Articles

CHOOSING CAREER PATHS

“Intoxicated by the novelty and the spiritual wealth of the world that books had revealed to me, I at began to consider books finer, more interesting and asking to me than people were, and was, I think, a little blinded by looking upon the realities of life through the prism of books.  However, life, the wisest and severest of teachers, soon cured me of that delightful blindness”.

- Maxim Gorky

Chapter – I

 

INTRODUCTION

LONG-TERM VISION

The vision for a Developed India is fast becoming an accepted mantra in many parts of our society.  Many companies and institutions have started announcing statements of Vision 2020 or Vision 2015 or Vision 2010 for themselves.  Some of them produce detailed documents.  This means they are prepared to take a long-term set up for themselves broad objectives to realize the Vision.  Such statements and objectives might have been derived after a lot of analysis and then make a jump through informed intuition where they want to be.  Or the process could have been done totally through a normative process that means you decide what you want to be and make a statement and drive the whole system towards it.  Whichever be the process, there is a long-term vision to look forward to and do a lot of detailed work to make things happen.  It may be struggles every week, months or even few years before one can see the first elements of success towards a long-term vision.

The need of a vision for a country has been articulated by Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, who is now the President of our country.  In his acceptance speech as the President of India on 25th July’02, he has emphasised about the importance of India becoming a developed country soon.   When he was delivering the speech, I was in the Central Hall of Parliament.  In my mind came what has been told in the bestseller book “India 2020: a Vision for the New Millennium”. I was fortunate to be associated with Dr. Kalam in wiring this book.  The chapter-12 of book ‘India 2020’ ends with a statement “India is a nation of a billion people.  A nation’s progress depends upon how its people think.  It is thoughts, which are transformed into actions.  India has to think as a nation of a billion people.  Let the young minds blossom – full of thoughts, the thoughts of prosperity”.

I was hearing the Vision 2020 being stated by the new President.  It was warmly and heavily applauded by the Council of Ministers, Members of Parliaments, Chief Ministers, Diplomats, many eminent public figures present there.  Let me quote the portions from the acceptance speech

Quote “Today our country is facing challenges such as cross border terrorism, certain internal conflicts and un-employment.  To face these challenges, there must be a vision to ensure focused action of one billion citizens of this great country with varied capabilities.  What can be that vision?  It can be none other than transforming India into a ‘Developed Nation’.  Can Government alone achieve this Vision?  Now, we need a movement in the country.  This is the time to ignite the minds of the people for this movement.  We will work for it.  We cannot emerge as a developed nation if we do not learn to transact with speed…..This vision of developed nation needs to be achieved with Parliamentary democracy, which is the core of our governance system.  The basic structure of our Constitution has stood the test of time.  I am confident that it will continue to responsive to the demands of changing situations….If youth have to sing the song of India, India should become a developed country which is free from poverty, illiteracy and unemployment  and is buoyant with economic prosperity, national security and internal harmony.

“I will keep the lamp of knowledge burning

to achieve the vision – Developed India” Unquote

After I had finalized this chapter, I heard the Independence Day speech of our Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2002.  It was his fifth such speech and that day was the 55 year after our Independence.  I am quoting some extracts from his speech:

Quote:  Our aim is to free India from the curse of poverty and unemployment.  It is to make India a Developed Nation by 2020.  When this country of one billion people works with a common resolve, then no goal is impossible to achieve.  The Tenth-0Plan has set the target of eight percent yearly growth in GDP.

We are taking some important new measures for economic and social development.  These will be announced separately today.

I appeal to you to display the same emotional unity on the issue of National Development as you always do on the issue of National Security.

Come, let us make Development a powerful people’s Movement…..

….This fifty-fifth anniversary of Independence conveys one more message to us.  And that message is that all of us strive to our utmost for the realization of the dream of making India a Developed Nation.

May our goal be the limitless heights of the sky.

May our feet be on the ground.

May our minds be full of unyielding determination.

May our hands be clasped together.

May our resolve be to march together.

If we do this, our victory is certain.  Come, let all of us unitedly affirm this resolve with the victorious salutation of Jai Hind.” Unquote

What a powerful call!

President and Prime Minister making a clarion call in unison!

I was not only fortunate to be associated with the writing of book India 2020 but also with the whole process of engineering the detailed road maps as Technology Vision for India 2020 with twenty five documents brought out by TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council).  These documents or reports were prepared after well researched hard work by 500 persons poring over many documents which are not only related to science and technology but also to those related to performance of businesses, emerging business scenarios and socio-economic aspects of the country in an emerging global context.  The teams also got inputs from about 5000 experts in the country from different walks of life. 

Earlier during the period 1988-94 when I was involved in shaping TIFAC from the basic foundation studying many areas of our economy and assessing their technological needs through technology forecasting and assessment methods, it was a rewarding experience.  But it was also painful experience because in many areas, India, which had excellent potentials in terms of natural and human resources, was lagging behind technologically.  There has been a sort of ‘technological stagnation’ in most sectors of industry, agriculture and services, i.e. the economy as a whole. This meant that India was not having enough economic business and technological strengths to compete in a global market and also face others in our own domestic front.

I still remember vividly a brochure from CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) an apex industry association in the country in 1994.  I was associated during the early part of doing the exercise Technology Vision for India 2020.  There is a statement in the brochure:

Quote “Looking back into cycle of history reveals that China and India accounted for 73% of world manufacturing output in 1750s.  Even in 1830, the share was above 60%.  It was only after the Industrial Revolution in Europe that the share dropped to 8%.  But we believe that if it could be done once, it can be done better once more.  For achieving such a status as an Economic Power, Indian Industry would also have to gear up to make India a technological power.  Indications are that we can. But how?” Unquote

At the time of Independence India’s share in the world trade was about 4% now it is below 1%, where as China has done much better reaching in double digits.  We should also note that we are about 16% of world population.  If our word trade is below 1% of world that means only 5% equivalent of our people are empowered for world competition.  India and Indians have all the potentials.  They should not lie in a dormant pool.  It is possible to realize our fullest potentials.  This is what the Vision 2000 exercise has shown.  It shows a direction and indicates paths.  But action is a must.  We all have to act.  We have to equip ourselves.

ACTIONS TO REALISE THE VISON

GROUND REALITIES

It is this deep seated anguish that we are still only developing technologically and business-wise after 55 years and e still not growing fast enough, which was driving many of us to mount actions to do something for India in terms of active and purposeful demonstrations.  Then came the Home Grown Technologies (HGTs), Sugar Technology Mission (STM), Fly Ash Mission (FAM) and Advanced Composite Mission (ACM), from the side of TIFAC (see TIFAC website: www.tifac.org.in). Also there are other institutional mechanisms which were steadily strengthened such as PATSER (Programme Aimed at Technological Self-Reliance ) and new mechanisms created such as Technology development Board (TDB), National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) was given a new orientation.

I have visited a number of places in India specially for the Vision 2020 follow up.  These include the villages of Bihar, Uttaranchal, Orissa, Punjab, Tamilnadu, Sikkim and many other places.  I have visited many towns and cities as well.  The past decade of interacting with many of the persons in villages and from the small and medium enterprises continuously point out one glaring fact: The lack of technological strength is not only affecting economic parameters and the performances of big and small companies, but is more seriously affecting our people and their lives.  Many SMEs lay down staff.  They may not enter into the official books as retrenched people but many are without jobs because the company is not profitable or it is facing serious problems.  Many in the villages do not have tools for improving their traditional goods to meet the demands of changing markets.  The marginal farmers suffer much more because they do not have any knowledge of the specific seeds to be used for the soil and other integrated systemic practices.  How to match the seed, how to match the products for the markets, etc.  The list goes on increasing but the pain remains. 

In a number of places where I have gone to colleges or schools I am asked to deliver talk to “enlighten” the youth.  I have met a number of young people who are either in the Senior Secondary (10+) stages or those who have just entered the professional colleges aspiring to do something good in their life.  I do talk about Developed India concept.  I explain about the good demonstration experience of the follow up actions being done by TIFAC, Deptt. of Science and Technology (DST) and also by a number of industries. Another one glaring fact remains: these efforts, however laudable and big sized, they still are small items compared to the overall problem of the country.  Of course, I am aware that all good things in nature have to begin in smaller sizes and have to multiply to much bigger sizes over a period.  There are also very fast multiplying effects from TIFAC efforts too.  How to do such demonstration projects and how to increase multiplier effects, how to shape policies, etc?  Based on intensive experiences of TIFAC work and extensive studies and research, I wrote a book putting together many of my ideas and also researched experiences of other countries in a book entitled “Empowering Indians: with business economic and technology strengths for the 21st century” released on Technology Day, May 11, 2001 brought out by M/s Har-Anand Publications.  It has also subsequently had a revised reprint.  I am fortunate to have a foreword to it by Dr. AP.J. Abdul Kalam wherein he mentioned

Quote “When the child is empowered by the parents, at various phases of growth, the child transforms into a responsible citizen.  When the teacher is empowered with knowledge and experience, good young human beings with value systems take a shape.  When the leader of any institution empowers his or her people, leaders are born who can change the nation in multiple areas” Unquote. 

Dr. Kalam considers these concepts so important that I am happy to see that he has reiterated about these in his Acceptance Speech as well on 25.7.2002.

When I meet many of the young children or youth in these schools and colleges I can see behind their smiles, a great worry – what job will I get?  Can I recoup the money spent by my parents and also earn more for our better future.  These are persons from middle-class (lower-middle-class) origin.  What about those who are at much lower levels?  How much greater is their worry?  I have seen some of it in the faces of grown up children in Bihar, Uttaranchal, etc.

Therefore, one thing I have realised over the past several years while promoting the technology development and through such development the economic growth is that taking care of our human resources at individual levels and empowering them in advance for emerging technologies and therefore for acquiring various forms of business and skills is the crucial mission for India.  My ideas on this crucial aspect could be sharpened further in a talk given by me for the International Labour Organisation.  A chapter based on the same appears in “Empowering Indians” as Chapter-XI “Technology Dynamism and Employment – An Indian Perspective”.  In that chapter I have there described six categories of persons about whom we have to worry about in terms of employment. 

Quote “We need to look at the entire issues as a continuum of human skills.  We may categories six categories as a spectrum; (a) labour that is declared surplus and sought voluntary retirement schemes, (b) labour that is retrenched, (c) the estimated 4 million-odd labour which is considered as redundant as per various studies (they have the Democles sword on their heads), (d) those who will be affected in the near future because of the technological changes that are likely   to take place in India through various pressures (unfortunately many in India do not look at this category because they are busy with yesterday’s problems), (e) those who are young and still unemployed or underemployed (they are going to keep exerting pressures on the labour market) and finally, (f) those young boys and girls who continue to be born in the country and lack opportunities to prepare themselves to enter into an employment.  The size of the last two is very large and if we add the last three, then their size will run to a few tens of millions – much  larger than what the National Renewal Fund (NRF) is currently trying to cover.

We should attempt to cover all these categories very soon.  It is a process of continual human skill generation.  In a country like ours trying to compress human developmental history into a few decades at a time when technologies are very rapidly changing around the world, such a safety net for our people is a must.  It is a public duty and a collective duty” unquote

Again when I was reviewing the policies of various countries in the context of our common Science & Technology (S&T) policies in the era of liberalization, I note that all the developed countries are giving highest priority to employment of their own people and creating opportunities to empower them to get well paying jobs.  This does not mean creation of jobs in government or assured life long jobs. Since technologies are changing, therefore, businesses change and their market shares change. Every company has to be ready to change itself continuously.  It means some of the persons employed in the company may lose jobs.  But they should get new one somewhere else.  Towards this, systems have to be created partly with public funds but primarily in a market driven manner.  I have addressed the basic approach for this in the Chapter XI of Empowering Indians.

WHAT ABOUT ME?

While the above is told in a broad terms, it looks fairly good conceptually.  But question always remains in the mind of an individual boy or a girl or his or her parents: “What I have to do in life?  How to choose a career?  People tell me: read more, work hard.  More I read and go up, there are more expenditure for parents and more hurdles to get admissions.  More work.  I am not worried about these challenges.  But what in the end?  Can I get a job? I have seen people running for IT.  Now I find that a bubble is burst.  I have seen people who have gone for engineering or even medicine have saturated when they are in 30s and 40s.  They tell me: don’t get stuck like me! Some others say: My child does not get an expected salary for MBA!”  These are, of course, middle class and upper middle-class considerations.  Lower level jobs are much more harder.  Employment exchanges are more a part of formalities than of real help. 

I know many ordinary simple or poor people who approached me or my wife to get a job for their son or daughter who has passed 10 or 10+2.  I find many of them want a job as a peon or something else in a Government department or agency.  We have to keep explaining to them that no longer these are feasible and even if some opportunity comes it may be in a contract mode through a contractor but only for a short while and they may not be able to sustain more than three or four months.  But somehow people want to push themselves into something in the Government in the hope that they can stick somehow and reach the destination!  But the journey is too long for many of them.  It will be 40 years or even more.  How to keep a reasonable job for 40 years is a question for the youth.  The past lazy habits of Govt. organisations act in some ways as a distraction or a utopia to reach:  Get a secure job; work to the extent you can; get salary; and may be some extra income through “overtime” or “other unspeakable methods”!  This is in spite of the fact only less than 10% of employed Indians are with Govt. or Govt. agencies!  We all have to teach everybody to forget this idyllic situation and prepare our youth and others to face the real modern life, which has many, rough and tumbles (and also very good rewards for good and hard work!)

Simultaneously, I also see people who are very unhappy with the job which they are carrying on now, because many industries have saturated or stagnated and many Govt. departments do not have further promotional opportunities for its personnel because of downsizing of Govt. etc.  These persons themselves have another 15-20 years to go in life.  Their question: What do we do?  I have tried to advise such persons on many occasions.  These have also given me certain clear insights about the actual problems. 

I have come to a conclusion that I have to share my ideas with people: parents, youth, persons in middle career as well as those who try to help all of them through advice, courses etc.  My son Vikram and his young friends encouraged me.  Therefore, I chose to write this book “Choosing Career paths: In a fast changing world”.  This book, I consider as a natural sequel of the books starting from “India 2020” which gives the broad vision for the whole country and also tells broadly how each group can work to realize the vision, again on a broad macro level.  The “Empowering Indians” gives some more details but most of what is discussed in that book is about how to structure policies; how the industries can transform themselves; how human resource managers, whether it is in Government or Industry have to address the issues and how technology mangers or business managers have to plan for their organisations.  This is meant more to open their minds into newer paths. 

This book is much more at a micro level in terms of addressing people at different categories.  What should I do? What should my child do?  This book attempts to address these aspects.  It is very clear without much analysis that there cannot be one solution for whole of India for all the youth or for all persons in other age groups.  Many million youth are there in any given age bracket.  For example between 14 to 15 there will be about 15 million young boys and girls.  If we take youth as a whole starting from the age of 13 or so to 23 (an age group in which they have to worry about jobs or preparing themselves for job), the number goes to around 150 million.  Of this only a few million boys and girls are fortunate enough to have any job of their choice or make the career the way they wanted to be because their parents are rich or have other resources or contacts etc.  In some cases they are able to say well I want to become a business person, I want to do MBA in the best institute of the world and set up a business of my own or I want to become the best artist or a best doctor in such and such discipline of cardiology or neurology etc.  â€œMany others may not have that opportunity.  They have to keep multiple options.  They might have to play many games of “what if”:  I will try for medical, if I do not get what do I do?  Even then some can afford only when they get in Govt. medical colleges where fees are low?  If not even whey they are chosen in other colleges, they cannot.  I will try for IIT, if I do not get what do I do?  I will try in engineering, if I do not get what do I do? 

Then comes the whole set of youth who cannot afford to study more than 10 or 10+2,.  For any other formal education, they may have to manage in their life through some part time courses or diplomas.  I am aware that such categories of people may find it difficult even to read and understand this book, even if it is given free to them or they access it through a library.  Because often many of them would not have been equipped with the felicity of English language.  I hope that this book will get translated into many Indian languages.  Despite this fact I am also addressing the issues specifically meant for such persons whose number is large in the hope that many individual philanthropists or NGOs or guides or teachers who have concern for such people will try to explain them multiple options instead of merely repeating to them  â€œRead more, read more, work hard you will come up in life”.

Then, of course, there is another set of youth who, at the most may be able to complete education to their primary or secondary levels.  Again, there are options possible  for such  persons as well.  But it is difficult to orient many of them because the irony of the situation is as Prof. Ashish Bose, the famous demographer and inteelectual tells about the employment statistics in the demographic context. The hard facts of life are that poor cannot afford not to work even for a day; they may therefore, be categorized as self-employed.  But that employment is on subsistence level or often times at sub-human levels.  My aim would be to try to give orientation even for those levels to be able to pick up a few more options even when there are eking out an existence through odd jobs.  Again, they themselves may not be able to do it.  I strongly depend on philanthropists, NGOs and many others who want to do something at the grass root level to pick up some of these ideas and carefully shape them to apply to real life situations in specific contexts.

HOW CAN THIS BOOK HELP?

On the whole, the book is not meant to be a replacement of career guidance manual or journal.  These give information about where and when you have to apply for a job or a new course or how do you respond to questions or to interview etc.  This book is meant to give a deep insight at micro levels for young boys and girls from different socio-economic backgrounds as well as for people who are in the middle of their career.  It will very clearly illustrate instances with a few real examples but with changed names of individuals.  These illustrations will give a good idea as to how career choices are possible.  If these multiple options are taken together as important at various levels then one can think about life more realistically.  By realism I mean here not the state of not-being optimistic or being pessimistic.  It is only to emphasise that one should not just stick to only one goal and suddenly face dilemmas when other options available are closed out and our own goal is not in reach.  Then one will be “lost”!  We should be clear that opportunities are so small and probabilities are very small for most “top” positions like IIT, medical, etc. for upper strata of seekers or just some better known Govt. positions for the “lower” strata of seekers. 

While saying the above I am not at all suggesting that you should not try for the most difficult ones not at all and try what appears as impossible.  You should try for the best but keep other options open actively.  Hence, I would appeal to the young to try for the most difficult goals but they should also be practical on one side to keep some other option open and active to be utilised in case they are not able to reach the difficult goals.  You are all aware of the hurdles in reaching goals: they can be anywhere between the limited number of seats to age restrictions to non-affordability because parents cannot always fund everything what we want, etc  (Govt. colleges are lower in costs than in other better private colleges).  Similarly, for those who are in the middle of their careers, one does not have to give up hope and then say everything is alright.  That is not realism, I mean there.  This book is not meant to encourage ‘chalta hai’ attitude.  It is to the contrary.  It is aimed at keeping up with the fast changing world, not being lost, not merely to survive, but to flourish. 

Based upon a large amount of actual experience in life and also based on reading and analysing large number of books and journals in various fields on social sciences, physical sciences and engineering and technology, as well as by learning from the experiences of others, I firmly believe that those who can think ahead of others and work on several options well before the events and also take actions at a early point of time based on such detailed thinking are usually the “lucky” ones because the success is with them.  God is always with them.  It is with this firm belief this book is written.  I would be most happy if the users of the book – the parents, the teachers, the guides, the students those who are in the mid career and those who are consultants to give career guidance, etc. use the ideas and the approach contained in the book in their own specific contexts, and create a situation where every Indian has an opportunity to shape himself or herself for a better employment, for better earning and therefore, having better prosperity and more better feeling of security.  It is also possible that based on the ideas contained in this book a large number of counseling centers could come up; then such centers can give much more practical and customised advice for people either on payment basis or on a good will basis.  I would like to see such centres also emerging all across the country because it is impossible to give detailed specific advices which are required and which every citizen of our country deserves, through a book, set of books, or a website at one aggregate level (however detailed and practical the approach may be).

STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK

The book comprises chapters as briefly described here.  It may not be necessary to go through each chapter in a serial mode.  It is better that all readers of the book go through fully chapter-I, which is Introduction and also read carefully a few other chapters, namely, chapters 2, 3 and 4.  After that, since the general approach and basic principles will be clear through these four chapters, the reader can go to the chapter in which they have most immediate concern and read others later on.  As persons read the book and apply to actual situations, the more they will obtain insights into the process of emerging careers. 

Chapter-2 describes the fast changing technological and business scenarios in the world and the forces of change that are affecting the India’s socio-economic scenario particularly in terms of employments and skills.  The emphasis is more to describe qualitatively with some examples, the changing requirements of markets for jobs rather than statistics or numbers.  The focus is on how to prepare oneself.  The chapter also describes the fast changing attitudes towards labour security, pension funds etc. in developed countries because such compulsions or fashions in governance may also come to India very soon because the Governments (Central and State) will have increasingly less money to spread especially people tend to live longer.  This chapter is therefore entitled FORCES OF CHANGE.

Chapter 3 describes the Indian educational system, formal and informal.  This is an important chapter because it gives at one place the channels available for young persons (and even for those in middle age groups) as to the educational skills with which they can equip themselves.  Certain amounts of statistics are also given in terms of outputs at various stages of educational qualifications.  In addition some information is given as to which channels are generally “closed” or difficult despite the general euphoria about them; also the role-played by coaching classes etc.

Chapter 4 discusses the categories of persons who get into the job markets, not just the freshers from schools and colleges but also those who enter after a few or several years of experience.  The categories specify not merely the educational levels but also the socio-economic levels; for examples, the products of some “prestigious” public schools of Delhi or Mumbai have certain “inherent” advantages over a person educated in villages and towns of many states of India.  Few policy makers will talk about it openly.  But these are facts of life.  But it does not mean that who study in a village school is ever condemned to ordinary jobs.  But at an individual level, it is very-very difficult for them to aim to be a best surgeon say with an education from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.  What is clear is that the social status of the students (and their parents), the geographic location of their schools/ colleges “brand names” of certain “school/colleges” all these do count in final career trajectories, not mere hard work and “intelligence” of the young boy or girl.  This statement is true in general; but some exceptions can be there.  I encourage persons to aim to be an exception but also keep in mind the general rule to work out “back up” options.  The categories given here are on an impressionistic basis.  There may be some who will fit in more than one category.  The chapter 4 is therefore entitled CATEGORIES OF PERSONS SEEKING JOBS.

The subsequent chapters address the problems, prospects and possibilities for the individual categories with illustrations and suggestions for applying to actual specific or personal situations.

Atharvaveda Hymn LXVII

May we acquire knowledge for hundred years. (4962)

May we go on prospering and progressing for hundred years. (4963)

May we remain strong and sturdy for hundred years. (4965)

May we retain our prestige and influence for hundred years. (4966)

May we retain all these powers of sight etc., for greater number of years than hundred. (4967)