Developing the Right Skills for the Future
Anyone who has ever ridden public transportation in England has seen the curiously phrased warning sign "Mind the Gap." I often think of that sign when I hear about how public leaders are thinking about the young people in their respective countries.
We all like to speak of sustainable societies. But beyond just recycling, we need the skills and talents of people to be sustainable as well. That got us to thinking about "minding the gap" when it comes to how India's younger population are prepared for the economy of tomorrow. No doubt about it: Our young people are bright, dynamic, and important to our future. That's why we need to make sure they have the right talents to succeed in a challenging, high-tech global economy.
Recently we hosted an exciting conference with a foundation from Germany, Bertelsmann Stiftung, to discuss how we can improve vocational education in India. The Germans know a thing or two about vocational education: They have long championed a system wherein children are recognized early for certain talents; then they spend a lot of time and energy developing those talents. That way, each generation has a sufficient number of technicians, laboratory workers, chemists, mechanics - you name it.
The system in Germany is the opposite in some ways of what happens in a country like the United States. There, everyone wants to go to college, even if college doesn't suit that person or if there are no jobs widely available for people who graduate from college. What's the point of producing millions of college graduates who read philosophy when there is a shortage, say, for good heating & cooling technicians or construction engineers?
We've all been in an airport at one time or another during which the airline offers an "upgrade" to passengers willing to pay a bit more for a better seat. In that same spirit, societies are recognizing that it pays to "up-skill" their citizens in an increasingly competitive marketplace. To do so however, public leaders know that it helps immensely to have support from the private sector. According to Mr. N.R.N. Murthy, the chairman and founder of Infosys, the company has always been synonymous with innovation and knowledge. That's why partnering with Infosys is the logical step for a public sector that's intent on up-skilling its younger workers.
It is imperative for companies, academia, and governments to collaborate to improve skill sets of the employable population," says Mr. Murthy, "which will in turn help foster growth across the world." Indeed, some Infosys officers have just returned from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. If there's one thing that global leaders have come to advocate, it's that the major economies of the world sink or swim together. Which is why Mr. Murthy speaks of growth across the globe. When a generation of talented young workers has the right skills to compete, the entire global economy can win.
The conference with the Bertelsmann Foundation is particularly ambitious. Just think of how many people could be affected in the next 10 years: some half-billion Indians who can be re-trained and matched to what fields stand to boom because of the growth. So how to bridge the widening skills gap? Public and private authorities are coming together to plan alternative approaches to up-skilling. For example, try putting corporations in the same room with the aim of listing what qualifications they will be looking for when they screen for employees in the next decade.
To that end, the Bertelsmann Foundation is partnering with India's Institute of Applied Manpower to learn more about the advantages of Germany's dual system of vocational training. It brings together classroom learning with practical, on-the-job training. What also is appealing about this partnership is that it helps bridge a cultural gap. The European nations are mature economies with populations that are slowly declining in number. Corporations based in Europe know that to grow, they must have a foothold in the emerging markets. In places like India, whose population continues to boom, there will be a demand for products and services for decades to come.
So it's only natural that India's young employee base grows the right way as well. The next time someone mentions sustainable development, you'll know that they're not only talking about natural resources and recycling. They're talking about the most precious resources of any country: the young people who are keys to its future success.