Board exam paper leaks, job seekers on protest, strikes for job reservations, trains blocked for jobs, etc. these are the kind of news one sees everyday. A crippled education system and our shortsighted responses have not addressed the fundamentals of the jobs problem. While job creation and productive workforce development are complex issues, at a fundamental level, many small things done well or unwell makes the ultimate difference. One such small part of the puzzle is ‘real world skills’, which comes from work experience. In our careers, all of us can recollect instances where adequate/appropriate work experience moulded our career and more importantly when we started our careers- the lack of work experience looked like an unsolvable chicken and egg situation for job hunting. ‘Employability’ hinges on work skills and it is apt that the government’s has been laying stress on skill development rather then mere theoretical knowledge accumulation. It has been trying to ensure on the job training/apprenticeships in its skill development schemes. However, there is a much easier and better way to address this issue, one that needs to be given the desired importance. It’s part time work, as early as possible for each student , regardless whether it is paid or unpaid.
They are number of good reasons for a more extensive part-time work experience culture. The jobs we did whilst at school/college have shaped us in more ways than one; they made us resilient, taught us how to handle responsibility and also to juggle priorities. We cultivated and developed these skills later in life and they were the foundations of our future careers. Part-time jobs also have more tangible benefits. Research demonstrates that young people who combine work with full-time education stand to gain in the long term. Further, earners and learners are likely to perform better and earn more than those students who focus only on their studies.
Earning and learning isn’t just important for employers and young people themselves: it also benefits the economy at large. If part time work is mainstreamed and chosen as a default option for the majority, our demographic dividend will become a dividend bonanza. Our working population will increase substantially and the incoming labour force will be far better prepared. Since the educational participation has been increasing over the years and it is known that only academic knowledge has not translated to good job prospects it is urgently required that part time work be treated as a norm, schools and colleges be ranked on facilitating this. A 5 to 10 hour per week part time work should be a common sight in all education institutions in India. This becomes more critical in India since sometimes studying is an end to itself, over qualification is very common, education for some also becomes a time filler for not doing anything worthwhile. It is also not uncommon to see young people devoting long years to prepare for exams , whose papers are prone to leak and routinely influenced by factors other than talent. This prepares a mass of frustrated young pool at risk for society.
Additionally, some respect for part time work and a movement towards this is long overdue. It will also improve dignity of work since lot of part time work will be unpolished work. Perhaps, this may a good starting point to make skills aspirational in the traditional Indian society.
You may be wondering, when part time work seems so useful then why is it that it is not a norm. There are many reasons for it. Young people think that school/college is meant only for study, opportunities for young people for part-time jobs has not been developed, and there are institutional difficulties with the non-incorporation of work into study timetables, which makes part-time work difficult and a non starter. There is also a lack of financial pressure and no felt need for combining learning and earning for well off students, sufficient resources are available through student loans and parental income. The past generation had more part time jobs then we have. Additionally, the advice by parents and teachers is not to combine work and study, working while studying is seen as a means of last resort. Finally, a number of people believe that they have the entire life to work so engaging in poorly paid employment and diluting their focus on studying would be pointless.
A careful analysis of the pros and cons of part time work would reveal that it can be a good way to provide young people with real work skills, it gives them a heads up to the labour market and provides them a reference point for sound career choices based on real life data points. If we have to make India the skill capital of the world, we need to take up such fundamental reforms. Education has been in its dreamland for far too long, it must now mirror reality and prepare students for both the immediate and broader world of work. All of this, though depends on the flexibility school/college provide and a new think from the parents end. Early talent identification, early work exposures will add to make-work will no longer be work but interests and passion and moulded for better meaning. For a student it is not school or work that comes first but ‘learning for the real world’ that comes first.