The Role Of A New Age Leader In Bridging Industry Academia Gap

The Role Of A New Age Leader In Bridging Industry Academia Gap

 The Role Of A New Age Leader In Bridging Industry Academia Gap

Dr. Anuj Kacker, Chief Executive Officer (Interim), Aptech, 0

Time and again, graduates pile up in India’s unemployment statistics. India's youth unemployment rate (aged 20 to 24) increased to 44.49 percent in October–December of last year from 43.65 percent in the same quarter the previous year. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy reports that during the same period, the percentage of individuals aged 25 to 29 who were unemployed increased to 14.33 percent from 13.35 percent in the previous quarter. Is something going wrong in our education system?

Let’s uncover the problems behind this industry academia gap through the lens of a veteran who has been around the game for 37 years - 20 years in the education and training industry alone. Dr. Anuj Kacker, Chief Executive Officer (Interim), Aptech, is an alumnus of IIT and IIM who has seen it all throughout his journey with leading companies, especially with Aptech in all its glorious trans-formations. In an insightful engagement with CEO Insights India magazine, Dr.Kacker shares his profound views on a myriad of problems and the measures leaders can adopt to tackle them.

How do you look at the evolution of the vocational training industry?

About 20 years ago, when I stepped into the education industry, vocational education or career-based education, while not new, was still not the flavor of the month. People were testing the waters of whether or not it was a good area to get into since formal education like BA, BSC or any other degree was favored at the time. But the times have changed.

Aptech was engrossed in IT training in the 80s and late 90s when it got into multimedia training. At the time, we created 'Arena Multimedia,' a brand focused on providing manpower with creativity. We ventured into emerging areas like animation in the early 2000s. We soon realized that this is a great area to build on, using the success of IT as a pedestal to train people in the animation industry. Hence, we initially focused on that through Arena. In 2010, we acquired another company, MAAC, which was also involved in 3D animation.

The dawn of 2010 saw the entry of advanced visual effects, and we began training people in this area, which became another domain in our basket. By mid2010, we decided to expand our basket to include areas other than technical, and we happened upon the beauty and wellness segment. We began training people for the beauty salon industry and added it into our basket through a strategic alliance, Aptech and Lakman Academy, a subsidiary of Unilever. Along the way, we added smaller business units in aviation, hardware, and networking areas.

What do you see as major skills sought after by leading companies today?

In any industry, it all comes down to two components. One is the domain-specific skills that professionals should possess to perform their jobs. The second is soft skills, which have been over shadowed by the emphasis on workplace skills of late. Skills such as team play, team building, communication skills, etc., have become an inherent part of the curriculum as the industry seeks a combination of the two.

Education systems across India tend to emphasize academic certifications or degrees more than skills needed to perform the job. However, I believe that academic credentials are not as important as the skills needed to deliver what is required. Therefore, the industry is looking for a combination of domain specific skills and workplace skills. Aptech has been trying to deliver that in all its curriculum, efforts and pedagogical methods.

How do you view the disparity between the skills talents possess, and the skills companies look for?

Similar to having good and bad cholesterol, there is also a notion of building good gaps and bad gaps. Good gaps
are the changing needs of the industry influenced by technological advances and changing production pipelines, among others. Bad gaps indicate having domain skills but lacking communication or the right teamwork skills to do the job adequately. You need to fix that while the student is in a training mindset. There is another gap that I’d like to stress about. That is, the engineering industry. Despite the lakhs of engineers graduating every year, it remains a sorry state of affairs in India.

From a student’s perspective, investing about Rs.10 lakhs into four years of their engineering degree, the odds of employability are only one out of three chances, as per the government’s statistics. Although big and well-reputed companies in the IT field offer salaries roughly up to Rs.3.5 lakhs, it is just enough to recoup the amount spent on the student’s engineering degree fee. I’m not even including their boarding fee at the time of their studies. We must fill these gaps pragmatically and systematically in under-supply and oversupply situations.

The role of a leader is to inspire, set systems and processes producing not one but masses of great students, which is the challenge.

What would you suggest to leaders to minimize graduates' hiccups when entering the corporate field?

The first step leaders can take is to lead companies in innovation, anticipating needs and filling the needs of futuristic technologies ahead of time.

Secondly, education leadership could change curriculum to be more industry-oriented as opposed to certification or academic-oriented. In the context of jobs and skill-based learning, academic credentials should have the right skills or curriculum to fulfill industry-specific needs today and even in the long run.

The third is the regulatory side. For example, the National Education Policy 2020 has been helping 10th, or PUC students or graduates understand their strengths and weaknesses to make better career choices. Also, the government has given a lot of flexibility by enabling students to gain credits while taking other courses. These credits are transferable, which allows students to come back and complete their education if they were unable to do so in the past.

What must leaders do to ensure students get exposure to the real setting of the corporate field?

That’s a brilliant question, and I’d like to offer some food for thought. When we designed our curriculum or education systems, we not only possessed domain skills but also ensured that they were used at work.

For instance, a student pursuing a career in animation acquires domain-specific skills. But when entering the job, he or she suddenly realizes that they must complete projects within a prescribed time while using creative skills. That’s when they face their first challenge. Both training and curriculum should include various projects and events that replicate pressure-cooker-like situations to stimulate the work environment that they could be up against for the first time.

We must also encourage working as teams in projects and events to signify shared responsibilities or division of roles. Coordination or leadership skills, overtly or innately, develop in the student’s mind through these projects and events.

At Aptech, a large part of our work revolves around technical areas. These are vital pedagogical thoughts that we have innately built into our schemes to make an individual employable for 30 years of their professional life, irrespective of technological changes in those years.

Moving forward, what will leaders' role be in the education management domain?

The role of a leader is to inspire at the end of the day. It means being able to set systems and processes producing not one but masses of great students, which is the challenge. The IIMs and IITs are considered the best-in-class in our education system. However, the engineers from these institutes only amount to a minuscule of the country’s requirements. We do need IITs and IIMs, but that’s not the end story. India, being a big country, is all about the masses. Unless our education system can deliver education in a consistent, controlled and standardized fashion to the masses, irrespective of socioeconomic status or gender, we will be failing the population of our country.

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