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"My husband is from IIT-Delhi, my brother-in-law is also from IIT-Kanpur and everyone in my family is an engineer, including me. However, my son has scored 7 out of 10 in computer science. He lost 3 marks and my entire family is upset. I don't know what to do. He just doesn't study. Please do something."
This was a mom at my daughter's school, talking to the class teacher during a parent-teacher meeting or rather pouring her heart out about her disappointment with her 8-year-old son's performance in exams.
This made me think how even the millennial parents are preparing their children, as young as this boy, to become software engineers even if the child doesn't have the passion for it.
Well, the rise of edtech startups and the craze for coding is also a testimony to it. However, keeping aside the passion part of it, engineers surely continue to be in demand. India is today a global power source for engineers and technical experts.
In the last few months, the demand for tech and software professionals in India has risen drastically. Engineers are being hired left, right and center. This is also leading to a surge in salaries. Bhavish Aggarwal, founder of Ola, even sent out a sarcastic tweet about it recently, "Engineering hiring situation in Bengaluru - thinking of offshoring some work to a lower cost center in SF, Bay Area!" Ola currently has more than 100 open positions, predominantly for people from tech backgrounds.
"For the past two years, the pandemic stalled the fresh hiring process in all major IT companies like TCS, Wipro, Infosys, etc. Now there is a pent-up demand to hire new employees and every organization has hiring targets in lakhs. This has created a huge demand for hiring fresh engineers from campuses," said Bhavesh Goswami, founder and CEO, CloudThat, a company that provides cloud training and consulting services for mid-market and enterprise clients around the world.
Also, almost every sector today, including education, healthcare, retail, banking, finance, ecommerce, is moving towards automation and remote computing. Businesses saving operational costs and on-premises direct expenses have triggered opportunities in the spheres of cloud, AI/ML, DevOps, IoT, security, and other emerging domains thus creating more opportunities for engineers.
Having said that, on the contrary, 80 per cent of engineering graduates today are non-employable, says the National Employability report 2019.
According to NASSCOM reports, in 2018, the demand for AI and other emerging technology professionals was 140,000 and the available workforce was 78,000. The gap between supply and demand was 62,000. Now in 2021, the demand is for 230,000 resources, and the availability is 90,000. The shortage is 140,000. This is despite the presence of 6,052 engineering colleges in India, as per the statistics from the All India Council of Technical Education for the year 2020-21.
These statistics clearly depict the widening gap between demand and supply of skilled workforce. "Reasons that can be attributed to the poor qualification of engineering graduates are over-reliance on rote learning, lack of Industry-academia partnerships, and use of the poor methodology in honing analytical and problem-solving abilities in them," said Goswami.
The lack of real-life experience among teachers to impart industry-ready skills is one of the key reasons behind this gap. "Every teacher and professor and administrator in institutions of higher education wishes the best for the students. But, education without context is just a random assortment of facts. And, what the students of higher education today need, particularly in engineering colleges, is an immersive experience in the real world. Most teachers lack the real-life exposure that the industry offers, and the pace of technology has accelerated over the years and made the gap nearly unbridgeable for the ones in charge of the learning," said Rajendran Dandapani, director of technology, Zoho Corp. and president at Zoho Schools of Learning.
In Dandapani's opinion, if we bring professionals from the industry and offer them real opportunities to interact in meaningful ways with the students regularly, what is already good on paper, can actually become amazing in practice.
The way in which engineering institutions across the country have multiplied over the last few decades, especially in tier II cities, without focusing on the quality of education, has given rise to the issue of students failing to meet the requirements at work.
"IT students are aware of new-age technologies such as ML, AI, data analytics, and Big Data. But the application of it according to the needs of an industry is not clear with them," said Saravana Kumar, founder and CEO, Kovai.co, a SaaS company that has been working with students and institutions in tier II cities through its Kovai.co Connect program to address the issue of skill gap.
Need For Upskilling
The need of the hour for engineering students in India is an industry-focused learning ecosystem. For this to happen, educational institutions should get involved with key industry players and create programs to help students gain expertise in future technologies.
"In SaaS/IT, being future-ready is a constant work in progress. The technologies are here to evolve, and there will be new things to learn and discoveries to be made. The upskill of students should happen in building innovative thoughts, looking at things from a larger perspective, and the applications of emerging technologies to solve global needs," said Kovai.co's Kumar.
Experts believe that it is important for institutions and industry players to create opportunities for engineers to be more industry-ready.
Dandapani explained it further by quoting a famous video from more than a decade ago that went viral. Titled "Shift Happens", it underlined the problem faced by most educators. "We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't been invented, in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet. This then is the conundrum," he said.