How industry is helping to bridging India’s engineering skills gap

Students are graduating without the necessary skills to find jobs — but educational institutions and the IT industry are stepping in to fill the gap.

Rearview students with hands up teacher in background [students, education, question time]
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Engineering is one of the most sought-after career paths in India, but according to Rajat Agrawal, associate dean for innovation and incubation at IIT Roorkee, only around 45 percent of today’s graduates have enough skills to get employment. “That skill gap is increasing,” says Agrawal.

But this is not due to lack of demand for what they have learned: India’s demand for digital talent jobs is 8x larger than the pool of fresh talent available, Nasscom reported in October 2020. By 2024, it expects this to increase to 20x.

The fact that graduates may be unemployable at a time of such high demand for educated workers is a matter of concern for educational institutes, and it’s of concern for some of the world’s biggest IT companies too. They’re stepping in to offer upskilling and reskilling programs in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, cloud technologies, blockchain, and the internet of things, working together with the nation’s IITs, NITs and other big educational institutions.

One of the factors contributing to the skills shortage is that there has been a sudden shift in the world of work in recent years, driven by the arrival of disruptive new technologies. The result, says Agrawal, is that “Routine works are automated and new jobs are created in technology-driven activities.”

This means that organisations are seeking to bring new skills into their workforce, whether through training or hiring.

Learning to learn

“Most of the institutes in India are trying their level best to provide the latest IT skills to their students,” says Agrawal, but nevertheless, “Students are lacking in advanced analytics, blockchain, cyber security type of advanced topics.”

But however hard the educational institutions try, it’s likely that technology will continue to outpace their ability to teach it.

So, he says, “It is important that new-age employees should focus more on developing their learning skills. It is not possible to grow in the corporate world without continuous learning.”

anilkumar singh 1x1 Capgemini

Anilkumar Singh

That’s something echoed by Capgemini’s head of talent acquisition for India, Anilkumar Singh: “The ideal candidate needs to be high on learning ability, especially technology preparedness, open and flexible to new opportunities.”

Most importantly, they should have the ability to collaborate and adapt to the new hybrid work environment, he says. “In-demand technological skills are shifting more towards prioritizing complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. We see a larger demand for niche and combination skills.”

However well prepared they were when they completed their studies, graduates shouldn’t rest on their laurels.

“Alumni need to reskill themselves,” says IIT Roorkee’s Agrawal. “A few years back, we were not offering dedicated courses in data science and artificial intelligence. Perhaps alumni need to get more skilful in the fields of AI and data science.”

Capgemini has been encouraging its existing employees to learn new skills, using its market knowledge and modelling tools to predict which skills will be most in demand. It introduced its ‘Next’ learning platform in 2020 to provide additional training and certifications to all employees. In the first year, over 180,000 employees registered to access its more than 3,600 courses from over 160 universities, Singh, says.

Harshvendra Soin, global chief people officer and head of marketing at Tech Mahindra says it too has been retraining its workforce through a number of internal initiatives, including an artificial intelligence-based learning platform it calls Upskilling-as-a-Service (UaaS).

Bridging the skill gap

Smaller enterprises without the resources of Capgemini or Tech Mahindra, or individual graduates,  may be struggling to retrain, but technology vendors are stepping in to fill the gap.

“Enterprises are leaning on their technology providers to make it easy to upskill or reskill, and help bridge the skills gap quickly and effectively,” says Saravanan P, head of technology for Oracle India’s cloud engineering team.

Oracle’s contribution, he says, is to offer a number of always-free services to Oracle Cloud for people to learn and experiment with.

Companies including Microsoft, Google, Infosys, and IBM are also offering programs to help people get skilled.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) too integrated cloud computing in the curriculum at seven education institutions in 2020, and aims to do so in another 21 higher education institutions across India in the 2021-22 academic year.

cynthia swarnalatha 1x1 HPE

Cynthia Swarnalatha

Some companies, such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, are putting a special emphasis on developing the skills of parts of their workforce. “We have introduced initiatives such as the RISE (Reflect, Invest, Shine, Emerge) program, which accelerates and enables opportunities for women in technology and leadership positions,” says Cynthia Swarnalatha, vice president of software engineering for HPE’s compute business group. “In keeping up with our culture of inclusion, our endeavour is to increase the diversity in technical roles.”

Graduates of the future

Such leadership and technical roles—and even the prospect of a university education—are still far in the future for those who will play the biggest role in India’s future growth: school students. To make the most of their time when they get to university, today’s high-school students will need a solid grounding in technology. That’s something Microsoft India’s national technology officer, Rohini Srivathsa, is thinking about.

rohini srivathsa 1x1 Microsoft

Rohini Srivathsa

“India’s youth is the country’s biggest competitive advantage. Empowering this talent with the right skills to be self-reliant and succeed in a digital economy will be foundational to our long term growth and success. It needs to start with our schools and colleges, encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education and training our youth in next-generation technologies,” she says.

Microsoft is working with industry and government to introduce coding and data science to the school curriculum, with Nasscom to skill 1 million students in AI, and with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to skill over 1 lakh underprivileged youth, she says.

With initiatives like this, and those of other technology companies, graduates today and tomorrow will be better equipped to take their place in the changing world of work.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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