Engineering is one of the most popular education choices in India, and yet many Indian engineers are not employable. IIM-A alumnus and Computer Science graduate Abhishek Sareen discusses the reasons with other engineers and industry veterans.
In a country like India, we are highly driven by herd mentality. Whenever we see some success in a particular career, we tend to get attracted in masses towards it. Engineering is one such profession. India produces about 15 lakh engineers per year, and very few of them eventually get engineering-related jobs. According to an Employability Survey done in 2019, 80% of Indian engineers are not fit for jobs.
I too was coaxed to take up engineering when I cleared my board exams back in 2000. IT & Computer Science were the most in-demand and talked about fields in India and almost everyone wanted to graduate in one of these. I had realized that I wasn’t keen on taking up engineering, but with so much of social and peer pressure around me, I finally took up computer science, without even knowing what I was about to get into. Later I realized it wasn’t of my interest and struggled at it.
Also check out: Reality of Engineering – A Dying Practice in India
The Rise & Fall of the Popularity of IT Engineering in India
In the early 1990s, India was going through liberalization that lead to a boom in manufacturing. This created a lot of new jobs and engineering as a career became popular. We then saw a sudden rise in engineering institutes all over India. Backed with heavy marketing and PR, engineering became an ideal career in the minds of every Indian parent for their children. During this time there was a sudden spurt of engineering institutes, but many of these institutes struggled to get quality of teaching staff and infrastructure.
Engineers also became an ideal hiring choice for companies like Infosys, TCS, HCL, Satyam (now Tech Mahindra) etc., which started providing training to tens of thousands of engineering graduates and started placing them overseas for contract IT service job opportunities. This was very lucrative for students as they got to travel overseas and earn a fat USD salary compared to their peers, and this helped these IT companies grow exponentially during the mid-1990s. It became a win-win situation for students, engineering institutes and IT service companies.
However, this didn’t last long, as by the mid-2000s engineering institutes were producing engineers in millions, and engineering degree became just an entry ticket for getting into an IT services company. Soon everybody took up engineering for the sake of it, with an IT career in mind as their objective. Engineering fields like mechanical, electrical, civil etc. thus lost their relevance, as a job in one of these fields in India would pay way less compared to an IT job.
By the 2010s, the number of engineering collages in India had grown manifold. However most of them don’t produce graduates who have a high quality academic standing or relevant skillset and industry exposure. The number of IT engineers far exceeded their demand, which diminished the relevance of a B.Tech IT degree alone in the minds of employers. They began preferring graduates with a B.Tech + MBA degree combination.
Basic Reasons why Indian Engineers are not Employable
Along with this, there also a few other factors that led to the downfall in producing quality engineers in India, which eventually made them unemployable across all specializations:
- Push by Indian parents for their kids to take up an engineering course, without considering their interest towards it.
- Due to mass rise of engineering institutes, teaching staff quality suffered. Thus with lack of engaging lessons and updated curriculum, they were not able to awaken the interest of students toward engineering.
- The IT Services industry lured students towards overseas placements. This increased the interest of students towards fields like IT and Computer Engineering. However, this made other non-IT & Computer streams suffer.
Engineers’ Opinions on the Topic
Rahul Ahuja, an IT engineer + MBA with over 15 years of experience in Telecom, Content and Telematics discusses why Indian engineers are not employable.
“Engineering no longer remains the best of career choices,” he says. “The problem lies not only with the sheer number of engineers the country has produced over the last 20 years, and that the demand vs supply equation is working against this profession, but also because the curriculum of engineering courses has not changed at the level the industry has changed. Industry today demands techno-functional and technical leaders, who can be flexible to learn new technologies quickly.”
“Moreover, at later stages in the career of an engineer, you would not find the work exciting if you are not inclined towards managerial and interpersonal skills, which mostly lacks in engineers who are more technically oriented. It is high time the curriculum undergoes a massive transformation to align with modern day technologies and colleges hone the students to be more adaptive and lead in the ever-changing industry.”
Even in the field of IT Engineering, India struggles to produce good quality engineers. Another one of the reasons pointed out by Rahul Ahuja is that most IT engineers tend to build their skill sets in easy IT skills and tend to shy away from complex technologies and difficult skills. This leads to high competition for IT jobs with simpler skill requirements, thus rendering a lot of IT engineers unemployable for jobs that require higher IT skills and complex technologies.
Main Reasons why Indian Engineers are not Employable
Deepak Raj Ahuja, mechanical engineer with 45+ years of experience in the steel & heavy engineering industry, sheds some light on the matter.
There are too many engineering colleges in India that are failing to produce high-quality engineers. According to him, here are a few main reasons why Indian engineers are unemployable:
- The engineering education does not focus on developing skill-sets that are in accordance with industry demand.
- Engineering colleges are run like a business, instead of like an institution, wherein the top management has little incentive to train engineers for jobs.
- The founders and Executive Directors or key decision makers in most engineering colleges are often non-engineers, who don’t really understand the changing industry and its skill requirements.
- Most engineering colleges are located in faraway places, at a large distance from industrial area. This along with the classroom-based curriculum limits students’ industry visits. So they get little to no exposure of the actual industry practices.
- The engineering curriculum prepares students to become officers and managers, not workers. In reality, newly employed engineers belong on the shop floor, not in offices. It’s with a lot of experience that they are promoted to become officers. However, as mentioned before, the colleges’ curriculum is fully classroom-oriented, and fails to mentally or physically prepare engineering students to be on the shop floor.
“Due to these reasons,” he mentions, “engineers in India fail to get jobs upon graduation.”
He proposes a fully changed education model for engineering institutes.
1. Only an engineer should be able to register and start an engineering college. Moreover, he or she should be the acting Executive Director or Dean of the college. This will ensure that the top-level decisions are always taken by someone who understands and is up-to-date with the industry and its evolving demands.
2. Engineering colleges should only be located near an industrial area, or created as a part of a working industry. Just like a medical college is a part of a hospital. This will help students get accustomed to the working environment on a daily basis, giving rise to experienced engineers who understand the practice as well as theory.
3. Engineering curriculum should be experience focused during the entire academic year for all 4 years, instead of just having a semester or 3-month long industry internship. Usually, students join internships, but due to the short duration, companies are unable to give them any real responsibility on the shop floor. This results in an experience certificate without any worthwhile experience.
4. Every class should be divided into two batches. Batch-A studies in class, while Batch-B is working full-time in the industry during the first-half of everyday. After lunch, Batch-A relieves Batch-B of their duties, while B gets back to college to take classes. This will help the company hand out actual responsibility to students, making them learn and gain experience while they study. Plus the company will get low-cost employees, making it a win-win.
5. First year students will work without stipend, and can assist senior students working in the company as required. Second and third year students will earn some stipend, whereas final year students will earn a good salary and take up more responsibility, operating machines.
6. An experience-focused curriculum will also mentally prepare students to be more hands-on on the shop floor, instead of hoping to get a sitting office-based job straight out of college. Just like hotel management students are mentally prepared to wait tables after graduation.
7. This academic method will also help students become comfortable with the working environment, making them employable and ready to take up responsibility right after they graduate. Moreover, it will increase the respect for engineers in the society, as people will understand how difficult engineering studies are.
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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.