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  • Khawaja Saud Masud

Overqualified & Underemployed


As I was walking out of the lecture room after one of my classes was over, a student approached me requesting just 2 minutes of my time. I was glad to hear him out. The beaming smile and nervous energy about him told me he was excited about something and wanted to share. He went on to inform me that he was about to complete his BBA degree later that month and already was interviewing with a couple of companies. I wished him luck on both fronts. He exclaimed he was the only one among his group of friends with interviews ongoing and that none of his other four friends was able to land an interview thus far. I just nodded.

Three months later that same student came over an reintroduced himself. I remembered him right away and asked about his interview process. With a familiar smile and confidence, he uttered “oh yeah, no, nothing happened but I already knew that.” I kind of stood quiet for a few seconds thinking about how to respond to that statement. I asked him out of curiosity why he was so excited earlier about the interviews last time we spoke, knowing these were a formality. His replied rather quickly “Sir, almost no one gets a job right after or right before degree completion and a BBA has a lot of market competition from MBAs so I have decided to enroll in the MBA program now. Earlier, I was just excited about getting the odd chance to interview - many don't even get this far.”

Since job seekers-to-jobs available ratio remains elevated, I am finding that a growing number of students are diving back into the formal education pool with hopes of strengthening their CV and riding out the unemployment air pocket. There are several issues here but let me just focus on the three main ones as I see them:

  1. When one enrolls in a university or college, one is truly an investor. You are investing your time, money and energy into a system seeking a return-on-investment (ROI) that should start paying dividends fairly soon after graduation. Most students I interact with complain about not being able to find employment anywhere between 6 months and 2 years after graduation. This creates a psychological, financial and social stress that makes them seek shelter back in the arms of the educational ecosystem. Returning to the university to seek further education is not the issue but doing so primarily out of social pressure around unproductivity and escaping the stress of being unemployed is a recipe for exponential angst.

  2. Those who avoid the all-or-nothing play, sometimes end up significantly underemployed. I know of several students who despite their MBA degrees are working in entry level retail positions where an average sales person is paid far less than the average car driver, cleaning maid or petrol station attendant. The level of frustration and stress with this group significantly mirrors those sticking with schooling over un- or underemployment.

  3. Whether you are on the path to aggregating qualifications but not real-world experience or significantly underliving your real-world potential, the realization that formal education alone is not the solution to progressing in life, is well proven and broadly accepted but almost no attention gets paid to this unacceptable phenomenon. Where is the outcry when our children and our families continually suffer this post-graduation stress? Why is it OK for a student to feel an interview or two is a great accomplishment and that his real plan of action is returning for "shelter" rather than walking in the rain of professional life?

Our system is flooding the market with qualified or overqualified candidates but what the market is thirsty for is a skilled workforce that can hit the ground running and enhance the company’s ROI. The supply-demand mismatch continues to dial up the pressure in our societies and at the individual level but we remain largely silent. I know some educational institutions are starting to promote skill development to complement formal education but frankly their collective impact is somewhat limited due to their own distribution or access constraints and the fact that our society at large doesn’t fully understand continuous learning and skill value.

We must reach out to primary and secondary education providers and instill the desperate need for practical skill building at an earlier stage. We must adapt our culture to risk-taking and self-sustainability/entrepreneurship. We must de-emphasize this social expectation of “get degrees to get married.” We absolutely must stop forcing students into the triangle of medicine-engineering-civil servant career options. Instead, our approach should be one of promoting limitless possibilities across science, technology, arts, engineering, etc. backed by genuine passion for practical learning and creativity. It is the time for integrated disciplines that will shape our future in amazing ways. Time be innovative and swift to catch up to the rest of the world, though to some it is no longer statistically possible. It is the time to give our children confidence that they belong and will be relevant in the years ahead. Step up and help make them employable and marketable. Engage your family, your politicians, your school principals, your companies but only truly count on yourself to affect change. Learn about the future trends in earnest and help navigate your child's future accordingly. Ask yourself a simple question; which skills can your child learn today from which he or she may earn tomorrow?

#overqualified #underemployed #skills #jobs #unemployment #entrepreneruship #education #university #college #marketable #youth

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