Why educational institutions must realign strategies with economic realities
It is often said that challenges are crucibles in which leadership and character are forged. With the ongoing sluggishness in the economy, this may just be the right time for higher education institutions to make strategic interventions and synchronise them with industry requirements
As the spectre of a prolonged economic slowdown looms large on the horizon, there are genuine concerns about employment prospects and also fears that there might be limited opportunities for job seekers fresh out of colleges. The Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent slump in the economy has created uncertainty in the job market, making the students take a serious relook at their career paths.
Organisations have been focussing on restructuring, cost-efficiency and even workforce pruning. Sectors such as automobile, banking, retail, tourism, aviation and real estate are feeling the brunt of the Covid-induced recession. Some of these sectors are traditionally known to absorb a sizable number of university graduates.
While it is safe to assume that, by and large, higher education institutions remain insulated from the economic downturn, after the outbreak of the pandemic there have been some instances of recruiters either offering lower packages or dropping out altogether. Placement coordinators at universities have had to redouble their efforts and reach out to a larger base of corporates to make up for any shortfall during the last season. Corporates from automotive and manufacturing sectors scaled down on offers, while there was a spurt in hiring by e-commerce, pharma, insurance and FMCG companies.
Even while some recruiters tread with caution, according to economic forecasters, the business environment is expected to revive over the next two to three quarters. Even in the present circumstances, for some recruiters it is business as usual when it comes to hiring new talent as they do not change their strategy based on transitory trends, but hire for the long term, looking to build the leadership pipeline for their organisation.
Higher education institutions with a good track record and sound fundamentals have anyway managed to place their students at decent salaries year on year, irrespective of whether the economy had been in a buoyant or depressed state. Sustained academic delivery, top-of-the-line facilities and innovation together have helped them carve a niche, build a reputation and create a rapport with HR managers of large corporates.
And this is precisely what universities currently need to focus on to ride out the storm. Higher education primarily rests on the foundation of access to research, quality of faculty and a robust industry interface. Universities must equip their students with adequate industry exposure, build a strong alumni network and offer them opportunities to upskill to help them stay ahead of the curve. They need to teach their students about ways to cope in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world and be armed with multi-disciplinary knowledge for emerging trends such as Big Data, Analytics and IoT. Many colleges additionally need to prepare students for a start-up environment and assist them in getting started on their entrepreneurial journey. Several surveys and reports have amply evidenced that when institutions of higher learning do not train their students to stay abreast of a dynamic business environment, they invariably witness a placement shortfall. Students walking out of university campuses who possess the growth mindset, agility, right attitude and skill set to handle the contemporary business challenges will remain largely unaffected by any market volatility.