Unemployability of the Employable

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Job losses are a reality today around the world. India is no exception. Around half a million low-level workers have lost their jobs in recent months, according to the Ministry of Labour. Job losses in the textile and clothing industry are mounting with each passing week and month, as exports fall. In the high profile IT sector, job losses are expected to top 50,000 in 2009. 

The engineering goods sector, which accounts for nearly one-fifth of the overseas sale of Indian goods, expects above 400,000 job losses by the end of 2008-09, according to the Engineering Export Promotion Council. These are just some of the figures available – there is no aggregate or composite data yet. So, what are the possible scenarios: 

Scenario 1: Recently, quite a few well-qualified professionals from a large media conglomerate were given pink slips. Out on the road, emotionally shattered, looking desperately to find a suitable employment refuge, yet not being able to come to terms with reality - is what most of them are going through.  Even though there is an opportunity being offered by an SME, Mr X goes with same level of aspiration and expectation that he had prior to the meltdown, not realising that the scenario has changed and he should accept the offer, sail through the tide, which at least would be better than remaining unemployed.

Scenario 2: Engineering graduates from tier 3 colleges are the worst-off. Most of these colleges have not been able to attract many corporates for campus recruitments. Even if there is an opening at a well performing SME, the very first question being asked is: What is the package? And this is much ahead of even appearing for the first round of interview! Brand pull and desire to work for a large organisation remains a major hindrance. Rejection is the immediate outcome. 

Scenario 3: Long-term disorientation leads to frustration. This is more or less true for professionals with large duration experience. While the need for them to take up any assignment will be the highest as compared to fresh graduates and mid-level professionals, they find it even more difficult to take up the challenge. Running helter-skelter, with not much clarity, looking for a job not knowing which one, unable to make up their mind to pick up the assignment or expecting there is something better round the corner.

Experts are talking of preparing for ‘‘downward mobility’’—being able to live happily with less-than-before, incomes, at least temporarily. Jobs abound in better performing small and medium enterprises (SMEs), particularly in the services sector, but there are no takers even as the unemployment queue grows longer. 

In good times, SMEs have always faced a dearth of qualified, committed manpower, as their capacity to match higher salaries and expenditure on re-skilling and training is limited. Some of the SMEs now see an opportunity to hire good talent that may help in boosting growth. They have to work in the same competitive environment as large companies. It needs to be increasingly understood that there are advantages with working for SMEs, especially for those who have just graduated. They are more likely to get hands-on training and multi-faceted exposure to a variety of skills and experiences. There may be greater opportunities for taking on responsibility early on and individual input will have a visible impact on the performance of an organisation. Also, working as part of a small team towards a set of shared goals can be extremely rewarding.

Importantly, from a national perspective, SMEs employ far more people per unit of capital deployed than large enterprises. Yet, more often than not, there are no takers for SME jobs even in this day and age of job scarcity.

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