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Pakistan – Bridging the divide between the academic and corporate ladders

Murad Salman Mirza

‘Didn’t they teach you this in college?’ An anguished cry laced with frustration rings out in the corridors of a corporate organization from a jaded manager eyeing a recent inductee from a well known academic institution. Sound familiar? Contributor Murad Salman Mirza.

Sadly, this act is played with minor variations in a number of organizations striving to bridge the gap between the Academic and the Corporate Ladders. The mantra of ‘Right Person for the Right Job’, degraded to the level of a cliché, has long been etched into the programmable mindsets of HR professionals to ensure optimization in talent induction. However, such slogans are often tempered with the sobering reality that ‘all that glitters on a resume is not gold’, especially, when fresh talent is being sought from the academic institutions.

What creates such a divide? This article explores the respective question by highlighting some of the existing gaps between the Academic Institutions in the Private Sector and the Corporate Sector of Pakistan that are confronted by budding professionals. The conclusion sums up the key thoughts reflected in the respective article and leaves the reader with an optimistic note.

First, the education imparted in academic institutions is limited by the curriculum which is generally the product of what the academicians are comfortable with teaching, availability of relevant research in the respective area and the enrolment levels of the various courses. Such confines infringe upon the freedom required by the demands of a competitive market. This information lag, aggravates the desperation felt by employers in terms of finding desired talent nurtured on the latest practical knowledge. For example, the effective role of Organizational Development (OD) in supporting/boosting business strategy or the astute application of well known Organizational Change Management (OCM) approaches in different kinds of organizations.

Second, the academic courses are generally taught by academicians who are driven by research and guard their bastion of knowledge zealously from the practitioners who are normally chastised as the unregulated exploiters of knowledge. Thus, igniting the unending debate on ‘knowledge for knowledge’ vs ‘knowledge for profit’. Such divisive thinking generally permeates the educational institutions and infuses the young minds with ideas that have limited application in the practical world. Consequently, employers are invariably dependent upon the quality of their orientation, on-the-job training or external specialized courses, to increase the likelihood of grooming desired talent to their level of satisfaction. For example, training on SAP HR module and conducting workshops on separating leaders from clones.

Third, the pedestal of academic achievement is based upon the quality and extent of research which takes years to complete and can suffer from the misfortune of being inadequate in scope, outdated or soured with biasness. Such a temporal distortion often manifests in terms of obsolete solutions to problems that have already been resolved in the professional circles. Therefore, the fresh talent emerging from educational institutions is normally tainted with yesterday’s knowledge. For example, propounding the virtues of traditional recruitment and selection when a more strategic approach in the form of Talent Acquisition, Development and Retention is needed to take place with an eye on the future.

Fourth, students generally have to contend with a single power base, i.e., course instructor, to achieve success in their academic pursuits. This hinders the ability of the future professionals to be prepared for contending with multiple bases of power as they start climbing the initial steps of the corporate ladder. Such challenges can be seen through the differences between a Functional Organizational Chart and a Power Organizational Chart of an organization. This also impacts the ability of the students to prepare themselves for the political labyrinth that is not taught as part of any curriculum. For example, how to survive in an organization with a shrewd boss who takes delight in climbing the corporate ladder on the initiatives of his/her team members while nudging them to oblivion…

Remedial  suggestions
First, the committees deciding the curriculum should be composed of a mixture of eminent professionals from the representative industries, e.g., prominent engineers invited to review the curriculum development for engineering courses, and academicians to ensure that a balanced approach to the needs of the market can be incorporated within the syllabus for the upcoming talent. The respective review should be on a yearly basis and have the flexibility of inviting new members after a specified period, e.g., 3 years, based upon the value addition provided by the existing members.

Secondly, prominent practitioners should be invited to attend formal and informal sessions with academicians to devise strategies for narrowing the gap between the knowledge given within the academic institutions and the needs of the prospective employers, e.g., multinationals, family-run local businesses, local corporate entities, looking to hire talent with the desired traits. Such interactions should be at least on a bi-annual basis. Additionally, long-term partnerships should be sought with software firms, especially in technical fields, to provide student packages and training programs for embellishing the curriculum with the required computer skills for students to prepare themselves for induction into the professional arena.

Third, provisions should be explored to release periodic findings from ongoing research in a copyrighted format to ensure that timely information is available to key stakeholders before formal publication of all its elements. Additionally, researchers should be invited as guest speakers and as joint panelists with practitioners in the same field to discuss and answer questions from an inquisitive audience comprising primarily of graduating students. Such sessions should be a necessary fixture of the final academic year for students along with site visits to prominent organizations at the forefront of business excellence.

Fourth, specialized courses on soft skills should be a mandatory part of the curriculum with topics ranging from buffering against organizational politics to leveraging strong networks within the organization and the relevant industry at large. Such emphasis will ensure that the personality aspect is also developed in the budding professional as an additional buffer to compensate for being the repository of mostly theoretical knowledge. Additionally, successful practitioners from a consultancy and managerial background should be invited to address such issues in open sessions of graduating students.

The aforementioned article has highlighted some of the challenges faced by recent graduates starting their professional careers in Pakistan. This is a glimpse of the gaps faced by the academic institutions in the private sector, e.g., Universities funded and governed by philanthropists. The situation is even worse for public sector academic institutions, e.g., Universities at the mercy of government grants and bowing to the whims of the bureaucrats swarming in the Education Ministry, where low enrollment standards and de-motivated instructors play havoc in terms of failing to produce the requisite talent for potential employers. The latter relegated to the cumbersome task of creating additional training sources to groom the available talent to the desired level. Such initiatives become even more questionable when employers are public sector organizations burdened with low levels of accountability, rigid hierarchical structures and huge egos to match.

Nevertheless, there are several positive initiatives underway by progressive educational institutions, e.g., Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Institute of Business Administration (IBA), in collaboration with alumni working in prominent subsidiaries of multinational organizations, e.g., Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Royal Dutch Shell, Pepsi, Standard Chartered Bank, Citibank, etc., to develop the desired talent pool for surviving in the precarious economic conditions. Such initiatives are being noticed by other educational institutions and it is hoped that the natural course of the competitive spirit will result in a plethora of talented individuals with the desired skills and competencies to augment the ranks of capable professionals in Pakistan, especially, with respect to the evolving demands of the Digital age.

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