By Navi Rajdou
Navi Radjou is the Executive Director of the Center for India & Global Business at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. The Center brings together business, academic and policy leaders and young people from around the world eager to shape India’s leading role in the global knowledge economy. Previously, Navi was a vice president at Forrester Research, where he led the firm’s analysis of how globalized innovation is driving new collaborative market structures and organizational models. Navi is an Indian-born French national and is based in Cambridge, UK.
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Made in India
Is demography destiny? I used to believe so. But these days, I think that depends on how a country leverages its human capital. Merely boasting a big population doesn’t confer superpower status to a nation. The quality of its human capital must match its quantity. This hard truth is finally sinking in among Indian politicians and corporate captains.
Recently, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that India is projected to provide 500 million workers — a quarter of the world’s total work force — within a decade. Indeed, by 2020, the average working age is projected to be 60+ in both US and Europe, 45 in China, and merely 29 in India!
But Mr. Singh was quick to point out that without proper education and training, the majority of these potential workers won’t be “employable” by either public or private sector firms. In a country where half of the 1.1 billion population today is below 25, Indian politicians are finally waking up to the employability and talent challenges facing the Indian youth.
India’s explosive economic growth is fueling demand across industries, ranging from IT to manufacturing to retail, for a huge number of skilled professionals. Unfortunately, while India produces over 3 million graduates each year, the percentage of those graduates that are employable by the industry is fairly low. Two studies, one by McKinsey & Company and another by Duke University, showed that fewer than 25% of the 500,000 engineers graduating in India are of comparable quality to the 70,000 engineers produced in the US — and therefore “employable” by the industry.
Aware of this challenge, the Indian government is collaborating with the National Knowledge Commission to unleash the country’s human potential by, for instance, opening more IITs and IIMs and imparting “soft skills” to young workers. Unfortunately most of these initiatives take a quantitative approach that merely aims to improve the supply-side of the Indian labor market. I personally think that the issue (and therefore the solution) lies on the demand-side, and requires a qualitative solution as well.
Why? Because employability is only half the problem. Even if they do find qualified workers, companies can’t take their Indian employees’ loyalty for granted: attrition rates in Western IT providers’ Indian offices run as high as 50%, due to lack of engagement by their employees. In a global workforce study conducted by Towers Perrin, a whopping 56% of Indian employees said that they feel disengaged at work – the highest percentage among all countries surveyed. These disgruntled Indian employees feel a big disconnect between their personal aspirations and their day-to-day professional activities.
This disconnect results from the fact that while young Indians are attending colleges (let alone high schools) neither their parents nor the educational institutions pay attention to their individual talents and career aspirations, and help tie them to the skills needed to be successful in an organization. This paucity of attention later results in high employee attrition which hurts Indian industries’ ability to sustain growth and build globally competitive and adaptable workforce.
However resourceful it might be, the Indian government can’t afford to take a top-down approach to igniting and coaching the minds of the 550 million-strong Indian youth. It needs to enroll the help of creative entrepreneurs worldwide to accomplish that mighty goal.
Fortunately, some entrepreneurs are already responding to this call. Take Dr. Ravishankar (Ravi) Gundlapalli, whom I recently met in San Francisco. After 12 years of working as a supply chain professional (Ravi has a Ph.D. in Fluid Mechanics), Ravi decided to become an entrepreneur in the education sector with a global mission. Ravi told me that his passion for teaching and education goes back to his own high school days in Chennai, when he learned Tamil to teach mathematics and physics to his fellow students from Southeast Asia who had difficulty understanding concepts taught in English at school.
Ravi’s extensive field research in India with individual students, colleges, employers, and trade associations shows that most of the 3 million graduates that India produces each year are not receiving adequate career-based education and orientation. So Ravi is launching a new startup, Turning Point Global (TPG), which aims to address the employability and talent management issues faced by the Indian economy.
TPG’s vision is to “ignite the Indian students’ minds” with career planning and career success principles that are aligned with the students’ own genius and career aspirations. By engaging with Indian students while they are still in college, TPG plans to make them career-ready by the time they embark on their first job, armed with relevant functional, behavioral, and career success skills. TPG has many other innovative ideas to ensure that these students continue to maintain clarity of self and clarity of career, and in the process help reduce employee disengagement and attrition in the industry.
Ravi also told me about former president of India Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and Prof. Sudershan Acharya’s Lead India 2020 youth national movement, and how his vision for TPG is synergistic with that of Dr. Kalam’s, which is to ignite the minds of 550 million youth of India and transform them into employable human resources with strong leadership and human values.
I was moved when Ravi described how he is currently “igniting” the mind of a blind but super-bright Indian student, whom he met through Lead India 2020. This blind student received a youth leadership and outstanding scholars