The rise of the new engineer

Updated: Jun 16 2014, 09:20am hrs
Engineering has been regarded as one of the most ancient scientific disciplines dating back to the 4th millennium BC. Engineering has been derived from the word engineer, which means someone who operates an engine. Though the crux of engineering has remained the same, there have been a number of dimensions that have been added to this discipline over a period of time. Engineering has existed as a part of our daily lives ranging from the ancient invention of the wheel to the present day smartphone. The change from traditional engineering to modern-era engineering has been a significant turnaround. We live in times when changes happen rapidly and are governed by innovations, new technologies and a curious desire to control the demands of competitive environment.

Of course, some would emphasise on the importance of technology over engineering, but frankly there is no point separating the two. Technology practically cannot exist without engineering. New dimensions/disciplines or new forms of technology have led to an increase in demand for versatile and skilled engineers. While there are more than 1,100 private engineering colleges in India, there is still a need for the industry and academia to come together and formulate a contemporary strategy for engineering education in India. There needs to be a high-level think tank that reviews higher engineering and science education system in India and provides direction for future growth. India is witnessing a void of engineering talent that is industry-ready. Todays engineer needs to adapt to change.

Modern day engineers who will incorporate the inevitable changes in their work and bring about much-needed innovations in technology are needed. Understanding the complexity of the engineering processes and adhering to the global standards and catering to customers worldwide is a perplexing task and, for this, we need to focus on training a set of highly motivated individuals who can be moulded into global leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

The industry needs to be able to fulfil three basic requirements in order to create a new age engineer. The first is attracting investment in research. A comparison of Indian engineering colleges with some of the leading institutions across the world on engineering degrees per faculty indicates a poor research and teaching output of Indian institutions vis-a-vis others. While most engineering institutions are improving their research output, the challenge of our engineering education system is to make the transition from primarily teaching institutions to teaching and research institutions. Corporates such as Birla, Mahindra and Mercedes are taking up the task of nation-building by entering into the education space. They have either tied up with existing institutions or have started their own institutions to fulfil the shortage of talent they experience.

The second change that needs to be brought in is in curriculum. The reason why so many of our qualified engineers turn out unemployable is because the system forces them to think purely with their left brain, crunching numbers and indulging in sterile analysis. This leads them to take up jobs far from their core strengths for which they do not possess the required skill sets. Institutions need an integrated curriculum encompassing areas such as creative sciences that will develop students with the unique ability to adapt to global engineering challenges and technologies that would shape the future and create professionals with the ability to master the complexity of MNCs. The objective is to develop technically-sound, well-trained students capable of being holistic leaders for both domestic and global roles.

There is a predicted shortage of employable engineers of 2.45 million by 2020. In an optimistic scenario, the shortage would still be 1.6 million in 2020, according to the National Council of Applied Research. So the third and most important development that needs to be brought about is the creation of employable and dynamic leadersprofessionals who are ready to go-to-market, equipped with a strong business sense, business exposure, and attuned to the demands of the digital economy in terms of technology and research.

Quality engineering education is the single most powerful intervention that the industry needs right now to bridge the gap between demand and supply.

Sanjay Dhande is founder director, Mahindra cole Centrale