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The Engineering Paradox - A Bittersweet Pill for the India's Growth Story
The knowledge-skill gap is one of the most damaging elements that are affecting the Indian Engineering Industry. Some of the reasons to this issue are illogical or rather wrong admission systems; quality of education, lack of practical and vocational training; little focus on communication, leadership skills, teamwork, professionalism, etc. In this article, Shekhar Sanyal, Country Head, Institution of Engineering and Technology, explains the current industry scenario.

Indian engineering is an industry of startling paradoxes. More than half a million engineers graduate every year, but only 25 to 30 per cent are actually employable. According to reports, engineering in India is the largest sector across industrial segments. However, the ratio of engineering innovation vis-ŕ-vis the size and strength of the industry is woefully small. Students study and graduate across various domains, but a large number of them end up in the IT sector, or in other domains like HR and marketing. We also see a large number of engineers in the banking sector, which prizes them for their analytical skills.

Among a number of reasons that have led to this situation, right at the top is the infamous 'knowledge-skill gap'.

This yawning gap between knowledge and skill is posing a significant threat for the Indian engineering industry and the engineers themselves. Its reasons can be seen in the way the admission system works, right through the way engineering education is imparted to employment.

The number of institutions in India offering engineering programmes is huge, with new ones being added every year. While it fulfills the hope of lakhs of parents who want their children to be engineers, it reduces the quality checks during intake. The fall out is that applicants, with extremely low as scores in class XII, with or without aptitude, gain admission. The situation gets worse in classroom, where the focus on practical and vocational training is not a core aspect of Indian education.

Communication, leadership skills, teamwork, professionalism and ethics are not featured in the curriculum. The result is only 20 to 25 out of 100 fresh graduates are employable.

That is where the knowledge-skill gap story begins. A clear plan to end it is required if India needs to sustain and take its engineering quest to the next level. Is the plan already in place? I am not sure. While I read and hear a lot of debate, discussions and reports on the knowledge-skill gap, a blueprint with action items for all stakeholders involved seems to be missing. Industry, academia and government must come together to focus on an actionable plan to improve the employability factor.

India has made a significant move from doing low-end outsourced jobs to the higher end of the value chain. The demand for a skilled and work-ready community is increasing. However, engineering and technology companies have no choice but adopt the Âhire and trainĘ model, which is proving to be an unnecessary investment and a delayed time to market.

The endeavour to correct this should ideally begin with the academia. A sound education becomes relevant only when it is strengthened with strong skills. In other words, theoretical knowledge can be put to use only through the practical deployment of skills. This canĘt be truer for the engineering sector, where a skilled workforce is the most important asset of an organisation. A lot can be done by the academic institutions to address this. The collaboration with the industry should be strengthened.

The engineering curriculum should be tailored to include hands-on sessions conducted by relevant players of the industry whether it is manufacturing, electrical, electronic, product design or civil engineering. This will sustain the Ârelevant and currentĘ quotient of both the teaching faculty and the students.

To stand out in the plethora of engineering institutions and be the preferred choice of students and industry, institutions should focus on problem solving as part of their course curriculum. Across domains like power/energy, construction, manufacturing and transport there are problems that are affecting society and that can be solved through the application of engineering. Once again, we need skilled professionals for this. Students on their part can do a lot to up their skill quotient. Here are a few tips on how engineers can do their part in equipping themselves to become industry ready:

Networking and Ext ra-curricular Technical Activities: Engineering students and professionals should join various groups and professional bodies that will keep them abreast about the latest trends in the industry. By organising and participating in technical events like seminars, lectures and workshops, along with players from the industry, students will ensure that they will continuously improve and upgrade their knowledge and skills.

Additional certifications and qualifications: While the college degree is important, additional certifications and qualifications will give students and young professionals the edge. This can be done both during study years and while employed.

Focus on improving soft skills too: Poor grammar and communication skills; people management; respecting deadlines - all these make for a well-rounded professional. The industry requires engineers to focus on gaining critical skills beyond the technical domain such as communication, people and managerial skills. Employers are competing against global corporations and need to have a globally competent and well-developed workforce across key parameters. Students and professionals who are focused on continuous and all-round up skilling will have the edge.

Lack of relevant skills among students also throws up related challenges for the engineering industry. A student with basic skill training is open to look at any industry for employment and today the preferred destination is the IT industry. The result is that there are no takers for core engineering sectors like power/energy or manufacturing. The industry can play its part to correct the knowledge-skill imbalance and in turn tilt the balance more favourably for all industries for job aspirants. Training, tutorials, workshops and certification programmes can be deployed in collaboration with the engineering institutions.

When academic institutions and students invest time and effort in the training and up gradation of skills, the focus, interest and commitment of students to join the industry that matches with their skill and education will only get strengthened. Additional training and certifications by the organisations will act as a strong motivator. ItĘs a win-win-win for tudents-academia-industry.

The paradox of the Indian engineering industry needs to be set right. With all the surveys, reports and debates everyone is aware of the challenges and impact. ItĘs time for an action plan.