Labour Market Prospects of
Postgraduate Youth with Generic Specialisation in Kerala:
An Eclectic Analysis
The present study enquires on the employment prospects of postgraduates in the larger purview of youth engagement in Kerala. It is critical to take note of the theoretical and philosophical foundation of this thesis—youth engagement/employment. Youth engagement covers more than just employment as dictated by the reigning economic structure and the generated labour market. The concerns of youth engagement are not only about youth well-being and happiness but also about their contributions to the continuation of society—present and the future. As the gamut of youth engagement is vast, the present enquiry delimits its treatment of engagement to the education-employment-unemployment of the postgraduates in the State, which is a vital component of youth engagement. It uses classical, neoclassical, old and new institutional theoretical lenses and some recent career development discourses to carve this enquiry's theoretical background. While classical economists observed that unequal treatment of the population created imbalances in the engagement of the population, especially concerning the operation of the labour market, the Orthodox theories viewed that 'ceteris Paribus, the interplay of the supply, the demand and the wages led to the equilibrium in the labour market. In such a market condition, where the employer and the job seeker are presumed to have perfect information, involuntary unemployment or differential outcome did not occur in the long run. However, classical economists like Adam Smith (1776) and neoclassical economists like Becker (1963) observed that education played a significant role in determining the nature of employment and its differential return wages.
Later studies also showed that higher educational attainment is associated with a greater likelihood of employment and higher relative earnings than lower educational attainment. The labour market trends of the past also corroborate that those with higher qualifications are more likely to find employment. As a result, a rapid increase in demand for higher education with a simultaneous massification and diversification of opportunities to pursue higher education is a notable phenomenon in recent decades. On the positive side, this massification and differentiation of higher education have helped increase the number of people accessing higher education. Consequently, it increases the pool of skilled people across countries, and the recent experiences in the labour market show that educated youth across the globe find it challenging to ensure their transition smoothly from education to employment. The experience of the postgraduates in Kerala also corresponds to it that the youth in the State of Kerala, especially those who have attained postgraduate degrees, face an adverse labour market outcome and engagement crisis.
Most of the latest theories and the experiences of the educated segments in the youth population point out that many multifaceted enigmatic factors and forces influence attaining desired educational qualifications and the labour market outcome. They include asymmetric resources, especially information, leading to bounded rationality, incomplete contracts, and untapped networks/ties. A critical retrospective analysis of the labour market operations also makes it clear that any attempt to unravel the dynamics of the labour market limiting to one or two aspects can seldom be successful. Hence, an enquiry on the labour market, especially the dichotomy of higher qualification and employment crisis, cannot be a straightforward unilateral monolithic enquiry but a polyphonic in its nature and scope. Against this background, the present study discusses those dominant polyvalent discourses from the time of the classical economists to this date to highlight some of those dominant factors which determine the favourable and unfavourable outcomes in the labour market. A study into the Kerala situation can serve as a model to develop appropriate preventive and remedial strategies to tackle the employment and unemployment situation at the local/national/international level.
The study centres on three overarching objectives; first, it explores the historical and evolutionary employment trajectory of youth engagement in the State of Kerala. Second, it is to study and understand the factors and forces in the internal & external milieu that influence the search-match mechanisms contouring the employment of the Postgraduate youth- in terms of demand-supply alignment and its spillover effects - in the purview of the overall youth engagement in Kerala. Third, the study illustrates the interplay of various factors and forces contouring the employment/ engagements of postgraduates in the State that help the significant actors recast policies and strategies to reduce the pilferage in investments. The present study uses a mixed method design, Sequential Explanatory Eclectic Design, to collect/gather data on the employment prospects of postgraduates in the State of Kerala. The quantitative data are from two different sources, microdata and survey data. Microdata was from two different rounds of employment surveys in the country. The survey data were cross-sectional from regular postgraduate students across the State and used a structured questionnaire to collect the survey data from 389 postgraduates from 17 colleges. There were three data sources: a content analysis of the Malayalam movies from 1952 to 2017, in-depth interviews of the significant stakeholders and the content analysis of the historical documents/Economic Reviews of the State from 1959 to 2021. The study used extensive analytical tools, with SPSS version 22 and STATA version 14. Excel was used for calculating Average Variance Extracted (AVE) by a construct, convergent, discriminant reliability of the factor and data visualisation. All these tools/data helped to unearth the spectrality of the education to employment and engagement patterns in the State.
Historical documents showed how the present employment/engagement crisis of the youth in the State had its linkage to the Portuguese and British times. The interventions of British and Christian Missionaries in the early 19th century significantly impacted the education paradigm that opened up opportunities for those otherwise denied such opportunities, significantly affecting the employment patterns in the region. Economic Reviews of the State highlighted that productive engagement of its youth, especially the educated segment, was a major bizarre faced by Kerala, even before its official formation in 1956 and revealed that Kerala was apprehensive about the unemployment of its educated population from the beginning. The issue has further intensified due to the deindustrialisation and expansion of the service sector at the cost of industrialisation in the State and the reluctance of the educated youth to productive economic engagements and routine, monotonous work. The microdata also affirms that most postgraduates restrict their employment choices to traditional, non-productive activities for their employment, causing an adverse labour market situation with growing unemployment and subsequent returns, which affects the individual's and State's prospects. The survey data also corroborates that education remains the most preferred sector among various economic activities. Professional, Scientific, & Technical activity appears to be the second most preferred economic activity. This tendency among the postgraduates might create overcrowding in the tertiary labour market resulting in qualification escalation and underemployment. The State's experience indicates that even today, it is not freed from the shackles of the cycle of cumulative causation resulting from the changes in the policies and systems initiated during the Portuguese and Colonial eras.
The historical documents and related literature also highlighted that the government's policies, such as the land reform act, direct payment system and rapid expansion of self-financed institutions in the State, had a significant impact on opportunistic behaviour, such as education-shopping and job shopping, with subsequent spillover effects. The content analysis of the Malayalam movies also testifies to the practice of opportunistic behaviour in the State. The survey data corroborate that the postgraduates in the State are aware of the prevalence of opportunistic behaviour related to education and employment that affect their prospects. A critical analysis of the Kerala experience shows that the initial data on the unemployment of the educated population in the State has indeed created a disproportionate apprehension among the policymakers, inhibiting the State from appropriately reaping the benefits of its early advantages in higher education.
The descriptive and inferential analysis of the microdata also validated the differential return of postgraduate education in terms of employment status, unemployment, not in the labour force, and wages. The initial descriptive analysis showed that these outcomes varied according to the gender and age of the postgraduates. A rigorous inferential analysis using logistic regression, odds ratio analysis, forest plot analysis, probit analysis, sensitivity, specificity analysis, simultaneous quantile regression, margin analysis, two-way scatter plots and multinomial logistic regression point out that experience, experience square, sector, and sex impacted the labour market outcome at varying degrees and intensities.
In short, the educated youth encounter a very complex spatial labour market. The actual duty for choosing selections falls mainly on pupils as the educational system increases alternatives in a market-based system, and the repercussions of choices become ever more relevant. Hence, the three dimensions of knowledge—know-why, know-how and know-whom— and the subsequent development of various capitals, such as human capital, identity capital, cultural capital, social capital, psychological capital, movement capital and agentic capital, become critical for mitigating undesirable outcomes in one's career path. As regards the know-why aspects of knowledge, the survey data show that the traditional work values still significantly influence the postgraduates' preferences, expectations and choices, and evidence that even when the formal avenues shrink progressively, they tend to avoid monotonously, routinised jobs. This tendency among the postgraduates might create overcrowding in the tertiary labour market resulting in qualification escalation and underemployment. In the absence of adequate opportunities, graduates may have to resort to engagements requiring them to utilise their existing skills and credentials fully. Regarding the know-whom aspects of knowledge, the survey data reveal that postgraduates had not explored many options that could have augmented their information channels and improved their choices related to education and employment. On the positive side, concerning the know-how aspects of knowledge, the results of the SEM show that competency as a predictor significantly impacts the Expected Course Outcome—Career Preparedness and the Perceived Employability—of the postgraduates.
The present changes in the education-employment arena invite fostering better labour market intelligence to attain a gainful outcome in the future. The findings of the study indicate that a myopic perception of the significant actors curtailed the appropriate investment in the higher education system affecting the economic growth of the State. The study also observes that the State's apprehension about the rising unemployment of the educated population and its subsequent reluctance to expand and diversify the education streams in the State adversely impacted the employment/engagement prospects of the educated youth in the State and the economic prosperity of the region. Likewise, the postgraduates in the State have narrowed their education and employment choices, which led to the confinement of postgraduates to limited courses and employment streams, creating pilferage of investment. The postgraduates in the State manifested lower labour market intelligence in tapping the various possibilities, primarily due to their aversion to routine monotonous tasks, which further restricted their education/employment/engagement choices, creating a crowding effect in the tertiary labour market. Studies show that accurate and individualised information may at least prevent the significant actors from creating false expectations about their choices and labour market outcomes. Thus, it warrants fostering higher labour market intelligence and proactive response from all the significant actors.
The modern version of boundaryless and protean career orientation call for an integrated approach to learning and engagement to foster the innovative capacities of individuals and the well-being of societies and nations. The rapid transitions in the labour market also warrant the need to leave the beaten track and build up the capabilities to tap the emerging opportunities in the labour market to find gainful streams of employment and a sustainable career in the future. Such an outcome warrants a radical reversal of the traditional mode of education and engagement paradigms, empowering the takers to respond to society's everyday needs. All the significant stakeholders, such as government, policymakers, employers, education providers, and parents, are responsible for assisting the learners in developing career competencies by gathering appropriate information and transforming them into meaningful knowledge and actions concerning self, work, and career.
On the other hand, a land called "God's own country" with its fertile land, geographic beauty, traditional wisdom and rich talent still awaits to be tapped optimally. It invites all the significant actors to manifest higher labour market intelligence to overcome the challenges of asymmetric information and bounded rationality through careful planning, preparation, and forethought. Individuals must adjust flexibly to an increasingly demanding employment market to maintain employability. Personal investment is essential to improve one's credentials to assure a return on the studies and the spectrality of engagements. It calls for significant actors to explore various other options for sustainable development and constructive engagements of the postgraduates in the State. Today's youth should be equipped and supported to undertake other innovative ventures independently rather than depending on the State to be the employment provider. Like in the case of "Kudumbasree", such a decentralised approach would lead to the decentralisation of the region's wealth and economic prosperity.
The study's contribution is the critical insights and information on the causal relations between various factors and forces that confluence the education-employment/engagement outcome of the postgraduates in the State. These insights from the study are critical, primarily when the National Education Policy (2020) draws up plans to rapidly expand higher education in the country by achieving the target of the GER of 50% by 2035.