Improving employability skills among our youth

Md. Shamsul Islam | Update:

Prothom Alo File PhotoAs a former university teacher, the  job market for the vast unemployed graduates of Bangladesh is always a matter of worry for me as well. Like other teachers, more often than not I am approached by my recent and former students, to help them get entry to the job market. But whenever I scan through their resumes to contact any prospective employer, to my dismay I find that the qualities or skills they possess are unsellable in the job market.

Employability skills are the transferable skills required by jobseekers to make them employable in the job market. These are in addition to the knowledge in their respective subject areas that they gain from different institutions of higher education.

The skills include communication and language skills, numeracy, negotiation skills, problem solving skills, lateral thinking, ICT skills, initiative, team working, etc. In view of the changing nature of the job market, top ranking global universities are now focusing on acquiring or developing these skills for their students before their graduation.

Among employability skills, communication and language skills stand out to be the most vital skills that the potentials employers often look for. Communication and presentation skills are important nowadays, as, in essence, all the jobs are marketing jobs now. Fluency in foreign languages including English can give one an edge over others in the market.

While our students struggle to learn English throughout their student years - from primary to tertiary level, most students in western countries learn two foreign languages before they commence their university education. English speaking or writing skills are very important in this globalised world. I often suggest that students get an English teaching certificate like TESOL or CELTA, which would allow them to explore jobs in different parts of the world, even from home. 

Recently a guardian asked me to name a third language he could suggest his son learn. I advised him to learn Chinese, in view of the China’s rising global economic clout, its booming economy and its massive investment in the region and beyond. China is a relatively unexplored area for our students and academics in terms of scholarships, fellowships, jobs etc. And this is how our students can take advantage of the global economic transformation, identifying the newer avenues of job market.  

A very common misperception among our students, which I find in their resumes, is their understanding of ICT skills.  Most of them mention that they know MS Office, Internet etc. But these are regarded as basic skills.

Jobseekers must demonstrate that they are competent in website development, blogging, social media marketing, etc. In addition, they must know programmes like Photoshop, InDesign and at least some basic knowledge in multimedia production. Web-presence is crucial for every organisation in the digital age and advanced ICT skills add value to the jobseekers’ credentials, irrespective of the nature of the jobs they are applying. 

Another important skill is numeracy skills which is the ability to work with numbers, data and mathematics. These are essential skills for those who would like to work in the knowledge-based industries. Today’s graduates, even from the arts and social sciences, must know the basics of statistics - like data interpretation and presentation of data in a graphical format. For these they require to learn computer packages like Excel, SPSS, STARTA etc. Unfortunately, our universities do not pay much attention in developing the students’ statistical and research skills. And for this our students not only suffer in job markets, but also in foreign countries when they go for pursuing higher studies.         

Problem solving skills, analytical skills or the ability of lateral thinking are evaluated in the highly-paid jobs now. For instance, tackling workers’ protest in an industry, raising fund for a campaign in an organisation or writing grant proposals etc. require such skills. These are applied knowledge and skills; to be learnt by the students themselves, as these skills are rarely discussed in the text books or in the class rooms.  

Integrity is perhaps the most sought after skill or characteristics in today’s corporate world. I have come across many employers who say that they want to give jobs but they do not get candidates who are honest, reliable or trusted. This is why unknown persons even with better resumes are not welcomed in many organisations in Bangladesh. The extent of nepotism in our country may be traced to the integrity factor - everyone wants his trusted persons in the organisations.

There are many other skills like teamwork, initiative or leadership that can be highlighted. But together, these are the major employability skills one must possess to set him apart from other candidates in the job market. 

With the advancement of business administration as an important field of study, we are witnessing concurrent development of knowledge and concepts of human resource management. Human resource departments in large and complex organisations are very stringent now while scrutinising the candidates’ knowledge, aptitude and skills. In the job advertisements of the reputed international or multilateral organisations, many such skills are termed as essential. Without acquiring, developing or improving these skills, it is difficult to be a strong candidate in the today's competitive job market.      

Md. Shamsul Islam is a researcher and columnist. He can be contacted at: shamsulbkk@gmail.com

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