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July 12, 2015

Why do we miss the bigger picture in engineering skill development?

While developing skills for highly professional jobs like engineering, why do we miss the bigger picture? Engineering employability skill challenge is not just a business issue. It is a social and economic issue as well.

Look at the business implications of employability challenge. At present India can produce 1.3 million engineering graduates annually. Of these, hardly 10% to 20% of the graduates get a decent placement either in engineering or engineering allied services. Those who get placed will get a formal training. The rest of the students hardly gets an opportunity to enhance their skills. At the same time most of the organizations finds it difficult to get the right talent with right skills. There is nothing new in this. I agree.

Now look at the economical implications .On an average an engineering student will spend six years which includes 2 years of intensive coaching for his Common Admission Test (CAT). Many colleges have their own placement cells which includes a training wing also. Students have to pay a very good fee for this service and it is a compulsory process. Students from private colleges have to spend nearly twenty to thirty lakhs ( 2 million to 3 million as in business terms) to get an engineering degree. The meritorious students from aided and government colleges are better off in this regard. After all these expenditure and resource utilization students are not employable. It is a serious concern.

The social implications in this matter are much broader. Most of the students who have completed their engineering degree will pursue a Master's in Business Administration and not in Engineering because the former help them to find a living. The number of students who are opting for a career in engineering research is alarmingly low. The society’s response towards this behavior is not positive. The initial inclination towards the course is coming down and there are many colleges are struggling to fill the vacant seats. Once engineering was considered to be a noble profession for youngsters but now it is more or less a basic degree course. In Indian society the parents have more decision making power than the students in career selection. The campus placements are the major attraction for parents to send their kids to get an engineering degree. job is not just a tool for revenue generation, it is more of a status symbol in our society. No parent prefer to invest their money for a career which yields no return.

The number of engineering graduates will be more than arts and science graduates and this will affect our primary and secondary level education in future.Many schools are finding it difficult to get the qualified teachers at primary and secondary level. This is another serious concern. If we can't find qualified teachers in science, English and Mathematics at school level what will be the future of our higher education system?

The following are the major concerns of the society:
How do we justify the fact that a professional degree like engineering degree has become a mere degree course in India?
How do we justify the fact that the huge money spent on engineering education is not giving a return both to students and to the society?
How can we blame the engineering graduates for lack of employability when there is lack of coordination among the industry, academia and the state at large?
How do we assess the employability skill of engineering graduates without a framework, without an assessment tool at college level, state level or at country level?
In India the choice of a career and the choice of educational institutions are based on the collective decision of family and hence the overall performance of the institutions, industry and return on investment will affect their decision making.

There are many institutions that are primarily focusing on common admission tests coaching for engineering. But we ignore the fact that it is equally important to assess the skills of students during and after the completion of their course. Ironically there is not a single credible agency is working on engineering skill assessment in India.

While talking about assessment, it is equally important to do regular assessment of faculty to ensure the quality in teaching. 

There is a need for change. The changes must happen at three levels.

1. Individual (student) level- It is important to know that  engineering is a professional degree and entering into this field and mastering the degree will not offer the student a job. The student has to use technology to reach out to the resources to update his knowledge base. Regular updating of skills through self study mode and updating the career opportunities beyond IT/ITES Sector will help them to widen their career options. Engineering is a much broader area of study and the opportunities are not limited to Indian market. It is also important to contribute to the growth of the society through quality research, innovation and job creation.

2. Institution level – There is a huge disparity among institutions based on mode of operation, location, ownership etc. The institutions must be result oriented and the results must not be merely the placements. The quality of research in the field of engineering, science and technology, quality of publications, quality of innovations and quality of students passing out must also be the target results.The importance of selecting and right inputs are very important for private engineering colleges. In the long run, the quality of inputs like students, faculty and infrastructure will provide quality output. Many institutions are finding it difficult to get the right number of students to fill the vacant seats as these institutions failed to provide quality infrastructure. Many of these institutions had diluted the quality of the engineering education in India. Rather than focusing on the short-term profit margins,these institutions must focus on long term strategies.The students are cautious in selecting the colleges based on past results in placement, reputation of the colleges, placements and quality of infrastructure. Even in the case of the Indian Institute of Techology (IIT), students are selecting the best IIT based on ranking. Sixty-five of the top 100 rankers in the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) (Advanced) this year picked seats in IIT-Bombay, helping it retain its position as the most sought-after campus ahead of 17 other premier Indian Institutes of Technology (TOI July 8).

3. State level – In a country where less than 8% of the total population has access to professional education, less than 20% of the graduates are effectively utilizing their education and skill is not just a business issue. It is a social and economic issue and it will affect the economy in the future. India is not a low cost leader anymore. There are many companies opting for other geographies to get cheap labour. According to them one skilled labourer can replace ten unskilled labourers. This is a better profit model for organizations because it will also reduce the administrative costs.

A national level framework is the need of the hour. A national level skill assessment for engineering graduates will give us a better picture of the quality of the talent. India can follow the best practices from industrialized countries in skill development and assessment. This will change the face of our engineering education system.

The importance of industry academia interface is another important factor. The scale of interaction between industry –academia in Tier 1 colleges to Tier 3 is high to low. This has a great impact in the quality of engineering education. Exposure to latest technology is comparatively very low for tier 3 colleges. Lack of exposure is one major reason for lack of employability. We can not ignore the fact that the industry is least bothered about the quality of primary,secondary and higher education and they are only worried about the employability challenge when a graduate enter into an organization.

The industry,academia and the state has to work together to improve our education system and specifically higher education system.
Education is an investment and not just a business.
Global ageing of the western world will bring more opportunities to India in the field of science and technology innovation. The world need highly skilled engineering professionals to run a high-tech digitized world. New product propositions, new business models and a blue sea of opportunity. India need to prioritize the skill development in highly professional jobs like engineering to utilize these opportunities. This will create more job opportunities in technology and other auxiliary sectors. Can India turn the global ageing challenge as an opportunity? The world is watching us...

Author, Chithra R is a Researcher in Skill Development and a Training Manager Professional based in Bangalore, India. Click to see her LinkedIn Profile.

To preserve the integrity of the article, very few edits have been made to the text, though a few in-links to other articles on Authentic Journeys have been added.

View another post of Chithra's on Authentic Journeys - Employability Skills -Perception vs Reality 

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