Employability of Indian Engineering Graduates
Indian Engineers, is a very interesting term to define, as historically Indian Engineering accomplishments are not only phenomenal but surely not second to any other ancient civilization. Be it the bridge over the sea, or whole new townships including magical courtyards, or the extraordinary weaponry, even if all these are brushed aside, the wonderful temples and remains of extraordinary engineering and scientific accomplishments in the form of Jantar Mantars would surely not lessen the pride. Although the Europeans took great leaps through the 18th century and the foreign rulers made all efforts to leave the nation in a state of self doubt, we did have our own Sir M Vishveshwaraiah. Post independence too we had our own Bhabha’s Sarabhai’s and the wonderful achievements against adverse conditions. In fact, Engineering became one of the two coveted careers for indian students and later the one most important profession in view of medical education becoming difficult and costly.
Historically, all Indian students have been ridiculed for their unwillingness to dirty their hands. A very important trait for engineers. The same engineers were heralded for their ability for lateral thinking and relentless hard work. Indian Engineers were “employed” for what they brought to the table, adaptability, linguistic ability, fast learning curve, enterprising thought process etc. There was an abundance of jobs first for Y2K, then call centers, IT boom and digital world. Even after IT boom burst, Indian Engineers continued to support the back offices for world’s best. Many of these advantages were no doubt lost over the years thanks to our competitors working hard and our own negligence. We are perhaps only left with one advantage now, “the demographic dividend”. Gradually, the employability of Indian Engineering Graduates has moved from whisper to loud noise and needs careful examination.
The changing face of the industry.
The industry has been changing extremely rapidly, to say the least. Jobs, which existed a decade ago, have started disappearing and some have already vanished. The technology driving the industry has also been changing very fast and knowledge is doubling by the months instead of the centuries it took only a century ago. The world industry and the Indian industry in turn have become irrevocably intertwined and the global village has become the “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. The changing face of the industry, and it’s competitive nature have thrown great challenges in terms of new jobs and new job requirements. The industry has always been accused, by the academics, for not wanting to spend time and money on training young graduates. Todays fast changing world has made it even more difficult for industry to remain competitive. The industry wanting employable engineering graduates is essentially a need for industry ready graduates, which has been perpetual through the history, and has become acute now.
The face of academics
The academics have ridden the industry wave coupled with parental aspirations and have transformed in to education industry acquiring all the hall mark attributes of the industry such as brand, marketing, performance, bottom line etc. The tussle between regulators, education industry, market forces, customer have resulted in several changes in the academics, some welcome, some disastrous and rest irrelevant. One of the welcome changes could be accountability and transparency in academic processes. The market forces determining need for quality and performance. Similarly, a regrettable change is creation of so many jobs within the educational industry, which perhaps resulted in the growth of education industry ended up sustaining itself. This apparently resulted in what can be termed inbreeding and resultant deterioration of the DNA.
There is this generation that escaped the employability criterion set by the engineering industry, is now in a driving seat, to achieve the same for future generations. No no, sorry, they have created already another generation, which is actually going to train our youngsters to the unpredictable future. This is not the only ill in the system and it is not also major ill. After all the education industry may not have killed the ability to learn and lateral thinking which are innate to indian psyche and help in their problem solving capabilities and understanding of situation and adaptability and enterprise. What this middle period has resulted is in changing the nature of aspirations of the millennials and their parents. The gap between one customer’s wants (student/parent) and the other customer’s needs (employing industry) has lead to the question of employability in front of the education industry. Having acquired industry attributes, it is imperative that we use the same parlance to understand the problem.
The regulators on their part are busy setting standards based on past knowledge with current industrial skill requirement little realizing, that the standards have to be dynamic and education industry actually needs the autonomy to change them even at the cost of learning from its own mistakes and becoming self regulated industry.
The customer number one/ONE.
It is difficult to understand who is the customer number one. Is it the student/parent who bring the revenue to the education industry? And also becomes the product! Or the employing industry, who help the customer one, not just recover the investment, but make a lifelong profit. The employing industry is unwilling to become the direct customer, or customer number ONE, to the education industry which would have simplified the process and made not only education industry robust, but also would have solved the employability question, perhaps transferred the responsibility to the customer number ONE. Today, the education industry needs to woo the customer number one with an eye on the customer number ONE for performance. The residence time of four years can be changing the face of the customer number ONE and that is one of many uncertainties of this question. The changing goal post is something, which even the industry is struggling to cope up with. There are examples galore of big players perishing without trace.
The customer number one has become wiser but greedy, eager but impatient, dreamer but wants dreams fulfilled easily. Reminisces from yester years where a regulator approved degree paper ensured jobs and perpetual revenues. The millennial wants everything easily. The millennial is technologically advanced than his trainers with access and affordability of varying nature. His habits are very different and diverse. To achieve the training outcomes the education industry needs to reach out to the millennia’s in their virtual world.
Employability has always been the same at any given point of time in history except the time scales changing. The engineering graduate needs to be proficient in the basic sciences/engineering sciences, which are fundamental to the profession and this invariant part of graduates repertoire does not change. The communication ability was needed then and now with standards changing according to the needs of the global village. Engineers’ problem solving ability which talks of skills, knowledge, thinking and application are all the same except the technology progress becoming faster forcing him to become redundant faster.
The life long learning has been replaced by life long unlearning and relearning. Creating employment or entrepreneurship has become a buzzword now but to be enterprising remains one of the tenets of employability. Team work and leadership are two sides of an important coin engineering graduate must possess. To this list we can add technology skills, which are actually time variant and extremely dynamic and partially unknown. Each of these parameters can be expanded but the expansion can never be claimed to be complete. After all, each Indian engineering graduate is an individual and unique. Uniqueness, will be defined, nurtured, established and spelled out by each individual.
The academic institution
The institution continues its attempt to use yesterdays’ trained trainers, who were trained using technology and knowledge of the day before, to train trainees of today to prepare them for uncertain tomorrow, with a hope that the process converges in to successful progress for society. The academic needs to reinvent, upgrade and constantly modernize to be able to achieve this. Employability is and will continue to be a sweet side product of the pursuit of knowledge. The academic’s autonomy and society’s willingness and ability to provide sustainable environment remain a very important factors in this process.
Prof.( Dr.) Shrihari
MIT- World Peace University
Former Vice Chancellor (G D Goenka Education University)