So you need to advertise and recruit for a specific role in your company and you find it difficult to get the best hire…hmm… say that again.
You need to hire for an entry-level position and decide to put it out there but practically get not less than 300 CVs within the first week alone. After sifting through some of the CVs, You realize that, of the 300, only five or six of the candidates really get close to the particular skillset you want to see.
If You call them for an interview, what practically happens is that, of the five or six shortlisted, only three or four show up. You ask why and get the plain old “I forgot I had an interview” slogan. Of the number you interview, you often find that the ones you did interview, although took the best, need compromising on expectations significantly to give them a chance.
All the candidates in your shortlist may have some qualification or even degrees, sometimes some are postgrads and some even have a few years of experience. Still, it’s difficult to find the right person for those entry-level jobs.
So it presupposes that there is something very broken in the education-employment linking in the economy. Though usually termed a skill mismatch, it is clearly more than that. Most of the time, you hear complaints that universities are just churning out graduates with other disciplines when the industry actually needs some Engineers, Technicians and some relatively skilled people. There may well be a mismatch between these skills we require in our industries and what the universities are able to produce, but the above example is not about that, I recently attended the Ghana CEO Summit 2019 edition and the arguments were ominous.
We advertised for a similar entry-level administrative job a few years ago and received 100 applications for the position. After sifting through all the CVs, we could only shortlist 10 candidates for interviews. Of the 10, there were only three who came even close to what we wanted. But, Three out of 100! Not sure it’s a story of mismatch alone.
The quality of education has become a major stumbling block.
The story is not very different on other counts. Pass rates for WASSCE examinations have dropped considerably. Tens of thousands of candidates take the exams, the GES announces there are hardly a couple of hundred that it can pass. What skills are being matched there?
It seems that the major issue, in the cases given here, is that of quality of education. The quality of education being given to our students across the board is so poor that most of the graduates coming out of universities do not even have the basics that are needed for any job in the marketplace or even for being a productive citizen. Maybe the academics are not really interested in meeting with industry to find out whether the course curriculum is anything the Employers want. Their language skills, English, that is used for instruction is poor, and they can hardly come up with a simple business letter. With numeracy skills very elementary, their education hardly focuses on communication skills, interpersonal behaviour management or self-management, but most importantly, and damagingly, they do not even have a grasp of the basics of logic, inductive/deductive reasoning, argumentation, rhetoric, critical or even common-sense thinking. And, usually, they do not know how to learn either. You have been in this place before, where the lecturers tend to mark student down when they try to answer questions in a manner that uses their imagination and not following the status quo.
Over the last four to five years, SkyPro Institute has had the experience of advising organisations hiring at many different levels. From doing interviews for admission in graduate programmes to hiring administrative/finance staff, research assistants/associates, junior faculty, interns, programmers and even heads of institutions, we have, quite literally, done hundreds of interviews. We even conduct written tests for some of the positions. There are very few positions, in our experience, that require very specific ‘skills’ needed before a person becomes a good candidate for a job: in some cases, you need research assistants who must have prior experience in certain computer programmes.
For most jobs, we look for the quality of education that the person has, the quality of their experience, if relevant, the kind of person the candidate is, and the ability of the person to deal with questions/issues that are relevant for the job in question. The quality of education becomes the major stumbling block if the candidate cannot perform the basic things that are general knowledge in the industry.
In interviews and in written tests, candidates show the poor quality of not only their language skills but also their education when they cannot even put together a coherent argument. They do not know how to read an article and make sense of what the author has said. They are unable to comprehend the implications of what they read, cannot generalise from their reading, cannot find examples to apply their reading to, cannot adapt their reading to apply to their situation and context and cannot generalise from their own context to create counter or confirmatory arguments.
The ability to critically engage with either the written word or with one’s environment is a necessary, if minimal, condition for being able to respond to the demands of any job. Thus, if a lot of candidates are not able to do that, we have a big challenge in our hands as Employers.
However, the story does not end there. It is not just that their education has not equipped them to be able to engage with their environment effectively; for many, their education has also crippled them so that it is hard to acquire these skills on-the-job. There are very few jobs where on-the-job training cannot happen. But if after a couple of years of experience, a person is not able to deal with his/her job, then there is an issue: there must be a problem in how they learn.
It is, of course, not the case that there are no good candidates at all or that all institutions provide education of poor quality: there are some high-quality educational institutions in the country. But their number is very small. Good graduates from such institutions do get recognised and command better returns as well. The problem is for the millions who are spending 16 to 18 years in schools and universities and ending up being poorly educated and trained, and much more damagingly, being educated in ways and habits that make it difficult for them to change and become better learners. We can take up the question of how to start addressing the problem later.
The writer is the Centre Head of SkyPro Institute of Languages And Technology and an Affiliate Member of The British Computer Society.