The average is a number that represents many other numbers in a distribution. The average is not unique because different distributions: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; 2, 3, 4; and 1, 3, 5 can all have the same average. This wouldn't have been a problem if numbers were just numbers. When numbers represent people, then the game becomes complex. To judge different students, the most common average used is the CGPA. Even the CGPA is not without its limitations. Two students can have the same CGPA and yet one is suited better for one task and the other better for another task. If the CGPA isn't effective in signalling one's uniqueness then one has to find a credible signal. It works on a time-tested rule: scarcity in the labour market creates value.
In the labour market, applicants know more about themselves than employers. Usually there's more than 1 applicant for every available post. This creates competition between applicants to send a signal to the employer, 'I am better than others'. Employers believe the signal if all applicants send a similar signal. A similar signal enables employers to screen the quality of the applicants. That similar signal so far has been the CGPA. However, as we've seen before, the CGPA on its own may not be enough to attract the attention of employers. So, what to do to make one's self scarce and create value? The key is: you know more about yourself than do others.
Students spend their most productive time in the undergraduate when they are 18-23 years old. Parallel to studies, students have a golden opportunity to develop their talents. What talent you have or are good at, only you know. Let's assume you have talent in three areas: film editing; writing; and cooking. Instead of doing an internship that's short-term, let's assume you decide to become an apprentice to a professional firm. You're associated with this firm to learn for fun. If they pay you, you're happy. If they don't pay you, you're still happy because you're learning something that's close to your heart.
As each semester progresses and the years pass by you keep on learning for fun. Even if you haven't been paid, you've gained two vital experiences. First: you've gathered first-hand experience on how an industry works. This experience is almost impossible to learn university courses. Second: you've gathered contacts within that industry.
The time finally approaches that your graduation day has arrived. You are ready to formally enter the job-market like all of your other friends. Like them, you will also sit for competitive exams. However, you have one edge almost none of your friends do. You've utilized your student days as an apprentice learning the tricks of a trade. You have this apprenticeship as a safety-net should you fail to get absorbed in employment opportunities your friends will be vying for.
Very little of what we learn in the classroom is applied in the workplace. In today's competitive world, a good and high CGPA on its own may not be enough. Students need to create a credible edge. Apprenticeship could well be the key to signal you are special; you are unique; and better than others when the time comes you have to apply to enter the job-market.
Asrar Chowdhury teaches economic theory and game theory in classrom. Outside he listens to music and BBC Radio; follows Test Cricket, and plays the flute. He can be reached at [email protected]