Where schools fail, career centres succeed

Steven Rudolph

Over the past few months, I have been amazed at the number of companies moving into the space of career guidance and training. From large multi-crore business houses with aggressive franchising plans, to individuals with tiny offices in the basements of crowded marketplaces, everyone seems to be getting in on India’s rising wave of ‘future preparation’.

This sudden explosion of counselling companies comes as a result of students becoming more desperate to secure seats in colleges, which have failed to increase in numbers relative to the population growth. Kids flock to these centres in search of tuitions or prep classes that help them increase their exam scores, attain positions in the better institutions and enable them to opt for the most desirable courses of study.

However, the pursuit of topping exams is not the only cause of attraction to these establishments. Another reason that has emerged recently is the promise of employment. As the economy flourishes, manpower requirements have been rising, putting pressure on companies to find capable employees with specialized abilities. But while this employment boom has been a blessing for India’s young job seekers, it has become a problem for businesses, which have been forced to hire freshers with limited work and life skills. For years, they have had to bear the burden of taking on raw individuals and footing the bill for training them – and absorbing the losses when these youngsters jump ship just when they become productive.

But not any more. Businesses have recently begun reducing their direct recruitment activities through websites and on-campus interviews, instead turning to career institutes to provide them with polished candidates who can hit the ground running. The centres have answered the call by sharpening candidates’ abilities and personalities through an array of soft skills courses covering topics such as English speaking, selling, handling customers, teamwork, leadership, and so on. And all this for a pretty penny. These ‘finishing classes’ that last for up to a year cost the individual anywhere from Rs. 20,000-80,000.

What seems unfortunate to me is that after 15 years of education, students still lack the basic skills necessary to make them employable. For years they’ve been forced to sit in straight rows, restricted from talking to their classmates, and made to memorize vast volumes of data. Yet when they begin hunting for jobs, they find out that what companies want are people who can communicate well, work effectively in groups, close a deal, handle unhappy customers, and solve complex problems. (There is surely no one out there searching for exceptional test takers!) And it only adds insult to injury when, after paying lakhs of rupees for their school education, parents are forced to cough up even more money to compensate for the missing skills that schools should have provided their children in the first place.

With the rapid pace of development and globalization, there was never a need as great as there is now for changes to be made in the field of education. The CBSE has taken a step in the right direction – and a bold one at that, by introducing CCE. However, if we really want to bring India’s antiquated system of instruction into the 21st Century, we are in dire need of more educational initiatives, training programs, products, films, TV shows, and champions to affect change of this magnitude.

In the meantime, career institutes are currently playing an unlikely, though critical role in this process of educational metamorphosis by offering courses that streamline the path from school to careers. Their most recent experiment of offering soft skills courses directly in colleges is a trend that I believe will succeed immensely, and that will even trickle down into schools over the next few years. In fact, there is a strong likelihood that this will become the channel that connects young learners directly to industry. In whatever way things pan out, it will be exciting to see India reinvent itself with the help of these organizations which, at one time, were little more than test-prep centres.

The author is an American educator, TV personality, public speaker and bestselling author based in India. He can be reached at [email protected].

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