Internships are not a new phenomenon in India with universities, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and BITS Pilani, incorporating them as part of their curriculum where students spend six to 12 months in their final years working as paid interns with organizations in India and abroad
Over the last decade, the term demographic dividend has been used repeatedly to describe India’s burgeoning youth population that could hold key to the next wave of economic growth.
By 2020, India will be the world’s youngest country with an average age of 29 years. To put things in perspective, some other countries, including Japan, will be facing an ageing population problem with an average age of 48 in 2020. Many experts and others have focused on what India can achieve with its young population. This article will highlight what India needs to do to ensure that this demographic dividend does not turn in to its biggest liability in the coming decades.
Internships as a bridge between education and employment
Internships are not a new phenomenon in India with universities, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and BITS Pilani, incorporating them as part of their curriculum where students spend six to 12 months in their final years working as paid interns with organizations in India and abroad. These internships provide an opportunity for organizations to provide practical skills to the students and gauge technical and cultural fit with their organizations in a low-risk environment. At the same time, students get exposure that compliments their classroom training and can pilot-test a particular organization or industry before committing.
Not surprisingly, many of these interns get hired by and join organizations where they intern.
The pursuit of happiness for millions of students
The Hollywood hit called The Pursuit of Happiness (based on the real story of Christopher Gardner, an American entrepreneur, investor, stockbroker, motivational speaker, author and philanthropist), shows how actor Will Smith gets a shot as a stockbroker through a six-month internship. Neither his background nor his credentials make him the ideal candidate for the job. However, the internship helps him convince the firm that he can do the job better than other interns.
How can millions of graduates each year in India get the shot that Smith did? Many Indian students end up doing unproductive jobs or even pay other companies to fulfill their internship requirement. The real challenge is to replicate this model for tens of thousands of other colleges in India. These colleges do not have a structured internship programme and leave it to the student to secure an internship.
The internships conundrum
Employers in India often complain that graduates don’t have employable skills. The students want jobs, the universities want their students placed, and the organizations need skilled labour. How can this ecosystem come together for mutual benefit? How can the universities and the private sector work together to bridge this gap? What role can the government play to facilitate this cooperation?
Role of government—examples from other countries
Many states in the US and other countries are working on legislations to bridge the skills gap in their respective states and countries through tax breaks and benefits for employers.
Kenya has announced a lower corporate tax for companies that hire at least 10 interns between six and 12 months. The US announced the Workforce-Ready Educate America Act of 2012 to allow employers a credit against income tax as an incentive to partner with educational institutions to provide skills training for students. How can Indian government encourage the private sector to get involved through its Skill India initiative?
Alumni as ambassadors of universities in the short-term
While many reforms focus on the long-term, in the short term, these universities can start with developing a database of organizations where their alumni interned and where they currently work. There is a strong possibility that these alumni will be the ambassadors of their alma mater and have the intent to give back.
The alumni can be the champions of current students and act as a bridge between their alma mater and their organization.
A thriving ecosystem in the long-term
In the long run, universities, which don’t produce relevant graduates or don’t have relevant pedagogy, will lose in the marketplace and those that adapt their courses based on industry needs will thrive. This creates a virtuous cycle where meritorious students pick universities based on their placement record and companies continue to hire interns from universities that produce career-oriented applied education.
This is just one example on how to make the internship system work in the thousands of colleges in India. We welcome other ideas from you on how to bridge this gap between universities and industry to truly benefit from India’s demographic dividend.
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