubiquitous multi-layered carrier tins; and ‘wala’ which loosely means man or deliverer leading to ‘dabbawala’ – lunch box delivery man).

First some context and history to the humble dabbawala:mumbai-dabbawala

  • Starting from 1890, no rain nor flood nor natural disaster nor riot not terrorist strike nor weather has stopped the dabbawalas in fulfilling their duties.
  • The business model has remained exactly the same since the very first delivery: food prepared at home or community kitchens are delivered to students and workers in schools, offices, factories and depots in a lunch/tiffin carriers, and the empty containers are returned!
  • 5,000 dabbawalas now deliver about 175,000 to 200,000 meals a day (or over 50 million meals a year)
  • They have only ever gone on strike once in over a 120 years – and even then timed it on a public holiday – and in support of an anti-corruption campaign!
  • Each dabba or lunch box changes hands at least six times in transit before it reaches the final consumer – or 2.4 million transactions per day (200,000 deliveries X minimum 6 transits X 2 – to return the lunch/tiffin box back)
  • There are some claims that the dabbawalas lose only one tiffin box per 1.6 million deliveries (comfortably allowing them to be within the six-sigma standard of 3.4 defects per million transactions) – despite the absolute lack of technology or apps to support them. All that is used is a system of alphanumeric codes to identify the source and destination of each dabba.

Next, let’s consider the business and employment model used by the dabbawalas:

dabbawalas1

  • The monthly service charge for the delivery of the lunch boxes is between 400 to 1,200 rupees (or between US$6 to US$18 monthly).
  • The prices are not based on distance but on the customers’ ability to pay – deliveries from richer neighbourhoods means higher rates.
  • There are about 200 ‘managers’ who act as supervisors to teams of up to 25 dabbawalas – managing the total 5,000 dabbawalas
  • The dabbawalas age ranges from between 18 to 65 and are often poorly educated (often rarely receiving formal education beyond the age of 14 or 8th standard in Indian education terms)
  • The dabbawalas continue to be paid low wages – approximately 8000 rupees (or about US$120 monthly) but have achieved a very low attrition rate or labour turnover.
  • Each dabbawala receives the same income, irrespective of experience, age or number of customers serves.
  • Each dabbawala is not an employee, but is an entrepreneur and equal shareholder in the Dabbawallah Trust.
  • The dabbawalas employ a risk-mitigation system of a KYC (know your customer) principle to prevent the threats of contraband or bombs being delivered and implement a minimum monthly-subscription rule.

 

So how have these poorly educated, lowly paid individuals without any access to any computer or app to support their delivery system become an award-wining group of process champions?

  • The dabbawalas have been the paragons of social entrepreneurship – leading to social mobility through enterprise. They have provided employment opportunities for those who have needed it the most. The late Paul Goodman, Professor of Organisational Psychology at the Carnegie Mellon University, described it as thus: “They provide a different picture — a complicated system of working built around human ingenuity and supportive social arrangements that has long been absent from U.S. industry,” in his documentary on dabbawalas.

 

  • Uncompromising attitude to cutting out waste or preventing excesses – this has led to the dabbawalas rejecting a number of potentially lucrative marketing or sales opportunities because it was deemed that they will take up time and impact their core business of delivering on time every time.

 

  • Culture – there is an unwavering commitment to their cause.

The dabbawalas are of a view that their duty is akin to service to God. They are committed to the last man towards a single principle of delivering food on time to the right person.

As Manish Tripathi, a director of the Mumbai Dabbawalas states, “Our work revolves around a few beliefs – the most important ones of which are sticking to time and believing that work is worship. Annadan is mahadan (giving food is the greatest charity). We dabbawalas have a strong belief in god. But you don’t see god, do you? So, whom do you worship? People – after all, they are creations of god. You worship god by ensuring that people get to eat their food on time.”

Professor Stefan Thomke of Harvard Business School notes in his paper, “Culture, for example, often gets short shrift. Too few mangers seem to recognise that they should nurture their organisations as communities – not just because they care about employees but because doing so will maximise productive and creativity, and reduce risk.

 

  • Superior focus on organisational objectives and customer service

There is an absolute focus on unerring time management logistics and commitment to superior customer service through accuracy.

An interesting anecdote is when the dabbawalas were informed that Prince Charles wanted to meet with them, they allowed for the request on the condition that Prince Charles should be at Mumbai’s Churchgate station between 11.20 am and 11.40 am. The mere 20 minutes were given because “they could not take time off work” and only because that was the short period of the day when the dabbawalas had a rare moment of a break time!

Prince Charles Dabbawalas

(As an aside, it is also worth noting that of the three indians invited to Charles’ wedding – two were dabbawallahs (who presented gifts for Camilla (sari) and Charles (turban) – paid for by the dabbawallas pooling)

 

  • Effective leadership

The managers (each managing up to 25 dabbawalas) do not see themselves as leaders or supervisors. They are individuals who help to continuously improve the work-place practices and systems and empower their teams to make decisions within a clearly defined set of parameters. The individual dabbawalas make rapid decisions (modern managers may label this ‘agile’).

There are regular meetings once a month where decisions are made and issues identified and discussed. In the rare event of an error, an investigation is launched to ensure it doesn’t occur again and customers are refunded.

 

  • Adopting new practices to serve customer better

Whilst the delivery model has remained the same, the dabbawalas have introduced innovations such as delivery booking through SMS, online booking (through www.mydabbawala.com) and also introduced online customer services feedback. The customer-centric approach that has been instrumental to the success of the dabbawalas continues.

 

The secret to the dabbawalas is best described by Professor Thomke who says, “The dabbawalas have an overall system whose basic pillars – organisation, management, process and culture – are perfectly aligned and mutually reinforcing. In the corporate world, it’s uncommon for managers to strive for that kind of synergy.”

In this day and age, where the human touch is going out of fashion, the dabbawalas remain a source of inspiration and there is much to be learnt from them.

Branson dabbawalas

As Richard Branson (who spent a full day with the dabbawalas) said, “I will tell my employees: walk like a dabbawala.

Indeed!

dabbawalk

The Triumvirate of Technology, Education and Employability – Solving the Policy Riddle

I has the privilege to speak at the ACCA Asia Pacific Future Education Summit in Beijing earlier this month (January 2016).

 

Slide1

During the course of my presentation I touched on the changing trends in learning, the impact of technology on learning and jobs and ACCA’s response to these global changes.

Below are my thoughts on this critical triumvirate of technology, education and employability and how it will help resolve some of our major policy issues and challenges of the day.

 

Slide3

Young people today are three times as likely as their parents to be out of work.

I have been considering this very urgent issue of employability and the growing ‘employability gap’: the fact that the skills students have as they leave our educational institutions aren’t meeting the expectations of employers, and that employers also want wider, softer skills as well as demonstration of knowledge and hard competencies.

It is also my view that technology is often woefully underexploited when it comes to giving students the opportunity to develop their professional skills.

 

Slide4

Globally 75 million young people are out of employment. The issue of employability is not one limited to a certain geography or country. Below are some of the main challenges across some of the major nations/regions of the world.

INDIA

According to a survey conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU) in conjunction with Indian partners, it was felt that the employability of Indian graduates is low due to skill and geographical mismatch.

The survey also concluded that this gap can be bridged by digitisation of learning.

It is worth noting that the employability ratio of management graduates was only 15 per cent, engineering (20 per cent), law (14 per cent) and medical graduates (32 per cent).

JAPAN

An estimated 700,000 young people, known as hikikomori, have withdrawn from society and rarely leave home. These individuals have collectively withdrawn from the economic population of the country as a result of employability and the subsequent marginalisation.

EUROPE

Across the 28 countries of the European Union, unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds was 22 percent in 2014/2015. The lack of prospects in the job market for young people is a serious problem in large parts of the EU. The highest unemployment rates are found in the south of Europe.Spain has the highest rate, with half of 15- to 24-year-olds out of work. In Portugal, Cyprus, Italy, Croatia and Greece a little more than one in three people in this age group are out of work.

CHINA

According to a study by McKinsey, the number of students graduating each year from university or vocational school has risen from 1 million a year in 2000 to 6.1 million in 2011. This stunning increase means that the number of new graduates exceeds demand for their services in many areas of the country, resulting in an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent for college graduates.

McKinsey also estimate that by 2020, Chinese employers will demand 142 million more high-skilled workers—those with university degrees or vocational training—or about 24 million more than the country will likely supply. Companies could fill this high-skilled labor gap with less-skilled workers, but this would result in productivity losses or poorer quality products and services. Other companies may leave roles unfilled, delaying the decision to grow or expand.

The study estimates that if China does not bridge this gap by 2020, the opportunity cost could reach some $250 billion (about 2.3 percent of GDP)—which is almost the same as that of Singapore or Malaysia’s GDP! That’s a very large amount of money to put at risk – not to mention the impact on social welfare and harmony.

Slide5

There are a few reasons as to why this employability gap exists.

The first reason is a difference in what employers want from graduates and what they are getting. Surveys of employers consistently show that they are not satisfied with the skill levels of their new tertiary hires, whether these are graduates of universities or vocational schools. The main complaints, according to McKinsey research (and a wealth of anecdotal evidence), are lack of technical training, inadequate English, and deficient soft skills, such as the ability to work in teams, critical thinking, and innovative flair. For instance in China, in 2013, more than a third of employers in China surveyed said they struggled to recruit skilled workers, with 61 percent of these companies attributing this to a shortage of general employability skills.

A second mismatch has to do with the knowledge requirements of the future and the structural makeup of the workforce. As countries’ evolve their underlying economic models, their labour needs shift as well and the resultant demand for higher skilled talent is not met by the status-quo educational systems.

Thirdly is one of a geographic mismatch. There are instances where the universities in certain countries tend to be concentrated in an area and this leads to a distribution problem as there are other areas where there are not enough universities to support the demand.

There is also a large question about how the education and training system also operates in. In a number of countries, there is growing concern—among parents, employers, and policymakers alike—that the system’s emphasis on rote learning and focus solely on exam performance does not foster the mental agility and innovative flair that the modern work place requires.

Slide6

Therefore as you see, employability is a very real and serious issue that has serious economic and social consequences.

But before we proceed, it may be useful to have a brief view of what we mean by employability skills.

I have here a list which is not meant to be exhaustive but provides a flavour for some of the skill sets and capabilities we need to consider when talking about employability.

  1. Communication skills that contribute to productive and harmonious relations between employees and customers.
  2. Team work skills that contribute to productive working relationships and outcomes both within teams, the organisation and with external parties.
  3. Problem-solving skills that contribute to productive outcomes and with a commitment to finding solutions.
  4. Initiative and enterprise skills that contribute to innovative outcomes and driving stronger business performance
  5. Planning and organising skills that contribute to long-term and short-term strategic planning and building the processes to achieve desired outcomes
  6. Self-management skills that contribute to employee satisfaction and growth and ensuring they contribute to their organisation’s well-being in the process.
  7. Learning skills that contribute to ongoing development.
  8. Technology skills that the modern workplace requires.

Slide7

Institutions and organisations tackle student employability in a number of ways, including through for example through professional experience requirements,  and employability modules, careers services, work-placements and experiences, work-based mentors, volunteering and increasingly through looking at employability awards. We know there is already some excellent practice, particularly in vocational and professional disciplines where notions of ‘what it is to be professional’ are embedded in the curriculum, but for others this is less apparent. Few use technology really effectively in an integrated way to support student employability, although some are exploring this.

There is evidence of an ‘employability gap’ in the skills that students are actually starting with on day one of employment and the skills that employers are expecting from them. However, there is an increasing appreciation that ’technology for employability’ can provide many potential benefits to students, institutions and employers

Digitally savvy graduates are essential for shaping tomorrow’s entrepreneurial activities, but digital literacies aren’t well articulated.

Slide8

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. The notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by education providers and consider how it can be an enabler for employability.

Technology acts as an enabler in supporting employability in the following ways:

  • ensuring that opportunities are provided throughout the curriculum in a scaffolded and supported way for learners to reflect, plan, and articulate and showcase their knowledge and skills in an integrated way
  • embedding digital literacy skills more broadly across the learning
  • ensuring that assessments and learning are ‘authentic’, and more closely aligned to the workplace and real-world tasks
  • using a principles-based approach to change which places the importance of developing self-aware, independent learners (which some argue is the main purpose of education at the heart of institutional strategy, policy and practice
  • Supporting tutors through better management tools to help their students. By using technology as a tool for learner management, teachers can develop and execute individual learning plans and track the progress being made by the learner in relation to the employability skills.
  • empowering students as agents of change, which evidence shows benefits all stakeholders including students in the development of wider employability skills. Students and learners can also document their employability skills and self-assessment notes as evidence of their competency and knowledge levels.

We know however that although there is a lot of excellent practice, it is not widespread. Technology can support all of the aims above, but further work is needed to ensure that good practice is shared and teams dedicated to developing learners are supported in maximising opportunities offered by technology, and in exploring how existing employability opportunities can harness technology to best effect.

Slide9

According to research conducted by Cleary, Flynn and Thomasson (2006), it is recommended that for effective employability skills development; the design of an overall active teaching and learning and assessment strategy adheres to the following four adult learning principles:

  1. Responsible learning – learners take responsibility for their learning. Responsible learning emphasises self-management and initiative and enterprise as learners work independently to develop new knowledge and activities in the interest of furthering their skills.”
  2. Experiential learning – learners learn from experience. This “emphasises ‘learning to do’ and ‘learning from doing’. Authentic learning occurs when learners have an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in authentic work environments or in contexts which attempt to simulate the real.
  3. Cooperative learning – learners learn with and through others. This form of learning “encourages learners to learn from each other, share learning tasks and learn from a range of people including colleagues, mentors, coaches, supervisors, trainers, and others.
  1. Reflective learning – learners reflect on and learn from their experience. This can be introspective, where learners are encouraged to examine changes in their own perceptions, goals, confidences and motivations. It addresses: developing critical thinking skills, learning to learn and developing attitudes that promote lifelong learning. Reflective learning can be useful in directly addressing problem solving, initiative and enterprise and self-management skills

Digital or e-learning can foster these four types of learning and the development of all of the employability skills.

Slide10

Universities and colleges have a responsibility to develop students into individuals who can thrive in an era of digital information and communication – those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically secure and these skills are especially important in higher education given that graduate white collar jobs are almost entirely performed on computers and portable devices.

But it’s not just about employability – increasingly digital literacy is vital for learning itself. Digital tools such as virtual learning environments, e-portfolios and social networking software for peer mentoring are now common within further and higher education and students without the skills to navigate them risk suffering an inferior student experience at best, and being left completely behind at worst. It goes beyond IT skills, a complete culture change is required to live fully within the modern digital society, from understanding how to communicate ideas effectively in a range of media to managing digital reputation and history.

Slide19

There are a number of success factors that will be critical as organisations consider an effective use of digital learning to support employability of their students.

They include the following and it is worth bearing in mind that this is an iterative and progressive process which will in turn drive better outcomes.

CONCEPT AND ROLE

  1. Develop the employability skills based on a strategic and structured approach that links the employability skills to each other
  2. Recognise the value of the employability skills in all aspects of life in addition to their employability role, and include recognition of prior developments in these skills in learning and assessment strategies.

PEDAGOGICIAL ASPECTS

  1. Use e-learning in blended learning strategies to cater for a range of learning styles and encourage individualised, self-directed learning.
  2. Adopt active learning strategies such as role plays, real work and simulated work environments, and incorporate e-learning.
  3. Recognise the centrality of learning skills as the foundation for addressing all of the other employability skills.
  4. Break the learning skills into four types: responsible; experiential; cooperative; and reflective learning.
  5. Implement an upfront induction/orientation program to develop awareness and understanding of the employability skills and the e-learning role using a conceptual structure that shows the linkages between these skills.
  6. Link remedial education for basic skills, such as literacy, and development of the employability skills in integrated strategies that harness e-learning.

ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING

  1. Use e-portfolios as a tool for student reflective learning as well as a tool for reporting and assessing learner progress in the employability skills.
  2. Pay attention to the different levels of application and performance of the learners and aid them through the journey,

MANAGEMENT ASPECTS

  1. Use a technology-based learning management system to support individual learning plans, tracking of learner progress and achievement, and the efficient use of teaching resources.
  2. Adopt whole of institution strategies, effectively coordinated and supported by staff development activities in both employability skills and e-learning and particularly e-learning facilitation skills to enhance cooperative learning opportunities.

KEY AREAS FOR FURTHER DEVELOPMENT

  1. Recognise that further innovations and improvements will be required to further strengthen the education framework and support learners and students.

Slide20

There are some efforts we can do to help bridge the employability gap.

We need to make a better case for using technology to develop employability. We need to raise digital aspirations of employers, universities, learning partners and professional bodies such as ACCA and develop students as ‘digital entrepreneurs’ that can go on to act as agents of change for business. Digital literacy often isn’t related to employability skills, and we need to see this change to make a clear link.

We need to work in partnership with employers to understand needs better

We must not forget about those youth that are outside the formal education system, or are otherwise marginalized due to disabilities or their gender. Many youth are employed in the informal sector, and may not be able to access traditional schooling or have access to schools in their regiosn. Offering alternative, non-formal models of relevant education are crucial.

Without these strategies, there is a risk that students leave university or college equipped with the right qualifications for their chosen career but without the tools and understanding they need to thrive in the connected, globalised digital world of today.

Slide21

Overall, I would like to conclude that digital learning and the employability skills should be seen as two of the dynamic influences whose interaction is likely to have a significant impact on shaping the evolving approach to l education and training now and into the future. There is much work to be done but finding effective solutions in this closely interlinked areas of technology, education and employability will help resolve some of the major economic and social issues of our time.