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Careers: Are you ready for the 21st century?

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December 20, 2007
A meeting with A P J Abdul Kalam inspired Amber Ahuja to become part of the then President's Vision 2020 initiative.

Amber, who has done his MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management and the KenanFlagler Business School, University of South Carolina, USA, and has a Master's from Britain's Oxford University, was stumped when Kalam asked him if he was in the teaching profession. The genial President then asked him to start teaching, particularly children.

The result: Amber wrote a book -- Be Inspired: Make an Informed Career Decision

The book focuses on providing career guidance to individuals who are at the crossroads and help them to make an informed decision. It chronicles the stories of ten highly successful individuals from fields as diverse as cricket, mountaineering, music and fashion design.

Amber remembers wistfully how Kalam inspired him to get into 'mission mode' so that Vision 2020 is achieved. 'It means that people from all walks of life should identify with this mission and come forward to make their own contributions to achieve this common goal,' Kalam told him during the meeting that lasted 45 minutes instead of the 10 minute scheduled audience.

Does he feel a part of Kalam's Vision 2020 initiative now after writing the book?

"In a way, yes. But there remains a lot to be done in the field of education which is, sadly, not fine-tuned to market realities in India; the remedy is to redesign education and its delivery to overcome skills shortages," Amber told's Prasanna D Zore over the telephone from Sydney.

Be Inspired: Make an Informed Career Decision -- was the meeting with President Kalam the inspiration for this book?

Yes. Inspiration for this work came from a one-to-one meeting with Dr Abdul Kalam.

Dr Kalam asked me if I was in the teaching profession since I was associated with the University of New South Wales. When I replied in the negative, his response was that I should teach, particularly children. It is an honourable work that gives a lot of satisfaction. One also helps others in the process.

We discussed his vision of making India a developed nation by 2020. Dr Kalam believes that this will happen by going into a 'mission mode'. This means that people from all walks of life should identify with this mission and will come forward to make their own contributions to achieve this common goal.

What does the book deal with? What are the issues that you have tackled in this book?

The book aims to inspire and provide guidance to individuals at a career crossroads and help them make informed career decisions.

Today's volatile Indian economy means industries and companies may rise and fall at a faster rate. The market demand for individual skill requirements is changing fast. It is becoming difficult to be certain about the long-term future of an industry.

One is even less certain about when, where and what new industry may appear or disappear. Before acquiring skills it is useful to make an assessment whether targeted skills have a future or not.

Generally, Indian youth take career decisions under the influence of parental, peer, societal or marketing pressures. In many cases, these influences may not be well considered from an individual's point of view, which may result in undesired consequences for the individual.

The book suggests a way by which you can make right career decisions to realise your dreams.

How many personalities have you covered in this book and whose career profile inspired you the most?

The book showcases ten highly successful individuals who I consider to be positive role models in our society. The personalities include names from fields as diverse as cricket, mountaineering and fashion designing. The book chronicles how these individuals like (N R) Narayana Murthy, Sunil Gavaskar [Images], J J Valaya, Bachendri Pal, Ritu Beri and singer-musician Shankar Mahadevan [Images] achieved success in their respective fields.

Their stories show that despite humble beginnings and challenges it is very much possible to achieve your dreams. All of the examples are unique, insightful and highly inspiring.

What is the key to achieve a successful career?

The key is to apply the 'Framework for Informed Career Decision-Making (FICDM)' as discussed in the book.

Can you tell us more about FICDM, a scientific framework that you have devised?

FICDM provides a logical and simple structure to complex issues involved in the process of career decision-making. It has been specifically designed for Indian conditions. It is generally believed that due to the largely collective nature of Indian society, 'O Factors' (other factors like parental, peer, societal or marketing pressures) tend to play a key role in a person's career decision-making.

Do you think youngsters today make a career choice, depending on how highly paid a job is, especially in India? What other factors motivate youngsters to choose a particular career path?

This is true, but not the only factor. Upward mobility (promotion), social status, secured future, organisational loyalty, regular working hours are some other motivating factors. Progressively, more and more people are considering new skills acquisition and opportunity to learn as a motivating factor.

What are the problems associated with India's current education system? What, according to you, would be an ideal remedy for the same?

Our education system keeps churning out graduates who remain unemployed whereas we have an unprecedented and robust job market which is crying out for skills. I think this is the fundamental problem.

In my view, the remedy is to redesign education and its delivery to overcome skills shortages. We need to prepare our education system for the 21st century.

I see in the near future, eductaion will be designed and delivered around individual needs. This revolution, I believe, will better address India's massive problems, including skills shortages, unemployment and inequality.

Do you think the Indian education system is not in harmony with current market requirements?

This is a reality and not my belief. How else can you explain rising skills shortages and graduate unemployment at the same time?

Do you see an employment crisis brewing in India? What is the solution to overcome this problem?

I am not the only one who sees an unemployment crisis snowballing. A National Sample Survey Organisation survey indicates that 58 per cent of the employable population of India was unemployed in 2004-2005. The Government of India's Economic Survey 2006-2007 acknowledges a rise in unemployment and decline in employment in the organised sector and finds it 'worrisome'.

As Indian demographic shifts over the next 10 to 15 years -- bringing in millions more into the age groups 10 to 20, 20 to 30 -- unemployment is expected to become even a bigger problem. You asked for a solution. The solution in my view is to redesign education and its delivery.

If an Indian student wants to apply to an Australian university or seek a good career in Australia, what would be your advice?

Make sure you seek advice from genuine representatives of quality education providers. Research well and compare options.

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