On July 30, 2020, Dr. Sandeep Sancheti, Vice Chancellor of SRM Institute of Science and Technology, joined Simplilearn's Chief Business Officer, Kashyap Dalal, for a conversation about how new graduates can adapt to the rapid changes in the job market. Dr. Sancheti, known as Institution Builder, is the Past President of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU). Formerly he was the President of Manipal University Jaipur, Director NIT Delhi and Director NITK Surathkal. He holds a Ph.D. from Queens University of Belfast UK, M.Sc. (Engg.) from DTU Delhi and B.Tech from NIT Warangal, New Delhi.

He and Kashyap had a wide-ranging discussion on how to prepare to enter the job market today.

What is Different Today?

Looking back over the past fifteen years, the pace of change has been very rapid, Dr. Sancheti said. One main factor is how computer technology has become omnipresent over that period. In parallel, Internet access has become faster, more reliable, and more available. But much more than technology is different today: as Dr. Sancheti puts it, "the way we meet, the way we greet, the way we eat, everything is changing in a big fashion, and that impacts the student, the teacher, the relationship between them, the educational system, and the job market as well."

Fifteen years ago, a graduate's main objective was to get a good job right out of school, perhaps going abroad. Today, Dr. Sancheti finds graduates are more aspirational, want a more well-rounded life, and are happy to seek it close to home. Where once graduates thought of government jobs as prestigious, today they prefer technology.

While students' dreams and goals may have changed, the educational system remains bound to more traditional ways of doing things. Only in the last few years has it begun to shift toward a student-centric approach. Technology has reached a stage where the educational system can take advantage of it to serve students better.

Kashyap observed that Simplilearn has seen this evolution in just the past few years. When we introduced online live virtual classrooms, some learners still expressed a preference for offline classes. Over time, learners increasingly adopted the live virtual classroom - and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the option of offline classrooms went away.

The job market and industry expectations have evolved in parallel with the changes in the students' environment. In the past, employers looked for graduates to bring a body of knowledge and mastery of a domain. Now, however, employers understand that knowledge in any field evolves rapidly, so they now look for adaptable candidates who show the ability to learn. The future may be more unpredictable now than ever before, and companies want people who can pivot to changing circumstances. Dr. Sancheti advises that graduates cultivate dynamism, diversity of skills, and an orientation toward international cooperation. Whatever domain you have mastered, you need to broaden your skills to a more diverse set.

What Should We Expect in the Coming Months?

The pace of change is still accelerating. The pandemic drove some sudden change, and the after-effects are still working themselves out. In education, where previously the educator's goal was to cover the material in the syllabus, it is now to uncover that material, to reveal why we should study it and where it will be applied. That same kind of 180-degree phase shift is happening in employment.

The pandemic has forced many changes. Whether educational institutions showed interest in or resistance to virtual and online instruction, the pandemic forced adoption. Where there had been a reluctance for collaboration between institutions, the pandemic has prompted them to work together on practical solutions to the problems it has created.

It's also caused societal changes. People now have a greater appreciation for the need to use resources, including time, more efficiently. The Sustainable Development Goals created by the UN have been around for some time, but now people are taking them to heart. The lockdown has caused people to interact with their families more closely and regularly, leading to shifts in how they see work-life balance.

Where students once put a priority on studying what would help them get a good job on graduation, now they are more likely to study what will help them do the kind of work they want to do. This trend followed the economy's growth, as rising prosperity gave people a greater sense of security. Today, there are also more career tracks open to people: careers that were once considered riskier or less desirable have become more popular. Therefore, an engineering graduate may choose a career outside engineering that they find more interesting.

Hiring for Aptitude Versus Hiring for Skills

Students may not have clarity on what career they want to pursue. At the same time, the expectations of industry continually change. The education system tries to equip students with a broad range of knowledge and skills so that they can choose from a variety of careers and fill a variety of job requirements.

Dr. Sancheti amplified on this. He said that it's essential for graduates to cultivate the habit of self-paced learning and have practical skills to rely on. It's not sufficient to be an "I-shaped" professional whose knowledge and skills are stacked in one area of specialization. Now it's essential to become "T-shaped" by developing a broad set of skills that complement one's core skills and knowledge. He also recommends that those broader skills include analytical thinking and logical skills because these can provide the adaptability that supports any career choice one makes. He also advises that graduates acquire digital skills that allow them to apply computer technology in whatever field they choose, no matter what challenges arise.

In building your career, Dr. Sancheti says, you engage in the process of selection and elimination. Start by identifying your goals and look to the courses and skills that will help you achieve them. Be aware that a goal can be a moving target as your life experiences change you, and external circumstances change your environment.  

Understand that success and failure are the two sides of the same coin and that your knowledge and skills can give that coin a bias in favor of success. Rather than relying entirely on yourself, learn to share with others: sharing your success will make it grow, and sharing your failures (in the sense of asking for help) will make them go. Think of getting a patent on an invention: the purpose of a patent is not to keep an idea secret, but rather to make it safe to share with the world.

Kashyap and Dr. Sancheti warned against measuring success by getting a high-paying job right out of school. What helps to ensure long-term success is finding a job that matches your aptitude, interests, and skills because you will do it well. You should also seek to gain exposure to the wider world to broaden your vision about what is possible and gain the confidence that you can match up to anyone, anywhere.

Dr. Sancheti also responded to several questions from the viewing audience. You can watch the entire webinar replay:

If you are interested in becoming, as Dr. Sancheti described it, a "T-shaped graduate" with a breadth of skills to complement your core field of expertise, you can find many options with Simplilearn. Having additional digital skills can give you an advantage in any career you pursue.