A Turn in Tide?

Is engineering losing its sheen? Experts tell Gauri Rane that despite the rise in vacant seats and limited job prospects it is not so.

Updated: Mar 18, 2014, 17:58 PM IST

Intro: Is engineering losing its sheen? Experts tell Gauri Rane that despite the rise in vacant seats and limited job prospects it is not so.

Despite of the fact that the education sector is throwing up a plethora of career options to choose from, the engineering stream continues to be the popular choice of students and parents. “For some unexplained reasons, our society believes that an engineering degree promises a sustained well-being,” says RK Shevgaonkar, director, IIT-Delhi.

Ramgopal Rao, institute chair professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT-Bombay, agrees. “An engineering qualification seems to have become a basic degree, post which, students aspire to pursue management and find ways to get better paying jobs.”

Each year about 3.5 million students aspire to make it to the engineering programmes of their choice in over 3600 colleges spread across the country. How many actually complete the course and take up engineering as a career? “A couple of decades ago only a fraction of bright students took up the stream,” informs Shevgaonkar. This was probably the reason for ‘quality engineers’ that emerged from our institutions in the past. Later, as the popularity of the stream increased, and as the national governing body on technical education (AICTE) continued to give approval to more and more colleges, the number of institutes across the length and breadth of the country swelled. While students got an array of options to choose from, the quality of education plummeted.

But the glamour quotient of the degree did not. “Engineering is a well-paying sector. Besides, most of our economies today are based on and bound by technology. Having a skilled technocrat is therefore the key,” says Hari Vasudevan, principal, DJ Sanghvi School of Engineering. Besides, despite adverse survey reports regarding the unemployability of Indian engineers, an engineering degree still command a respect over other degrees. Shevgaonkar says, “While a fresh engineer may command a salary of say Rs50 K per month, a fresher from any other field will earn half of that.”

Why are then scores of fresh engineers waiting to land their dream job? Has the supply exceeded the demand or are our engineering graduates really unemployable as surveys after surveys point out? Academicians unanimously disagree. They say that students don’t lack the intelligence or the aptitude; however, they are not as focused as they should be.

An engineering degree is also the students’ passport to study and possibly work abroad. Vasudevan points out, “Many students come up with a set goal. They want a BE qualification mainly to earn a good foreign degree- MS or MBA- and then hopefully a good job with an MNC.” An engineering degree is a good option for those who have a pre-planned career path. It is 16 years of education, which is one of the criterions for US education.

While experts unanimously agree that the question of vacant seats and unemployed engineering graduates is a troublesome one, they collectively suggest some remedial measures to address the issue. There are different ways of evaluating or assessing an aspiring engineering student. “Apart from internal and external exams, students can be allocated a project not just for the overall course, but for each specific subject to gauge their passion towards the stream,” says KN Balasubramanya Murthy, vice-chancellor, PES University.

Avijit Chatterjee, head of placements, IIT-Bombay, explains, “The industry is looking for absolutely skilled professionals. They would want them to come up with innovative ideas/ solutions, take charge of projects and even have global business skills.” Academic qualities can be learnt within the environs of the campus, but acquiring skills is something that students need to adopt. To make the students employable, colleges should integrate soft skills right from the first year. “Besides the regular four-year engineering programme, colleges should also offer certification courses like Catia, Ansys and Nastran, which will be a great value-add for an employer,” informs Varun Melanta, dean, MVJ College, Bangalore. For a company a degree or a diploma is not a concern. “Companies hire according to the requirement of the job profile,” informs Chatterjee, adding that if they are looking at on floor and practical kind of work, diploma holders are preferred.

Experts suggest that IT is the only sector that is holding the engineering stream together. “Only IT sector is hiring, and the day that stops, our country is headed towards a major social problem,” worries Rao.

In such a scenario, what should students do? Aspire for little? Take no chances and set better career goals? Experts recommend the opposite. “They should look at entrepreneurship and start-ups as an option,” advises Rao. “Research based career opportunities are also opening up,” adds Chatterjee. Rao explains the concept where a startup can generate employment for many. “Instead of aiming to be wealth managers professionals should aim to become wealth generators,” he concludes.

With inputs from Caroline Diana, Bangalore