BY SHAHID DURRANI:
It is widely acknowledged that the youth plays a crucial role in the development of any society. When educated and forward-thinking, the youth can greatly accelerate the process of societal reforms and growth.
However, in the current era of digitalization, emerging technologies, and a knowledge economy, our educated youth is facing risks. Despite being vibrant, tech-savvy, and possessing higher IQs, many young people are trapped in illusions, believing that information equates to knowledge, connection equals relationships, and convenience leads to happiness.
These misconceptions often lead the majority of youth to become complacent, unprepared for the challenges ahead, and misjudge the ever-rising cutthroat competition of the “survival of the fittest.” While it was traditionally believed that entry into the corporate sector or high-paying job markets was highly competitive, the landscape has evolved. Seeking a career in the public sector or pursuing entrepreneurship has become equally competitive and challenging.
Career Counseling and Placement Challenges in Pakistani Universities: Despite its increasing significance and utility, the majority of public and private sector universities in Pakistan lack established career counseling and placement centers. Only a few universities have noteworthy practices in this regard. In today’s globalized world, where local job markets face challenges due to international connectivity, the surge in international e-commerce jobs, and post-COVID-19 competition, Pakistani universities must step up and guide their graduating students.
Unfortunately, our universities are heavily skewed towards traditional academic content, outdated syllabi, and face challenges in adopting contemporary subjects due to regulatory environments and accreditation bodies. The conventional methods of work, lack of teacher-student connectivity, and paper-based research that often deviates from practical societal issues have contaminated the university culture to a large extent. Non-contemporary content and outdated teaching methodologies are quickly becoming irrelevant.
It appears that our higher education institutions are content with maintaining this culture in isolation, while the rest of the world is moving in a different direction. Universities in developed and developing countries are redefining their future roles in light of emerging technologies and the knowledge economy. While the lack of funding and policy discontinuity contribute to this deterioration, simply addressing financial issues without addressing the underlying culture and practices will hardly bring about the desired change.
The Need for Early Career Guidance: By the time young students enter university, they have already fallen victim to prototype thinking and the prevailing hearsay that permeates secondary education. The rigidly calculated semester durations in universities prioritize academic content and syllabi, leaving little or no room for direction setting, guidance, and skills development. I firmly advocate for handholding and career counseling for young students starting from secondary education.
This is the stage in which youth require mentoring and coaching more than ever before. Unfortunately, students at this stage are too focused on rote learning and subjected to regimented environments that stifle independent thinking. If we truly understand the significance of career counseling, we should aim to have trained counselors at each college, or at the very least, a few counselors in each tehsil or district. This would generate impactful results, significantly improving the quality of university graduates. Currently, only a fortunate few, who have received a better education and upbringing, excel in university, while the majority struggle due to average or below-average schooling and family backgrounds.
The Role of Universities: Universities possess vast resources, intellectual capital, infrastructure, and everything needed to bring about tangible changes in society. However, the prevailing complacency, resistance to out-of-the-box thinking, lack of synergy, and diminishing urge to be flag bearers for societal development are limiting factors. The faculty and administration of universities must break out of their silos and create synergies to leverage collective wisdom. The days of relying solely on classroom-based academic teaching are over. We must adopt a broader perspective, with universities engaging in meaningful conversations and collaborations with one another for the greater good. To be competitive and make a real impact, students need to be equipped with employability skills, knowledge of emerging technologies, and techniques for branding themselves as valuable human resources. Who better to act as counselors and torchbearers than the teachers themselves? The teaching faculty must take charge of students’ skills development and career guidance by opening their doors to external stakeholders, academic partners, industrial experts, and potential employers.
IUB and the Directorate of Career Counseling and Placement Center: Thanks to the visionary and unconventional leadership of Vice Chancellor Engr. Prof. Dr. Athar Mahboob (TI), the Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB) has experienced significant growth and development over the past four years. On one hand, IUB has witnessed exponential growth in the number of faculties, departments, students, and staff. On the other hand, the university has made significant investments in co-curricular activities, career counseling, training, skills development, and efforts to connect with industry and job markets.
One of the strategic initiatives implemented during Prof. Athar’s tenure is the establishment of the Directorate of Career Counseling and Placement Center (CCPC) in Q-3, 2021. With the support and guidance of the university’s leadership, the CCPC has been able to think outside the box and implement a wide range of initiatives. The center’s very first director, with 22 years of experience in the corporate sector, academia, and entrepreneurship, has led the way.
Over the past 20 months, the CCPC has adopted a multi-pronged strategy, including establishing operations, raising awareness, engaging key stakeholders, and conducting training and skills development sessions. The center has also fostered partnerships with industry, resulting in tangible outcomes in terms of graduate employability and enhancing the brand image of IUB.
Achievements of the Career Counseling and Placement Center at IUB: Within the span of 20 months, the CCPC at IUB has achieved significant milestones. The center has conducted 80 training and awareness sessions, 21 skills development sessions, and organized 5 conferences, 11 seminars, and expert talks under the ambit of career counseling. Additionally, the placement office has facilitated 42 recruitment drives, 38 internship drives, organized 1 career fair, and signed MoUs with 10 partner organizations for skills development and placement of IUB students. The center has also strengthened industrial collaborations, incorporating employer feedback to align the graduates’ skill sets with industry expectations.
These efforts have yielded positive results, with IUB graduates, including students in their 6th and 7th semesters, securing employment opportunities with reputable employers in major urban centers like Karachi and Lahore. Furthermore, the CCPC actively collaborates with the Directorate of Alumni to explore placement opportunities for graduates.
Innovative Initiatives at IUB: Among the many initiatives implemented in 2022, three flagship and strategic milestones stand out: the establishment of the IUB Competitive Exams Center (ICEC), the Young Leaders Program (YLP), and the IUB Skills and Career Society. IUB is the first public sector university to establish an authentic and quality center like the ICEC, which prepares young aspirants from the university and the region for competitive exams such as CSS, PMS, one-paper exams, and aptitude tests.
The ICEC boasts excellent infrastructure, competent teachers, and facilities like libraries and hostels, enabling young aspirants to realize their dreams of success. The YLP is another unconventional initiative aimed at developing future leaders among IUB students. The program provides an additional 60 hours of professional training and sessions with successful leaders within and outside the university, without compromising regular semester teaching. Students are selected for the YLP through a competitive process.
Academia and Industrial Linkage
For the universities to play their real and tangible role in societal development, inclusiveness and openness for industry are the areas where all HEIs need to focus on in months to come. Currently this linkage with industry is mere lip service and board room terminology, which has resulted in significant trust deficit between academia and industry. Industry do not see solutions of their issues and applied research coming out from universities, whereas universities on the other hand are hardly willing and capable enough to talk to industry with workable solutions and producing graduates as per industrial requirements.
The industry, which is largest placement platform for graduates, look for complete human resource package not just degree. The graduates with decent degree clubbed with grip on core subject knowledge, desired confidence level, better communication, acceptable attitude, team player traits, appetite for leaning and leadership skills are more sellable than the rest of the lot.
Gone are the days when these were called as “soft skill”, instead modern world is branding them as professional or leadership skills. Universities should equip their students with these mandatory skills with well structured and conducive learning environment where office of career counseling, faculty and industry join hands to brand their graduates for enhanced employability. Cross functional teams can be formed to device and execute such plans with defined milestones and leadership support.
This gulf needs to be bridged before widening further and our regulatory bodies as well as universities leaderships need to do the necessary ground leveling in order to achieve acceptable level. Career counseling and skills development is not any transactional activity instead it’s a process, therefore the occasional events, seminars, conferences, MoUs and short-term engagements will help achieve the fraction of larger objectives.
The need for handholding and career counseling of young students and graduates is much more that ever before. Pakistani youth, amidst fast paced global changes and emerging technologies, is at risk and requires for immediate direction setting and practical steps to transform them into enablers in national development.
(The writer is serving as Director Career Counseling and Placement Center (CCPC) at IUB. He is an MBA and MS Management Sciences from Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise include management, marketing, administration, people management, communication, counseling, skills development and academia industry linkage. Hee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)