Bridging the skill gap!

Academia must partner with the industry to create appropriately skilled engineers, says S Ramesh Shankar.

Academia must partner with the industry to create appropriately skilled engineers, says S Ramesh Shankar.

I work in an engineering company and every year we actively induct hundreds of engineers, across levels, into the organisation. When we take fresh engineers, we invest hugely in their training to ensure the best possible foundation and bridge the gap between their capabilities and our requirements. Today, it appears that India is in a position to produce the number of engineers as demanded by the industry. This is primarily due to a proliferation of engineering and technological institutes in the private sector which, in turn, has sufficiently augmented the initial investment of the government sector in education.

From purely a volume perspective, India has nearly four thousand engineering colleges which have an overall annual intake of around 1.2 million students. If numbers were all that mattered, we would not be complaining. Sadly the collective competence represented in these figures is still below par leading to the qualitative imbalance with the demands of the industry.

They say our education system produces talent, which is not industry ready. We need to answer two main questions to understand this better – 1) Why are we in this current state and 2) What corrective actions should we take?

Both the industry and the academic institutions are to be blamed for this qualitative imbalance. The industry has perhaps not taken enough efforts to partner with the academia to design and deliver an industry-ready syllabus. Furthermore, the industry may not have provided outcome-oriented internships to the students to enable them to understand the practical issues which the industry faces, and also to align their knowledge of engineering to help solve the same.

Academic institutions, on the other hand, have done no better. They seem more driven by the profit motive rather than to serve the needs of industry and society. Even today the best students prefer to join IITs, NITs and government engineering colleges since these institutions are more focused on education and not driven by other motives. While all educational institutions should ideally be self sustaining and not subsidised by the government, it is equally important that they also focus on designing and delivering a syllabus which meets the needs of the industry. This is possible only when the academia is willing to visit industries and partner with them to design and develop their curriculum.

Sadly, this shortcoming is not restricted to engineering colleges alone. Even in the best business schools, we hardly have any case studies developed on the Indian industry and the issues we face locally. This again is a perfect example of a lack of partnership at both ends. Neither industry nor academia seems willing to go the extra mile to share and write case studies based on real life problems of the Indian industry.

Both the government and private sector play a critical role in the education arena. Their partnership with industry will further strengthen efforts to achieve common goals. Admittedly, the road that lies ahead is long and possibly ridden with hurdles. But never before has the journey been so exciting or challenging. For now, we need not bother about the finishing line. All we need to do is put one step firmly in front of the other as we walk together.

The author is the executive vice president & cluster HR head at Siemens Ltd, Mumbai.


Game changing Strategies

Five non-negotiables that may address the quality issues in engineering education:

1. Institutions should collaborate with the industry on developing syllabus that meets the needs of the industry. They should have the freedom to update the syllabus. This calls for deregulation of education.

2. They should design internship programmes for both students as well as faculty. While students get a chance to understand real life practical issues, the faculty may impart, not only conceptual teaching, but also the practical lessons they learn.

3. Academic institutions should work closely with industry bodies like CII, FICII, ASSHOCHAM etc to build and sustain a profitable partnership.

4. Industries should partner more strategically with academic institutions to take classes and share expertise to give students a flavor of the real essence of a corporate.

5. Industries invest in building state of the art learning infrastructure and labs to attract richer dividends through students.