The ‘Job-Ready Graduate’ in the post Covid-19 world | Sunday Observer

The ‘Job-Ready Graduate’ in the post Covid-19 world

As you have already heard, perhaps even more than you would have liked to; people are talking about a ’new normal’ all over the world.

There are many social norms, practices, and etiquette which would fall into this category of ‘new normal’ and which have been the ‘old normal’ in most of the other countries for centuries. Not spitting in open public spaces and maintaining social distancing by respecting each other’s personal space are a couple of such norms, that most of us hope Sri Lankans will continue to practice for the rest of their lives. There are many such norms which have been discussed and introduced which we all, as a collective, can and should incorporate in our daily routines.

There are also habits and rituals to be followed to improve and sustain life on the planet and I certainly hope that a majority of us will be successful in achieving these goals. Since most of us have our receptors open to this very timely topic of ‘new normal’, I would like to share with you just two of the key points about this process. a) Humans in general like to live in their comfort zones and resist change b) The ‘new normal’ developed economies of the world are talking about may still be, optimistically speaking, a century away from our horizons.

Looking back at similar situations, pandemics, wars and natural disasters, one might be able to see how much of predicted changes we really have achieved after each crisis. One doesn’t have to go that far to see how comfortable we are with back packs at present, just one year after the Easter bombing, especially being the country once identified by the Time magazine as the birthplace of suicide bombing.

This may not be the time to go into details about the point a) above other than to say that psychologists might refer to this natural tendency of resisting change as the ‘inertia of the body and the mind’ while neurobiologists might explain it using the network of wiring between the neocortex and the other parts of our brain. Irrespective of the explanations given, resisting change is known the world over, as a common characteristic of human beings. We can only hope that all these improvements expected as the ‘new normal’ would materialise within the social conduct of the general public of the country at the earliest possible time.

The ‘new normal’ developed economies of the world are talking about has more to do with their domestic and foreign policies than the social conduct of individuals in public places. This too can be seen by looking back at similar situations in the past.

Some of the changes we experienced after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers of New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC in the USA are stricter security checks in and around airports and increased surveillance around the world, mass deportation of people of middle-eastern origin from western countries, racial profiling and increased violent attacks on brown skinned people in western countries and of course, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the USA.

Continuation of these even after nineteen years, certainly qualify them to be some of the conditions that the world has come to accept as the ’new normal’ after 2001. But a drastic drop in air travel, the most anticipated ‘new normal’ after 9/11 did not turn out to be the case. The fact that there was no drastic change in international travel after any of the previous such crises and pandemics would perhaps make one expect a similar situation after Covid-19 too. One can certainly expect changes in the trade and foreign policies of the US and countries in Europe. Countries will be on a higher alert about viruses and diseases crossing their borders from other countries.

People in general will also be reluctant to be out of their homeland for longer periods, especially for employment, since there is a possibility of being locked down for extended periods.

At the same time, most of the countries will be struggling to provide employment to their own citizens let alone migrants. The world has had a good opportunity to learn about the pros and cons of ‘work from home’ in different types of industries and some companies are even encouraging their employees to take that option for the rest of their contract period, if they prefer to do so. Most of the small and medium businesses might be forced to file for bankruptcy leaving only the big companies that have the strength to ride the storm locally and the multinationals whose tentacles are long enough to grab on to the resources that others cannot reach. Universities around the world will experience a drop in the numbers of international students, both in undergraduate and postgraduate programs, and hence a drop in their revenue and the resource pool especially, in their research programs.

This brief description would give you an idea about what to look for to understand how this ‘new normal’ is going to shape the economies around the world.

There will be a ‘new capitalism’ in the horizon. ‘Work from home’ does not necessarily mean that the home has to be in the same country as where the main company is. That might make the companies to look for the best employees, ‘knowledge workers’, for the lowest cost, in all the countries around the world.

The death of some of those small and medium businesses/industries will create a gap in the supply chain, which perhaps, even will make it harder for the remaining big players to function. The rural farmers will find it difficult to get their product out into the supply chain or to do any value addition without the support of that small and/or medium business/industry. This will create opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with more efficient, reliable and technologically advanced mechanisms to fill that gap. Universities around the world will reach out to international students, even more aggressively than now, through their online programs and/or affiliated institutions.

When certain types of industries go down certain other types will come up. Passenger air travel came to a halt during this Covid-19 pandemic but cargo movement went up, since there were state to state or country to country movement of medical supplies and equipment and also the home deliveries of people’s needs and wants through their internet shopping. The international airport in Anchorage, Alaska became the world’s busiest airport, with increased cargo movement, during the pandemic since it is located halfway between Asia and North America. That means the demand for all the supporting logistic services went up creating opportunities for entrepreneurs.

What does all this have to do with making the post Covid-19 graduate ‘job-ready’? Well, this is just a glimpse of knowledge, in addition to his/her preferred subject expertise, that the post Covid-19 graduate must have in order to be ‘job-ready’.

Clearly, they should have good communication skills both in their native language and in English. As we see now, almost all the areas of work, whether it is in an agricultural, industrial or knowledge economy, involve some kind of Information and Communication Technology.

Therefore, the graduates with advanced computer skills, irrespective of their field of study, will certainly have an advantage over the ones who do not.

As it came up at a couple of places in the above brief description about the ‘new capitalism’, there will be many opportunities for entrepreneurs in all kinds of different sectors.

Therefore, the post Covid-19 graduates must have an idea about entrepreneurship, must develop their analytical and logical thinking so, that they can analyse the environment they are facing and find out the opportunities quickly and calculate the gains and risks to make the optimum decision at any given point in time.

The graduate should be able to have a broader vision about what his/her unique contribution to the world is going to be and consider him/herself as a valuable asset to the world economy.

The graduate who understands his proper value will not sell himself short to an employer. He might try his entrepreneurial skills instead. Graduates should have their self-confidence developed so that they are able to stand on their own feet and make their own decisions as free thinkers who are not afraid to take risks.

The graduate who is hired for a job may feel that the employer did him/her a favour by giving a job. But then he/she should certainly attend to their tasks and achieve their targets and goals so that the employer will start feeling that this particular graduate is doing him a favour.

Therefore, attitudinal adjustments should also be part of the training of the degree program. They should be ready to re-evaluate the environment they are living in, both locally and globally, with the new players and perhaps new parameters that have come in so that they can adjust their plans accordingly.

If one graduates with an engineering degree that does not necessarily mean that one has to work as an engineer for the rest of his life. They should be ready to change their career path into a totally different direction or start up a business, if and when needed, especially, in a knowledge economy. This new path or business may not even have anything common with the subjects they studied for the degree.

The degree should provide all these other skills together with the specialised knowledge in a particular area, so, that this graduate not only is ready for a job but also ready to even create jobs for others.

(The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected])

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