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Update academicians on global trends in engineering education

Update academicians on global trends in engineering education
Highlights

In large families where there are more mouths to feed, the first priority of the head of the family would be to see that everyone in the family...

In large families where there are more mouths to feed, the first priority of the head of the family would be to see that everyone in the family becomes a contributing member to their economy. Mere education for knowledge takes a back seat. Further, if children in the family receive higher education, it is with the dream of elevating the family's status, and if it does not qualify the son or daughter for a suitable employment, the parent would regret the investment and feel cheated.

Our country is now like this large family, very big by any world standards and growing too. We have plans of making our youth employable and globally worthy. Over the past few decades, we have seen how the IT boom boosted our employment graph and how the business process outsourcing facility has been instrumental in creating many openings for the Indian youth both at home and abroad, with destinations spread across the globe.

Like a timely answer to the global demands, we were quick to establish hundreds and thousands of engineering colleges, which is no exaggeration, making our State and our country one of the leaders in minting fresh engineers by lakhs every year. Every family now has an engineer in its wings, ready to take off to some distant lands or to some dream job in our own country.

But now the question is : if the same wave for IT professionals continues, and if the global market requires a different skill set, why would our engineers be in demand anymore ? If the problem of unemployment hogs even the advanced economies, why would our youth be preferred for jobs which the natives can do? If we continue to release lakhs of graduates and professionals with dated knowledge, which is unsuitable; and, therefore, unsustainable in the changing scenario, how will this large family sustain itself? If we are not the only people in the world eager to migrate and earn, if our competitors are better qualified, well-equipped and, therefore, a better option for the employers, how should we gear ourselves up at least from now on? Times change, needs change, demands change, technology changes, preferences change, and with all these changes, the supply must fall in line if we wish to stay in the run.

When individuals themselves get geared for their future by utilizing the present in the best possible means, a nation striving to provide well for all its members should be observant of the global trends and fast changing demands too. The average rate of unemployment in India is expected to rise to 9.4% in 2013 from 9.3% in 2012, predicts staffing firm Kelly Services. The figure 9.4% may not be alarming for many, but if the numbers are calculated, in a country with billions of people it would make our heads swim. It would be more than the 12.1% in the Euro zone and the 7.6% in the U.S put together!

The steps taken by other countries to strengthen their economies by providing employment on a priority basis for their local or native talent, reducing outsourcing and restricting the number of visas issued to foreign nationals seeking employment, must make us realize that we, as a nation, cannot absorb or accommodate all our educated and employable youth; we do not have the manufacturing outlets or industries or any other MNCs to employ all our qualified professionals; we need to model them for openings abroad while competing with China and our other Asian neighbours. By 2012, U.S economy was predicted to add 1,70,000 jobs, mostly in the manufacturing, educational services and health care sectors according to The Bullhorn Job Opportunity Report which is calculated based on new job openings across more than 50,000 recruiters and five years of historical data.

So too, in spite of the fluctuations in its economy even now, the UK employs more than eight million people in the engineering and manufacturing industries, making it the seventh largest manufacturing nation in the world in areas like aerospace, automotives, food and drink, biotechnology, chemical, electrical and electronics, metals, minerals and materials, marine, nuclear, oil and gas, pharma, etc.

My question is: How desirable are our Indian professionals to compete, excel and be employed in all these fields? Every year there are more engineering colleges coming up, but if what expert analysts have been saying is to be counted, we need to reorient and redesign our curricula for majority of our graduates who are clueless regarding their future and discarded as unemployable. According to 'Aspiring Minds', which conducts quality tests (AMCAT) , only 4.2% of India's engineers are fit to work in a software product firm, and just 17.8% are employable by an IT services company, even with up to six months' training. A larger share could cope with business-process outsourcing (call centres and the like). These findings are even gloomier than the 25% figure for employability that has been bandied about since 2005, when McKinsey released the results of a survey of international companies.

Most of our engineers lack basic programming skills, while employers expect our prospective engineers to go beyond programmes such as '.Net' and 'Java'. They desire that candidates should know about even applications such as Ruby Rail and Python as programming languages. These are some of the programmes where demand is more than supply. A Another point worth noting is, rather than spend six to eight months in imparting skill training after recruitment, many companies are redesigning the academics and work with colleges to get the right candidates. If our engineers are clueless, our science graduates are no better in spite of their high-sounding scores and percentiles.

The scarcity of available technical workers or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) candidates in Asia is more than 24%. To bridge the talent gap, companies are expanding and strengthening their internal talent pools, and, at the same time, increasing engagement with outside parties to develop a broader base of potential workers. Obviously, the road ahead appears to have more than a few obstacles. Improving the suitability of graduates is far from simple, but educational improvements could be coordinated closely with domestic and multinational companies to develop practical skills training in universities and external management training programs.

Let us not ignore what the McKinsey study pointed out, way back in 2005: 'Study and work abroad programs can help students gain international experience and create a worldwide diaspora of highly educated and globally minded workers'. If such reforms are not possible, would be wise for us to sanction more and more professional colleges, engineering or any other, and deceive our own members into a false investment of time and money?

According to Educe Research report ,there has to be an attitudinal change along with the desired aptitude in our youth too. Only 3 in 10 learners expect to develop portable qualities from their studies � the expectation is that these will be developed when in work.

Irrespective of the business models they adopt in response to global change, the war for talent remains a key concern among CEOs worldwide, ranking second only to a potential economic downturn as the biggest threat to business growth. All this research into the market's requirements only proves that there is always a bright future for the talented with the right skill set. Let our academicians be updated on the global trends before entering a new academic year. Prepare our young professionals for the lion's share in the employment scenario.

Considering India's freshly minted graduates who are clueless regarding their future, the author says, we need to redesign and reorient our curricula in line with the recommendations of experts

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