The contemporary debate about skills and employability centers around the demand versus supply sides of provisioning skilled workers. It is generally held that the dismal situation regarding the paucity of employable skilled workforce can only be resolved if the skill generation matches the demands of those who are the employers of the prospective workers. There are several issues that seem to create the gap between the kind of skills that are being imparted and the requirements of the industries.
The technical aspects of skills cannot be overlooked. They are the prerequisites. However, earlier technical finesse were enough for one to qualify for a job. In more contemporary context with the information flow and wider product awareness, there exists an unenviable and brutal competition in the market. Competitive pricing, on-dot delivery mechanism along with effective management are some of the present day requirements. They require human capabilities other than the technical attainments which can be broadly termed as soft skills. What the employers require is the unmet needs for such skills which are increasingly becoming significant for the successful running of businesses.
Defining soft skills
Soft skills are complimentary to hard (technical) skills and include personal transversal competence—social aptitude, communication, friendliness and capability to work with other members of the team (Cimatti 2016). Added to this are commitments and ability to honour completion of an assigned job.
India Skill Report 2017 has identified skills that are in demand by the employers (Figure 1). It can be seen that the domain expertise is recognised as a preferred skill by about 1/5th of employers. Integrity and values, communication, learning agility are amongst the top five qualities needed by them. These can be grouped under soft skills.
The skill preferences differ in terms of different sectors. The core sectors such as banking and finances, information technology, engineering and automotive, health-care and hospitality still have domain expertise as the foremost requirement, but they all, in general, value soft skills.
Why are soft skills required?
One of the prime issues that the potential employers face is the higher salary (having a bearing upon price structure) demands by those who have been vocationally trained by formal institutions. The training workers usually receive at centres are of little or no use to employers as they can comfortably place the newly appointed workers under the tutelage of the senior workers as per the job requirement and get them started. According to one estimate, employers are looking inside their organisations for solutions and as high as 36 per cent of Indian employers are choosing to develop and train their own people. In the IT sector, businesses are reporting the most marked talent shortage over the years. Lack of soft skills and looking for more pay than what is offered are the top reasons that employers in India are not able to fill the positions (The Economic Times 2017).
Industries, particularly those in the export regime such as readymade apparel have lean and busy seasons in a given year with extra hours to be devoted to a particular task/order entailing overtime commitments in a latter case. The potential workers would need tenaciousness under such circumstances. However, as a survey conducted by global management consultancy, Hay Group in 2014 titled the ‘Generation Awkward’ reveals that businesses across India are reporting that it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire graduates who have the management skills to succeed in their organisations (haygroup.com).
According to the part of the survey which was focused on India, 74 per cent of the sampled entrepreneurs said that they have hired graduates who lack the necessary people skills; 71 per cent believe that less than a quarter of their graduates have the people skills they need. Eighty per cent of business and HR directors say that graduates who do not develop people skills create toxic work environments. Graduates in India themselves do not seem to take into account the value of people’s (soft) skills with 77 per cent of those surveyed believing that they will succeed in the workplace regardless, 57 per cent not seeing the value of ‘pandering to the feelings of others’ in their team and 77 per cent saying that people skills get in the way of getting the job done.
Lack and general indifference towards cultivating such skills is not unique to India. The trend is globally prevalent in countries like United States and China. So acute is the problem that three quarters of business leaders and HR directors surveyed fear for the future of their businesses and 89 per cent of the ones in India are worried about the quality of future leaders.
The survey reveals that a generation of young professionals—mainly drawing upon social media and rote learning are joining the workforce at a time of unprecedented change. Businesses now require collaborative working, multidisciplinary project teams and matrix structures, putting a high demand on soft skills.