Exam paper leaks, job seekers protesting, strikes for job reservations, etc. these are the kind of news one reads everyday. A rote education system and our shortsighted responses have not addressed the fundamentals of the jobs problem. While job creation and productive workforce development are undeniably complex issues, however, at a fundamental level, small key steps make the ultimate difference. One such small part of the puzzle is ‘real world skills’, which only comes from work experience. All of us can recollect instances, in our career where adequate/appropriate work experience moulded or acted as a stumbling block in our career, 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 a better way to address this issue, one that needs to be given the desired importance. It is part time work, as early as possible for each student, regardless whether it is paid or unpaid.
There are number of good reasons for a culture of more extensive part-time work experience. The jobs we did while 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 adefault 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 well understood that 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 and it should be a parameter in the national ranking and college accreditation. A 5 to 10 hour per week part time work should be a common sight in all education institutions in India.
In view of our demographic challenges it becomes all the more critical in India since sometimes studying is an end to itself and over qualification is very common(we have instances of PhDs apply for peon’s job), education for many also becomes a time filler and the nation suffers at the aggregate level. It is also not uncommon to see young people devoting long years to prepare for exams , these exams are prone to leak and are routinely influenced by factors other than talent. We have all the recipe going on for preparing a mass of frustrated young people, and a 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 it may a starting point to make skills aspirational in the traditional Indian society.
One 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. To start with it has been imbibed in our young people to think that school/college is meant only for study. It is also a case where opportunities for young people for part-time jobs has not been developed due to lack of attention to this sphere, more importantly there are institutional difficulties with absolute 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, parents give everything they have for children education and there are sufficient resources are available through student loans and parental income. This is in contrast to past generation, they 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 and early work exposures will make work no longer just work but combine interests and passion and mould for better meaning work. For a student it is not school or work that comes first but ‘learning for the real world’ that comes first.