The Anonymous Alien
Several months ago, I wrote a story on my company’s frustrating attempts to hire people, because prospective employees couldn’t answer basic questions, such as:
- Does the earth go around the sun, or the sun around the earth?
- Which ocean borders India?
- Seven years ago, how old were you?
- Who is Albert Einstein, and, (if they know the answer to that), what is he famous for?
- Who is Sigmund Freud?
- Name a country that is east of India.
- Why is the sky blue?
- Where is the North Pole?
- Does the moon go around the earth, or the earth around the moon?
If I say, “The two siblings room was on the second floor,” where should the apostrophe go on the word ‘siblings’?”A few Indian friends of mine saw the article, and said essentially: “Indian parents don’t care. They know their kids will get jobs, whether or not they know if the sun goes around the earth or vice versa.”And my response to this is: Parents darn well should care, and here’s why.
First, are parents right to assume their offspring are essentially guaranteed jobs because of India’s booming economy? Not quite. The reality is, the economy isn’t booming anymore. It was – growing between 8 and 10 per cent annually for years. But now it’s down to barely 5 per cent growth… a lot faster than, say, the United States, but not nearly fast enough to create jobs for every Indian hitting their adult and employable years. (As a side note, I believe a key reason for the slowdown in the India economy is the lack of qualified, trained employees… just talk to any employer, and they all say the same thing: “We can’t find good people to grow our company!”). Which means, quite simply, that the job market is going to get a lot more competitive, and fast. Who do you think employers will hire? The one who knows what ocean India borders? Or the one who doesn’t?
Second, even if the current generation of children in India can get jobs, what kind of jobs will they get? I find myself reluctantly hiring people who can’t answer any of the above questions quite frequently, because we need so badly people and can’t find anyone who can answer them. But they get low level jobs…jobs that pay 10,000 to 35,000 rupees a month, and they have little chance of increasing these amounts above the rate of inflation throughout their careers.
And if you’re thinking… “Why not just train them once you hire them, Mr Anonymous Alien, so they do know the answers to the above questions?” Well, that brings me to my third point.
The problem with employees who don’t know the answers to the above questions isn’t that I need people to know who Albert Einstein for them to be able to do their jobs. The reality is, knowing who Albert Einstein is probably wouldn’t matter at almost any job in the world. What does matter is that employees who make a difference in companies – the ones who create wealth for a company and thus earn lakhs and lakhs and who can increase their incomes dramatically throughout their careers – are the ones with the ability to think… to behave proactively, to be creative, to solve problems. And in my many years in India, I have come to believe that those who don’t know if the earth goes around the sun, or vice versa, don’t know it because they were only taught to memorise that fact – in this case, that the earth goes around the sun. That’s a fact that some 20-30 years after committing it to memory is easily forgotten.
Those who don’t forget it are the ones who understand WHY the earth goes around the sun. They were taught not to memorize this fact, but to understand this phenomenon: why it happens, what its social and cultural relevance was and is, and why it matters in scientific and astronomical terms. They were, in short, taught to think, not to memorise, and that makes them infinitely more valuable to employers.
So parents, think about this: if your kid is eight or older, and can’t answer, say, 5 or more of the above questions, it’s time to take action now because there is still time to rescue your child, to train their brains to think. And think about this too: once they get to me, an employer, I can tell you from experience – it’s far too late to take action.
A foreigner’s observations on living,working, surviving and thriving in India.