Over the past 15 years, the IT industry has come a long way, witnessing unprecedented ups and downs and yet remaining one of the sectors with hope. Nasscom has predicted significant growth by 2020. To meet such large growth, India needs to develop its talent pool right at the universities.
With an about 25 lakh workforce, the Indian IT sector represents about 6% of the organised sector. Nasscom predicts the IT workforce will touch 30 million by 2020. Being heavily people-dependent, the biggest challenge for the industry will be to find the right quality engineers.
A recent national employability report states that only 20% of the engineering graduates from colleges are really employable in the IT industry. If a similar study was conducted 15 years back, the percentage of employable engineering graduates in the IT industry would have been much higher, as the industry was not as mature and expectations were comparatively low.
It is not surprising to see lower employability impacting admissions into engineering colleges. Reports indicate that there are no takers for engineering seats in many colleges. Further, over the past few years, engineering graduates from core domains like mechanical or electrical are reluctant to take IT precisely due to the same reason. In fact, many private colleges lack the intellectual infrastructure--broadband connectivity to access knowledge resources on the internet, libraries, and, most of all, a qualified and knowledgeable faculty.
A recent news report suggests that there are about 3,000 engineering colleges in India. Over 10 lakh students are admitted into engineering colleges every year. Essentially, the problem of quantity is addressed, however the challenge in terms of quality of engineers remains. What could be done to improve the quality and skill of our engineers
The Indian education system needs an environment that fosters active partnerships between industry and colleges/universities. In the advanced countries, research work is given high priority among the engineering colleges/universities. Research activities help the students to think out of the box and also are supported by the industry through grants.
As per the Dr Anil Kakodkar Committee report in 2011, India lags way behind China in terms of university research in engineering and technology. India produces 1,000 PhDs annually in technology and engineering, compared to 8,000-9,000 in the US and China. Why Unlike India, both the US and China have large well-funded universities that encourage higher education.
The Kakodkar report also emphasises the need for rapid improvement needed in research infrastructure in India, including the IITs. China, for example, has 3 times more enrolment for masters programmes in engineering and management. Innovation and research orientation during university education will not only encourage students to pursue specialisation, but also help them become entrepreneurs.
AICTE could upgrade the syllabus to be more attuned with industry needs, by focusing on fundamental building blocks like programming and specific domains like banking, retail, telecom, etc. Business schools like IIMs have linked their course content to the industry and have successfully created industry-ready professionals.
Should the duration of the course (say, B.Tech) be increased by a few months This could help in accommodating a sandwich programme, popular among advanced countries, which would provide direct work experience to the engineers. There are bound to be challenges in implementing this due to the scale. Industry buy-in will be key for the success of such an effort.
Using non-engineering graduates in the IT industry has been successful in patches, primarily driven by a few large organisations. This could be replicated for scale, through tie-ups between universities and industry, with skill enhancement on focused areas. The Government of Indias National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NIEIT), more commonly known as DOEACC, offers courses ranging from diplomas to MTech across the country. However this has not gained popularity.
A report states that 62% of the students require training to be eligible for any job in the IT sector. The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), often referred to as a finishing school, offers skill-bridging training programmes to engineering graduates on focused areas. There are also few private finishing schools providing training to enable industry-ready engineers. However, such initiatives may be grossly inadequate to address the large-scale need.
The National Skill Development Council (NSDC) could play a key role in driving skill enhancement initiatives needed in the IT industry across the country. NSDC, being a high visibility initiative of the government, and has received a R1,000 crore allocation in the recent budget. NSDC is aimed to fulfil the growing need for skilled manpower across 21 sectors, including IT, and narrow the existing gap between the demand and supply of skills. NSDC has formed Sector Skill Development Councils to approve training curriculums and deliver the right value. Nasscom has joined NSDC to lead the sector skill council for IT. The Nasscom-NSDC engagement is expected to help the IT industry scale pilot initiatives and build technology as the enabler for skill development in the country.
NSDC could lead the effort in bring Nasscom, universities and private/government establishments like C-DAC together and create a charter for providing the right platform to bridge the skill gap for the IT industry. Such a programme should also help in improving soft skills and communication skills, which are often found lacking among many engineers.
So far, NSDC has primarily focused on the unorganised sector. Such an initiative in IT can help establish NSDC as a key player in the organised sector. Innovative business models can be developed, creating a win-win situation for all the stakeholders, including the students. With the governments focus on improving broadband reach in the country, coupled with the availability of affordable devices, innovative and cost effective training methods can be implemented.
The demand for an IT workforce in India is expected to grow multi-fold over the next few years. The current employability rate among engineering graduates is alarming. Universities could relook at the duration of the courses and upgrade syllabus to be attuned with industry needs. For innovation and research to flourish, industry-academia interaction needs to be strengthened. Importantly, NSDC could play an important role in creating the right platform for enhancing the skills of Indias next-gen engineers!
The author is vice-president, Engineering, at Symphony Teleca. Views are personal