Vikrant Pande spent 25 years in the corporate sector working in large MNCs in the financial services space before moving to head India’s first Skills University at Baroda. He is currently heading a large CSR initiative for a Chennai based firm while spending time to pursue his passion of writing books and translating Marathi classics into English. He has published 8 books so far and is engaged in writing many more. He is a Mechanical Engineer from MS University of Baroda and an MBA from IIM Bangalore. He is based in Baroda.
Question:Currently being with the Financial industry and having spent a large part of your time in building & running businesses, do you believe skills are becoming more important than a degree?
Oh yes! These days skills have become absolutely important, degree alone is something that is an initial filtering criteria but unless you have specific skills with which you can make the employer feel that I am able to deliver something that you really need, the employer is unlikely to hire you, so you do need skills which are current in nature. Let me give you an example, so today if you look at marketing, earlier marketing was more about creativity, imagination, brand but now marketing analytic data has become so important that, if you look at online, all sales happening has millions of data points everyday unless I have skills by which I can do data analytics, and there are lot of courses in that, I would not be a good marketing person., earlier it was something done by people within the department, but today it is a separate department. One of the skills that I tell all MBA students, which might sound very odd, If you don’t know good excel you can lag behind, because even today excel is extremely important. And also, it is not just about the worksheet but about getting into, how to make Macros, learning SQL, how to do queries, so these have become very very important for any manager. All data is coming on excel, so you need to have some of those skills even before you apply for an interview. Many of us were lucky, when I started my career, email had just started, we didn’t have cellphones, so the way things have changed, you need to be savvy, look I won’t call it savvy but these are basic hygiene factors even before you can become a candidate for an interview. That is going to be really important.
Question:How important are soft skills/behavioural skills to your organization ? Given a choice , would you pick a candidate with excellent hard skills or a candidate with mix of good hard skills and soft skills too ?
That’s an easy question. See if you have to look at a person with aptitude and attitude, I would surely go for attitude first. I can teach hard skills after the employee joins my company but I can’t teach attitude. Attitude consists of whole lot of things- team work, dedication, honesty, sincerity wanting to learn quotient, the ability or the willingness to learn and his learning capabilities is more important than what he knows- between the two. So if I have select someone who has great technical or hard skills, in my interview I feel that he comes across not as a team member, he is coming across not as a leader, then I will be shy of hiring him. So attitude surely becomes much more important. But you need to have basic skills which will pass the mark. But after having pass the marks, what I am going to look at is, (see today everything is collaborative), whether he is a team player or not. Because today there are a very few jobs that you can do individually sitting in your cabin, team work is just a small example. Also, before becoming a boss, how good subordinate you are, what good are you at taking orders and get things done- first you will become a subordinate, then manager then a senior manager. Being a great subordinate is very important to become a great manager. So the behavioral skills that I just spoke about, I would rate them high. But you know the difficult part is, it is not as easy to teach soft skills as it is to teach hard/domain skills. For hard skills, I conduct tests, quizzes. I can give you documents to read but when it comes to soft skills, it is very tangible, but we can make an effort to make people learn that. For hard skills, I can teach the employee later on, be it excel or any other tool. It will take me 5 days to one month to teach you that but if you have bad attitude, probably that would be very difficult, and I may not have the time and energy to make you suit and fit in the organization, so I would rather reject that candidate.
Question:What would be your advice to people who are about to start or just started their career ? How can they be skilled and market ready in the times when survival of the fittest is a game changer?
I would say, not survival of the fittest, but survival of the smartest. You need to know what are the skills that your employer is looking for. If you look at college education, it provides very basic knowledge about various subjects, even an MBA or a graduate, you have some 15 subjects that you study but that’s not what the employer is really looking for. Let’s say I am in engineering and I have studied basics of mechanical engineering, but when I go into production, I find that I need to have an understanding of, let’s say when I am doing a machine drawing, I need to know 3D printing, so if I don’t know 3D Printing, I am of value to that department. For production, I need to know how a CNC machine works, I need to have hands-on experience, unless I have that I can’t be fit for the employer. The thing is you have to get your hands dirty before planning to get into that domain, which is why internship becomes very important, as you are studying, you go through some of these skills and techniques, these may not be to completely become an expert but you get basic knowledge so that when the employer meets you, he feels that he doesn’t have to take you through the basic induction which is again a few months, because that’s the cost to the employer. So the employer is looking for someone who can quickly be productive as early as possible. When I was in sales, one of the things that I use to tell people was, how fluent you are in different languages. Maybe it is a natural trait, it is not possible for everyone to pick it quickly, but if you are fluent in multiple languages, it again becomes a great selling point, to say that I can deal with people in different geographic regions, different parts of India. India has more than 15-20 languages, so some of these things have to become a conscious effort for the individual, to learn before he goes for a job appointment. It is important to understand what the employer is looking for, because the employer is getting 1000s of candidates, all of them with almost similar background, how do I as an employer filter and say that these are the five people I want to hire. And for that you need to stand out so not necessarily, the survival of the fittest would come in after you have joined the job but before that it is about standing out, and being the smartest.- The employer will think- Oh This boy has some skills that I can use right away, and you get hired. Once you get hired, there is going to be a lot of on the job learning, but that’s a different story all together.
Question:How do you define a job ready candidate? Given the three holes in the bucket, do you think employers manufacturing their employees is a sustainable and scalable proposition?
As I said it is not easy to measure, but I would definitely look for what attitude he carries. Some parts of the resume will tell me, what are the hard skills that he has learnt, but what I will be looking for is, has he applied those hard skills. So internship becomes very important. It tells you if he has practical experience of using let’s say 3D printing, because learning it is different from having a hands- on experience. So I am not looking for previous experience, I am looking at basic skills and a hands-on experience that he has had as an intern. Traits like how eager is he to learn new things, how good is he with communication, etc and of course, learnability. I see that most of the candidates are over eager to please the recruiter, by communicating that they know everything, I think that is not required. Because it is okay to not know everything, you are a fresher and you are not supposed to know everything. What is required is, I am willing to learn, I don’t know this, or I know only this much but I am willing to learn, that confidence, that eagerness, that enthusiasm is going to be very important, that what an employer is looking for when he is hiring a fresher and an employer very clearly knows that the fresher is not supposed to know everything. So I am not really hiring a superstar, otherwise he wouldn’t have been a fresher. Yes, there are some basic qualifications that we would look for, but not really beyond that.
"It is important to understand what the employer is looking for, because the employer is getting 1000s of candidates, all of them with almost similar background, how do I as an employer filter and say that these are the five people I want to hire. And for that you need to stand out so not necessarily, the survival of the fittest would come in after you have joined the job but before that it is about standing out, and being the smartest.- The employer will think- Oh This boy has some skills that I can use right away, and you get hired", said Vikrant Pande, President, Northern Arc Foundation. According to QS The Global Skills Gap in the 21st Century Report, the top three skills employers unanimously want to see in graduates are problem solving, teamwork and communication. While talking to Rana Jyoti, Associate Editor, India Education Forum, Mr. Vikrant said that he would always prefer attitude over aptitude as it is comparatively easier to teach domain skills