Designing a (corporate readiness/ campus to corporate/ soft skills for work) course curriculum – Three Key Questions

India’s educated youth lack the basic skills to become employable; ready to be absorbed into work by various sectors.

According to Higher Education in India: Vision 2030, a report made by Ernst and Young for FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), 75% of IT graduates are deemed ‘unemployable’, 55% in manufacturing, 55% in healthcare and 50% in banking and insurance. NASSCOM says that only 10-15% of other graduates are considered employable in the IT/ITES segments.

These are staggering statistics.

What is meant by being unemployable? Quite simply, it means even though the job candidate has all qualifications on paper, companies do not consider them job-ready. They lack the basic skills to communicate & participate in a team, to understand the context of what their job requires, & to adapt what they know into specific output on the ground. A skills-gap of epic proportions.

This crying need has led many colleges, educational institutions & corporate companies to try their bit & plug this skills-gap by imparting skills-training, especially in soft-skills. The result is the emergence of corporate readiness programs, also called employability courses, or campus to corporate programs.

How can we design a viable & effective course-curriculum for such a program?

Asking these three questions can be a very good starting point for educational service providers.

1) Who is this program for?

A good question to ask because you actually have dual clients & they both have to buy the value of what you have to offer. The corporate clients for whom these students with enhanced skillsets will work & the students themselves. In a way, though your students (& their decision-making parents) are the customers of your program, the end-consumer is actually the corporate client itself. What you seek to help students learn must correspond with what the corporate clients expect these new recruits to have.

2) What do our dual clients consider to be ‘ value’ they will pay for?

In the immediate future, the kick-starting decision is that of students/parents buying the course. But if you want this program to be viable & sustain over the long run, you must really do the homework on your corporate client’s practical requirements. The clients may or may not anticipate their own future needs & define their expected value.

All too often, corporate clients speak about present needs. It will be unwise to take them at face value because we live in action-packed times where everything is changing in response to the present. Focus on the future & the shape it is going to take. We can safely say that these clients will conceptualize value at two levels – the generic level which is what their industry expects on the whole & the unique level which is their specific requirement that the company values more. Always work together to determine ‘value’ on the horizon of the future. Not value as it stands today. Value as it evolves into the future.

The students/parents might take a short-term perspective & consider any course that helps them get recruited at campus to be valuable. If you accept this, you necessarily tailor the standard of your course to the quality standards of the present corporate clients coming for campus recruitment. Are you setting the bar high enough? If you want your course offering to be competitive, you must aim higher.

A case can also be made for figuring out the demands placed on these new recruits in the first few years, and addressing that. The students of course do not yet anticipate this demand, but you can factor it. It helps to be ambitious because only if you really work hard for this success on the job, will you do more than enough for students to pass the initial hurdle of campus recruitment.

3) How do we go about defining this value on the ground?

For corporate companies

Take a sample of corporate companies your course caters to, spanning the spectrum from best to average. Meet them & ask them to share their experience on three counts. Don’t just choose your present set of clients. Go beyond to get a good representative sample.

Ask these companies:

A) What do they expect new recruits to possess at present?

They must answer in terms of behavioural descriptors of new recruits doing the company task well. It is not enough to say he must be a quick learner. The company must share how they have defined the parameters of quick learning for someone new on his or her first job.

B) What are the two-three most critical skills needed for new recruits to do well on the job at present? What are they already good at, on the whole?

Corporate clients should be able to explain why these skills are so critical to their own company success, explain current performance of new recruits, & identify what corporate support systems are in place to speed up performance. They will also identify what is already put in place by course curriculum & simply needs to be built upon for focussed excellence.

C) What future changes -be it in the industry or the company – can we anticipate, that will directly lead to a change in expectations from new recruits in the future?

Corporate clients rarely go into this but you must or you might end up with a course tomorrow that is catering to yesterday’s needs. Insist if you can that corporate clients create one or two possible scenarios & how they will pan out.

Finding the answers together will bring you closer to defining concrete value for the program from the corporate client perspective. Rather than getting a laundry-list of skills, attributes, the aim should be to generate positive work-outcomes deriving from the targetted skill-set in standard work conditions. You must grasp the business drivers of performance. Preserving this broad canvas of understanding is useful. It enables you to create specific configurations of skill-sets in the future. This comes from holistically synthesizing the positive work outcomes & how they come about.

For students

For the students, take a sample of new recruits, spanning from best-performing to the struggling. Don’t just meet your students. You are able to learn more from a diverse sample, just as it is with corporate clients.

Ask these students

A) Knowing what you do now with your fledgling job-experience, what specific parts of your course curriculum helped you most on the job? What else did you possess on your own that helped you?

B) When do you perceive yourself really lacking in skills? What are the standard work-conditions when that happens?

3) Can you paint a picture of the work outcomes that are expected in these instances? In what way are your skills lacking to achieve these outcomes? Where do you fall short? What changing requirements can you foresee based on your own work experience?

Finding these answers & matching them with the corporate client perspective will give you an integrated value proposition.

It is helpful to seek opinions of industry bodies, trade-associations, consulting companies, & even customers of the corporate clients. Incorporating their perspectives gives you a better idea of the effectiveness of the whole industry in satisfying customer requirements & providing valued service. If the ultimate end-customers are disenchanted with present state of service, you can expect major upheavals should a world-class, disruptive innovator intervene. That will change everything, including what will be expected of a new recruit.

There is a scramble to convert early success-stories into scalable models. This can morph into a one-size-fits-all approach. We must overlay the plan on every unique context and determine the right fit. The right balance between what to integrate and what to diversify is key to success. What is also not apparent is how the available means influence our choice of ends. When we internalize the import, we do a better job of thinking through our task. Perhaps, the biggest imperative is this – helping the students to learn how to apply ; helping them to learn more on-the-go so that the more they apply, the more they learn.

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