India is the country with a rich history, exquisite arts and a colorful culture. And yet, we have a surplus of engineers and a dearth of talented artists. According to recent statistics, India produces 1.5 million engineers annually, more than US and China combined. And a big reason for this is Indian parents. Yes, I finally dare to say that!
It’s high time Indian parents started respecting careers other than engineer or doctor. Here’s why Indians glamorize these careers & why this needs to end.
Bollywood’s Engineering Trope
Engineer and doctor are two professions that are very easy to understand and most glamorized by the Hindi cinema. Whenever the Bollywood story-tellers needed to portray a well-educated character, engineer or doctor was the easy way out. In a self-aware way, the Bollywood super-hit 3 Idiots even points out that in many families, girls are destined to become doctors and boys engineers.
History is the Reason for Indian Parents’ Obsession with Engineering/ Medical Careers
When India got its independence in 1947, India was an under-developed country and mortality was very high. Life expectancy was low in 1950s and doctors were regarded as Gods, especially to the uneducated. And they continued to do so for a long period of time. It’s no surprise that at the time, any parent would hope for their child to grow up to be a doctor.
By the 70s, India had started building itself, catching up with the modernization of the first world countries. Arts and culture in India flourished, but people didn’t take careers in these fields seriously. That’s because there was a desperate need for industrialization, or else we would remain a 3rd world country while rest of the world would move forward.
It was the 1990s when India finally liberalized. The industrial production grew rapidly and demand for engineering graduates peaked. For our parents’ generation, the two professions of engineering and medical sciences were proving to be the top-earning security-webs that were taking many families out of the Indian partition-induced poverty.
By late 1990s, most companies had outgrown themselves due to industrialization, consumerism and westerns ideas. So India had a desperate need for management graduates. Till 2010, the safest bet for most parents and students was an engineering degree with MBA. During early 2000s, computer engineering became the most coveted stream.
And the Mindset Continues…
Today most Indian parents are still in the 1980s, mentally at least. They believe what worked then will work now. I may be generalizing here, but most parents and students think that engineering is a place-holder degree. And one can do anything after that, depending on the interest and job-vacancy. Unfortunately, Indian companies have also seconded this, so Indian parents are not entirely to blame.
Choosing a career in India is a family decision, not a personal one. So what career a child wants to take up, kind of depends on their family. It’s like the caste system all over again – children tend to take up the same jobs as their parents, or aim to become what their parents recommend.
Indian Education System is also to Blame
In India, high-school is the ultimate time to choose a career for life. After 10th grade, students have to decide their stream – medical, non-medical, commerce or arts. Due to the high-demand, schools only offer medical and non-medical streams to top-scorers. Sadly, this makes the teachers and parents encourage smart kids to take up a career in medicine and engineering without even considering their aptitude.
By 10th grade, students are just 15 years old, much too young to even know what they want to become. Furthermore, colleges in India seal the deal with career choices, since students are not allowed to take up inter-disciplinary classes for credit. For example, if you’re in engineering college, you can’t take a class at the fine-arts college, which is unlike the education system in some other countries including the US.
Most students don’t have the courage to speak their mind in front of their parents when it comes to career. The reason is simple – that they themselves don’t know. So with both parents and kids unaware of career options – doctor or engineer becomes the default choice. I do agree that a few other professions like law, journalism, accountancy are also distinct, but they seem to have become family trade career options.
My Own Experience
Of course, I say all this from experience. As I had always been a smart kid, my parents wanted me to go to IIT for engineering. As I took the science stream in 11th, I realized I hated physics but I didn’t know too many other career options or what would be right for me. Not knowing what to do, my grades fell. I took up computer engineering, which was really hard to get.
I soon realized it wasn’t something I wanted to do or was good at. After that, everyone forced me to apply for masters in computer science again, but I felt too embarrassed to admit that I hated programming! Lucky for me that by then I was smart enough to decide to do an MBA and discovered my interest in marketing and learned about many other fields like law and economics. If I could go back today, I would certainly take up economics or psychology to complement my MBA in marketing.
Indian Parents vs. Students
The Indian middle-class family is stuck in social mediocrity. Indian parents who were brought up in 1960-70, grew up in very tough times, with no financial back-up from their immigrant parents and hardly any opportunities.
Having lived all their lives with a constraint of resources, pursuing professional passions was never on the cards. They never got the chance to explore other fields of professions than what was available to them at the time. What’s considered as mediocrity today was considered as luxury in their youth. Also, information was not as freely available as it is now.
Today’s students are being brought up with some kind of financial security by their parents, at least on a mental level. Thus, they want to explore disciplines of their interest. However, parents are still not sure as the ideas that were ingrained in their minds by their parents are still afresh.
What the Future Needs
Indian parents need to realize the world has changed, our country has produced so many doctors and engineers, that these are no longer sought-after career options. This article has nothing against these professions. In fact, the world still needs more people in STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
However, to produce successful professionals, we need to look at where the country is heading and what skill sets will be required for the future. Today we have entered an age where knowledge is free, it’s skill that is in short supply.
Some of the world’s most successful and futuristic companies today don’t hire people on the basis of their degree, but their skill. Glassdoor recently published a report saying that companies including Apple and Google do not require a college degree for some of their top jobs.
Explore Your Interests vs. Market Demand
Going forward, students need to explore their true interest and try to gain multiple skills. As we move forward, jobs are going to be more demanding. Skills like analytical thinking, interdisciplinary knowledge and creativity will be coveted.
If you look at the statistics, you will observe that pay-scales throughout the world have gone down over the period of time. For example, when I graduated from college 15 years ago, starting salaries during my campus placements were ₹ 2.4 to ₹ 3 lacs. When I look at the freshers who join my company now, it’s still pretty similar.
Governments all over the world recognize this phenomenon and are thus researching on concepts like universal basic income. The philosophy behind this is to provide a citizen enough to cover the basic cost of living and provide financial security. This is because automation will take over many jobs.
Having worked in international trade and business, governments around the world are putting more and more restriction on international trade to save local businesses and jobs. We are going through a phase of anti-globalization. The orange online in the graph below shows and increasing trend in non-tariff measures (NTM) over the years. The governments put these to save local industry and jobs in developed countries.
Great Career Fields for the Future
As the world becomes more and more automated, jobs will become more scarce. As more and more women enter the workforce, and as college degrees become more abundant, parents need to encourage their kids to explore multiple fields and create an environment for them that allows them to be inventive. Here are some interesting fields, both science related and not, that they can consider.
- Digital marketing
- Product & industrial designers
- Data sciences
- Digital arts
- Waste management
- Cultural anthropologist
- Robotics engineering
- Market research analyst
- Behavioral sciences
- Sports & athletics
- Soft skill consultant
- Public affairs consultant
- Cultural strategist
- Agricultural and food science technicians
Beside these careers, students also need to have an entrepreneurial outlook. It’s interesting to see that many among India’s youth are already considering entrepreneurship as a career option. However, both parents and students need to understand that one doesn’t need to jump on the entrepreneurship or start-up bandwagon without having a concrete idea and an aptitude for business.
Simply said, explore your career options based on what you’re truly good at, and gain as much knowledge about different careers as you can. By spending quality time with professionals, doing internships and proactively deep-diving into different careers, try to understand new options. After all, you need to find a career, not a job.
Written in collaboration with Shilpa Ahuja
Abhishek Sareen is a marketing professional with over 16 years of experience. He started his career as a management consultant and currently works in international business. He has set up businesses like Track & Trail, BrooksBicycles.com and created consumer brands like Montra, Machcity and Roadeo. He’s is a passionate cyclist and participated in several endurance competitive events like MTB Himalaya. His interests are in behavioral psychology, economics and chess. He is a graduate in Computer Science and an MBA in Marketing. He completed his executive education from IIM-A in 2016 focusing on business strategy.