Beyond Zeroes: Can Placements Impact Career Choices?

Campus placements are still a relatively new concept in the traditional graduation/ post-graduation setup. Placements till date, are very limited to professional courses and that too among the more popular institutes serving these courses. The lack of having a proper placement setup can be attributed to various factors including the limited opportunities, lack of infrastructure or even the relative newness of the concept.

Often eminent institutes shy away from the concept of placements and do not have a dedicated placement cell to cater to the different needs of the student. Students are often encouraged to find their feet by themselves for shaping their careers. Some of the demerits of this lie in the fact that the students are young, inexperienced and often need a guiding force to encourage them to go beyond the traditional and popular choice of careers.

Technical or professional courses come with a structured view on future prospects for a student and have dedicated teams/ mentors helping them out should they need some guidance or an extra push. Especially seen in the case of Arts/ Science subjects, students have limited knowledge about different options they might have post their time at the university and they are left to wonder which option would be better suited to their respective skill sets.

Current placements scenario:

According to AICTE, only 30% of the students enrolled in a course are able to secure placements. This value is only indicative of 10,000 odd AICTE approved institutions. If we consider the total number of universities in India, the average student placement comes out to be barely 10% of the total intake. The bulk of placements (about 85%) comprise students from Tech and Management backgrounds. Commerce, Economics, Law form another 5%. This leaves barely 10% for the vast gamut of courses available to all in the higher education space. This number is disheartening, especially as we see the number of institutions on the rise, along with the number of varied courses that are being introduced every year in these institutions. Not all of it is bleak though! The same source indicates that in the past 6 years, there has been a 30% increase in the number of students offered placements through dedicated campus drives, although the major chunk of this increase is attributed to the increased numbers in engineering colleges.

The major questions remain: What happens to the students who enroll in non-technical courses? What are the career paths available to them? How do they go about pursuing a corporate career? A lot of these questions are directed at the universities that take up the onus of shaping a student’s career once he/she sets foot in the institution of his/her choice. More and more students look at determining the ROI that the institute gives before securing admissions at the under-graduate and post-graduate level. In such a scenario, how do age-old traditional and reputed institutes ensure that they attract the best talent pool that takes forward the legacy of the institute? How do these “non-technical” institutes match up with colleges that run a structured placement process? Is it important to have one at all? We try to dissect these questions in the paragraphs below.

Importance of having a placement setup:

While it is agreeable that placements are not the sole metric in evaluating a university’s stature or a student’s worth, having a steady and recurrent placement process surely is a benefit in many ways.

For the students, opportunities in the form of projects and internships help them leverage the skills that they have inculcated during their course into the real world. Their abilities are tested, their skills are honed, and they are able to apply the skills that they have gained in real-world situations. Not only does this provide experience, it also paves the way for a student to work towards a career of his/her choice. Often students are unaware of the different roads lying ahead of them post their studies and working on different projects provides them a sense of direction in the way they want to approach their careers.

This is especially true for Arts and Science graduates as subjects like English, History, Political Science or Physics do not necessarily come with a focused and dedicated role in the corporate space and thus students are often left wondering which roads to take.

Limited opportunities in Academia:

Another major reason why institutes should look at placement opportunities has major links to the limited scope of higher education/ research in India. Only 15- 20% of the batch are able to avail opportunities to go for a PhD or an M.Phil in the subjects of their choice. Regulatory limitations, research funds, low private PhD stipends from autonomous universities and limited opportunities through NET, SLATE, GATE and other entrance tests often come as a hindrance to those seeking out opportunities in academia.

Additionally, placements and internships also ensure a steady stream of income for a student whose need for economic stability is far greater than the choice of exploration when it comes to opportunities.

Countering the problem of accessibility:

Having a dedicated placement cell allows students to cash in on the various opportunities available to them and also gives them a wider playing field to choose from. Students in their late teens and early twenties, rarely come with the necessary foresight, connections, experience or even the platform necessary to showcase their skills and experiment in various ways. Thus, the involvement of the institute plays a huge role in shaping their mindset and their outlook. Not only do they get to understand the different avenues available to them, but also gain knowledge and mentorship from the experienced members of the university placement team.

Moreover, it also gives a student some direction on how to proceed towards shaping a meaningful career path for themselves. The students often are not certain about the way forward after their graduation. They are left wondering on how to traverse the gap between the campus and the corporate space. They also do not always have a solid platform to help them ease out this process of transition. Most fine arts and performing arts courses are dependent on honing your skills over a period of time through continued internships and field events. Apprenticeship thus forms a key part of their experience. However, these opportunities are hard to come by and suitable mentors often elusive. The presence of a placement cell can help solve many of these practical problems that plague students and help them through the winding lanes of self-discovery.

Short term v/s Long-term Goals:

The need for placement opportunities can also be tied to the education system in India. Unfortunately, the structure of school or graduate courses is such that one cannot pick and choose subjects at one’s own free will. There are strict mandates from Councils, Ministries, university boards, etc. regarding the combinations that you can opt for which limits the scope of exploration from a very early stage. Thus, students are asked from the time they enter high school to choose “subjects”, rather than think from a holistic career point of view. This short-term solution leads them to opt for popular or known courses from eminent institutions. Very rarely do the students have sufficient clarity over how they would be able to leverage these choices to build a career of their choice. Moreover, the choice of subjects at the graduate level for most courses, even in the most reputed institutes, is directly proportional to the scores that they achieve in their final board exams, which also takes away from actually having a choice in the whole admissions and subject-selection mayhem. Thus, the opportunities that on-field projects, activities, internships, etc. bring out a positive change from the rather limited and blinkered path that is seemingly mapped for the students right at the outset. They are able to grow, experience and decide for themselves if they should opt for a copy-writing or an editing job, or whether content marketing could be a better suited option or maybe an internship at a niche art studio would help them venture into niche and emerging areas such as animation, publishing or sports journalism.

Campus placements used as an exploratory tool:

 Campus placements in institutes do not necessarily have to be about taking home the biggest salaries, the mad rush and hysteria surrounding Day Zero, all the supposed metrics that have been popularized by the media and certain b-schools we have come to admire. It is a way of self-discovery, of finding your way through the experiences that you gain, the skills that you hone, the sense of professionalism that you inculcate as you interact with various members at different levels of the industry and the choice to explore certain paths that you hadn’t really thought about or did not have the opportunity to explore. It doesn’t need to be borne out of immediacy, but is necessary nonetheless for the overall betterment of the students.

 

Medha Chatterjee