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Education Plus

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Soft skills in the era of globalisation

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram have repeatedly said that India’s growth is expected to continue at a robust pace in the foreseeable future.

This will be possible only when the most important sector of the economy, namely the consumption sector continues to grow. That in turn depends on people’s ability to remain gainfully employed in a full-time job with a good salary. Nearly two-th irds of the GDP depends on the consumption sector. Because the developed nations of Europe, Canada and USA are all becoming nations of older people, there are not enough young qualified people to take their jobs upon retirement. In the U.S. alone, in the next eight or 10 years, nearly 30 million people are likely to retire. These nations, especially the U.S., have to fill these jobs with qualified workers who have good capability to communicate in English.

That is where India scores at the moment. But that competitive advantage is likely to vanish in the next 10 to 15 years because the Chinese are catching up fast in spoken English; thousands of Americans are at present teaching English, especially spoken English, in most colleges and universities in China.

Also, the Chinese Government has mandated that English be made a compulsory subject in schools. This means that young people in India can become employable in a competitive environment only if they improve their skill-set, especially ‘soft and communications skills’. This alone can guarantee high paying jobs at multinational companies either in the U.S. or in India. This is also important as ‘Knowledge Processing Outsourcing’ is gaining momentum.

Many industry professionals and leaders have made statements recently that despite acquiring academic qualifications, most youth in India are not ‘employable’ because they lack employable skills.

I think this means that these candidates need to be trained in soft and communications skills/problem solving skills and critical thinking skills.

In academics, individual talent is recognised but in global companies it is the individual’s ability to work in a team that is paramount.

In short, in addition to their academic degrees, be it in engineering, management, commerce and so on, our youngsters need to make extraordinary effort to fully understand and participate in specific areas to attain their personal and professional goals.

There needs to be a lot more effort in areas of cross-cultural communications, focus on customer service, post-sales/deliverables services and recognition of the strengths in others to collectively solve problems, and the ability to converse with clarity over the phone especially with foreign clients.

Willingness to learn

The attitude should change from “I know everything” to one of willingness to learn, in order to avoid loss of leverage to a fellow Indian competitor now or a Chinese competitor in the future.

The areas that will help are: Globalisation/ challenges and meeting them to benefit personally/ professionally; communication/ cross-cultural aspects — the how, when, where modes.

Ideally, in seminars, students should be encouraged to present their ‘speech’ and told about the shortcomings and ways to improve for full benefit and career advancement; ethics — why it is a business imperative, avoiding the pitfalls of Enron and so on; video presentation/discussions including workplace topics such as sexual harassment; teamwork concepts, choosing members, leaders and execution; and lastly, motivation, behavioural models on values/ beliefs/ business decisions/ profitability.

If students fail to act now, they may find that their counterparts elsewhere are ready. A good part of the BPO and KPO jobs may move to China as they too can speak good English. Our major competitive leverage would have been lost.

Seminar speaker and Associate Professor, International Business Strategy and Marketing, at South Carolina System of Private Colleges and University, USA. He can be contacted by email at: vsivakumar@howardcc.edu

“India’s competitive advantage is likely to vanish in the next 10 to 15 years because the Chinese are catching up fast in spoken English.”

V. SIVAKUMAR

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