Employability – The New Mantra

Madan Lal Pradhan

‘Great on paper’ is no guarantee for success. Academic qualifications cease to be of any help if there are no matching contributions. The present-day business requirements are very different and demanding than what they used to be. To be successful in the corporate world, everyone should contribute towards value addition besides being resourceful. Upgradation of skillsets, especially those which are relevant to the business is a prerequisite for one’s own and the organization’s survival and growth.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, workers were experiencing a rapid decline in job security. Business professionals were constantly on the lookout for the next job opportunity to advance their careers. Before the pandemic, the old paradigm of ‘lifetime job guarantees’ had largely disappeared especially for millennials. Gen Z will undoubtedly experience even more employment moves.

Clearly, there is less loyalty of employers to employees and from employees to the companies that employ them. The emphasis has switched from long-term loyalty to “transactional” relationships in which both employers and employees seek to get what they can from a shorter relationship.
The future lies in the job holder and not in the job. The era of lifetime corporate careers had its moments of historical dominance but is now on its way to becoming extinct. Employment security, today, does not come from being employed, but from employability.

For many years the employability brand has been on shaky ground. “For some, employability is little more than a ‘buzzword’ that is more often used than properly understood. Or, “a fuzzy notion, often ill-defined and sometimes not defined at all.

Without wishing to enter the rabbit hole of debating what employability is, or should be defined as this definition best fits my own view:
“Doing value-creating work, getting paid for it and learning at the same time, enhancing the ability to get work in the future.” (Ghoshal 1997)
This is an era of protean employees who can perform not only one role but a variety of roles with equal competence and proactivity. Organizations need to develop an enabling and facilitative work climate for the growth of such employees. Here the role of the top management becomes crucial. The initiative for cultural change always comes from the top and is usually inspired by their dreams and visions. As always, no lasting achievement is possible without a vision. These initiatives have got to be institutionalized; simply individual excellence is not enough. Responsibility for the performance of the whole organization should be a felt need. The interventions which should be focused in this direction are:

  • Developing an organizational structure that would produce synergy, not conflicts.
  • Finding ways to maintain a flow of new ideas toward new products and new ventures.
  • Benchmarking, products, services, and practices against the company’s toughest competitors.
  • Emphasis on turning employees’ talents into productivity, ambition into self-performance, and change into opportunity.
  • Anchoring on productivity, relations, and quality values for achieving market leadership.

These areas being critical, if not given the desired attention, will have an adverse effect on competitiveness. It will eventually prove detrimental to the business interest of the company. Therefore, under the changed globalized market-driven. conditions, the focus has to shift from employment to employability-making sure the employees not only have but have marketable, up-to-date skills to be able to move from one career field to another. The ultimate aim is self-reliance or employability security. It promotes one’s own growing reputation and the growing set of contact makes employees in charge of their careers. We have to get out of the fortress mentality. And it is the organization that has to create conditions for building career reliance.

The knowledge age has also brought with it a shift from machine dominance to mind dominance-with all its impact on human existence across the globe, Knowledge, and technology do not require a passport and visa to cross international boundaries.

Employees are not born with self-confidence. Self-confidence comes through success, experience, and a potential growth environment. The right quality of work life is a must for creating the right climate. No one can rise above one’s own environment.

The strategic HR interventions for facilitating employees to acquire and improve relevant skill sets on a continuous basis, inter-alia are:

Learning Environment
Training and retraining, including on-the-job training, nomination to external programs and conferences, and paper presentations are experiences, that employees can share with their team members and colleagues. Other resources for the ongoing development of employees can be training aids, infrastructure facilities, in-house libraries, computer-based training, success story sharing, and suggestion schemes with built-in rewards systems, both for innovative suggestions and acquiring relevant professional and skill-based qualifications.

Subordinates’ Development
Several mechanisms can be built into the system to ensure the effective utilization of feedback for culture building like appraisal systems, open-house sessions, feedback, exit interview, inputs, and post-training follow-up and action plans. The beauty is that once it gets institutionalized, it creates its own leaders. Hence proactive culture needs to be evolved.

Horizontal and Vertical Growth
Job rotation, job enlargement and job enrichment are very effective HR techniques to equip employees with the necessary skill-sets to enable them to take up higher responsibilities as they grow in the company.

Personnel Power 
Cross-functional transfer and nomination to various task committees and projects have proved very effective to manage continuous discontinuities. These techniques are not only necessary but essential to provide the right opportunities to the employees to gain confidence and competence to move freely from one job to another. This ensures their employability and job security with its resultant positive impact on organizational performance.

Multi-Skill Work Norms and Jobless Growth  
Skill sets have to be upgraded on a continuous basis. This is only possible when the work climate provides the necessary impetus to one and all.

Stipulations such as linkage of increment, promotion, and rewards to the acquisition of new skills, knowledge, achievement of annual targets, training of subordinates, elimination of non-value adding activities with thrust on paperless office, doing away with departmental boundaries, encouraging competency and results in achievement and not seniority. Loyalty and seniority do get noticed and are given added weightage when the desired performance standards are met and not otherwise.

“The need of the hour is to create a culture of urgency with a focus on employability. Change is permanent and changes have to be managed with imagination. Otherwise, change will start managing us.”

Today’s market realities have made everyone insecure. No employer can promise how long he can be in business. He is not sure whether he can avert take over of his business. There is no guarantee for lifetime employment with time-bound upward mobility. Under these circumstances, loyalty and seniority have ceased to command a premium.

The information technology revolution with its cascading syndromes has posed the biggest challenge to all disciplines without exception. Human relations specialties have a very decisive role to play. As catalysts and change agents, they have to identify and categorize all the human competencies within the organization into three areas: Strategic, Core and Requisites. This is necessary for innovation, improvement, and discontinuity, both on a short-term and long-term basis since at the end of the day, we bet on people for a competitive edge for breaking new limits.

Putting together the variables in an equation is the challenge we all face. In the musical Hamilton, the actors sing about the “Room where it happened.” Our offices, departments, and organization are where it should happen. In organizations, the basic formula is simple:
Assessment + Attitude + Learning & Development + Energy + Initiative + Innovation = Employability

Pradhan is a Human Resource Specialist, Management Consultant and an Educator.

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