ELTWeekly Vol. 9 | Issue 9 | July 2017
The world has changed over the last century, so has the world of work, where employers are highly concerned with the skills of young labour market entrants as they are facing difficulties in filling vacant positions. Their difficulty in finding the skilled candidates stems from two sources: Skills Shortage (lack of appropriately skilled graduates at a particular level of education and in the right field of study) and the Skills Mismatch (Adequate number of graduates with requisite education but lacking in appropriate job skills). The employment market is becoming more and more competitive as greater numbers of students are undertaking higher education courses and, therefore, Skills Shortage is no longer a problem. The main problem is the Skills Mismatch as the employers are looking for the professionals who have more to offer than simply a good degree. The major setback here is that plagued with problems like curriculum, lack of qualified faculty, poor quality of content, and not-so-effective examination system, technical institutions do not provide signaling value in the job market, for a disparity exists in the types of skills taught at colleges and those that are demanded in industry and the gap exists mainly because there is a lack of clear understanding regarding industry skills requirements. Therefore, it is critical to identify specific bottlenecks in skills demanded by employers, and to provide detailed information and practical suggestions to overcome the skills shortage. An attempt has also been made here to probe the causes of skills gap by understanding the industry’s workforce requirements and to provide an adequate and comprehensive coverage on the theoretical as well as practical domains in the field.
Key Words: Skills Gap, Skills Mismatch, Bottlenecks, Skepticism, Industry Skills Requirement, Employment
In order to promote engineering graduates’ employability within an increasingly competitive and global business environment, engineering institutes need to develop programmes in which undergraduates are actively encouraged to acquire and hone soft skills. But the problem is that a disparity exists in the types of skills taught at colleges and those that are demanded in industry and the gap exists mainly because there is a lack of clear understanding regarding industry skills requirements. Therefore, an attempt has been made here to identify specific bottlenecks in skills demanded by employers, and to provide detailed informations and practical suggestions to overcome the skills shortage. This will enable institutions of higher learning to design new curriculum and to redesign the existing ones to be market-driven. It will also be helpful in providing inputs for all the necessary changes in the teaching techniques, considered necessary to prepare future business leader with the skills necessary for the 21st century workplace. These informations will be invaluable in designing courses and facilitating placements. There is also an increasing demand for such informations from teachers, administrators and policy makers. The findings can also be used to support feedback from business and industry, which continue to suggest dissatisfaction with the lack of academic awareness by the engineering graduates.
The rapid and drastic changes in the workplace requirements are creating higher demand for employability skills in the workforce. Employers have high expectations with the fresh engineering graduates to perform in their organizations as soon as they are hired. Engineering employability skills are, therefore, necessary for the industry to remain competitive in the global market.
The rapid growth in Indian economy has resulted in a surging need for increased and better quality of products and services. In spite of the increasing number of job opportunities emerging across sectors, India is reeling under the pressure of severe shortage of quality talent in the job market; though around 1.6 million graduates are awarded with engineering degrees every year. The gap is mainly because the produced engineers, though bulk in quantity are poor in quality.
According to the India Skill Report (2014) if the economic and social situations of the country are ignored, the quality of workforce is also an area of concern. Out of a remarkable 60% of total population available for working and contributing towards GDP, only 25 % is capable of being used by the market. The report further states that there would be a demand-supply gap of 82-86% in the core professions and IT industry would face the shortage of skilled workers up to 3.5 million.
In short our markets will grow, creating an increase in jobs and need for skilled manpower, but against the demand there would be a scarcity of skilled workforce. This is what we call as the ‘Great Indian Talent Conundrum’ that can easily transport us from the stage of ‘Reaping Demographic Dividend’ to a stage of facing the ‘Demographic Disaster’ (www.britishcouncil.in). Therefore, realising the need of the skilled professionals the Government of India has notified the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship on 9th December 2014 to make our country the ‘Skill Capital’ of the world and to enable effective response to the Prime Minister’s invitation to the world to ‘Come, Make in India’ (www.nsda.gov.in).
But in the existing scenario of higher education, it is found that the translation of the needs of the industry into academia is more mediocre as the industry-institute interaction is not vibrant. Academia should respond as the conscience keeper of the industry, but the problem is that many a time, industry and academia keep themselves off from each other as if they have no role to play in solving the problem.
As a result employers have expressed that graduates are technically good and could produce engineering solutions to technical problems but often have weak non-technical skills and so fail to complete a project successfully. The employers prefer to hire, trained and ready to go to work people. But the existing education system has been involved in preparing students to be the discipline experts. The gap between the expertise considered necessary to the job and those possessed by aspirants is of real concern to administrators and business heads looking to appoint competent employees.
Here it is quite remarkable to note that National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) survey states that India has the potential to provide workforce for the world by 2020 as huge number of college graduates are entering the workforce every year. And yet, here, we are today with awfully low employability rates in metropolitan cities like Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru. In the same vein, one of the recent studies by PurpleLeap indicates that “only one out of ten students coming out of Tier II, III and IV engineering colleges is readily employable.”(www.sify.com) Almost the same view and concern over the skills gap has been expressed by our Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi who said that:
Our country has earned a reputation for scam India. We will have to transform this into skilled India. There is an urgent need for manpower in the world. Our neighbour China is getting older and we are getting younger. Our priority should be skill development in the youth as there is a need to have skill, not just certificates (www.businesstoday.in).
The shortage of appropriately skilled professionals across many industries is emerging as a significant and complex challenge to India’s growth and future. According to National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) each year over 3 million graduates and post-graduates are added to the Indian workforce. Lokesh Mehra remarks that only 25 percent of technical graduates and 10-15 percent of other graduates are considered employable by the rapidly growing IT and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) segments (www.cisco.com). Thus there is ample evidence to the fact that graduate engineers lack the required employability skills, particularly when considering the needs of industry internationally and compared to various other related disciplines offered at universities.
The crucial point here is that educational institutes must understand that the transition from academia to corporate is not so easy and smooth for a number of students. Today’s young professional graduates are facing quite a different employment challenges than earlier. Not only the students, but also the ones already in work, should understand that the nature of employment is changing in such a way that education has become a lifelong learning process.
As it is stated that though soft skills’ crisis is a universal phenomenon, the problems and reasons in the Indian subcontinent are peculiar. Our educational system is so designed that it forces students to concentrate more on rote-learning than on developing a spirit of enquiry, which is the most dominant factor to achieve success at work place.
Even our university education is dubbed as outmoded with little relevance to workplace responsibilities and career enhancement. It is a strange paradox that higher education contributes to the largest population of unemployed graduates. Universities are focused on theoretical study, in terms of marks system but industries expect the manpower in terms of positive attitude, commitment and self- responsibility.
Undoubtedly, this issue will present a big challenge for educators to design and implement effective learning strategies for soft-skills education into the engineering curriculum. Though, there have been some changes in the engineering curriculum over the last decade, they don’t seem dynamic enough to keep pace with a rapidly-changing marketplace requirement. Consequently, many graduates lack the essential skills on which to build new learning experiences. The question, therefore, is “Is it because of the curriculum or its delivery?” The low employability among engineering graduates is a cumulative outcome of poor education standards and higher demand of skilled employees, creating a drastic skill gap in the country.
Some of the main reasons identified for this gap are:
- Lack of proper planning, appropriate guidelines and corrective measures while sanctioning new institutions and disciplines.
- Establishment of a large number of institutions taking only profit into consideration, with little emphasis on quality education.
- More focus on the ‘formal’ education (in spite of facts and indicators that only academic skills are not sufficiently good for employability).
- Understaffing and lack of qualified, competent and suitable faculty members.
- Theoretical nature of the course curriculum where students are not made aware of the practicalities of industry.
- Absence of the constant analysis of the job market needs to cover all aspects of the skill requirements of the industry.
- Absence of a comprehensive and well-defined approach for skill development.
- Absence of a dynamic education system which caters the industry’s skills requirement time to time in the changing business scenario.
- Absence of the vibrant Industry-academia interaction.
- Absence of the training (administered by both the government and the private sector) even after recruitment to keep abreast with the market demand, which is crucial for an employee’s career development as well as for the benefit of the employer’s jobs.
- Absence of requisite changes in the curriculum in spite of the rapid developments in the fields of science and technology.
- Focus on the traditional method of teaching with little thought of providing something extra (not easily accessible on net) to make the students interested in the classes.
- More focus on content delivery than knowledge delivery.
- Routine assignments with less focus on any research or innovation.
- More focus on the grades in evaluation system than on learning.
- The emergence of the highly paid IT sector where everyone wants to join IT sector without any sound understanding in the field, resulting in half-baked engineers, neither good in their own disciplines nor in IT.
- Over-dependence on software packages in some of the core discipline courses rather than on concepts, leading to poor understanding of the subjects.
- More emphasis on theory than on practical, field exposure and competency development.
- Absence of the multi-cultural sensitivity among the young graduates.
- Absence of motivation to attract students to serious learning and establishment of new branches of engineering with the traditional mode of structure.
These are some of the main reasons for the skills gap and without addressing these issues, the Indian engineering education system will not be able to leverage the benefits of international goodwill that the Indian industry has generated for itself and hence, India’s potential as a preferred international destination for engineering education will remain unknown and untapped. It is here that the Indian engineering education sector can tremendously help the Indian industry to make a much larger contribution in higher value-added markets. It needs to focus on competence building by transforming its traditional teaching, learning, and assessment processes.
On the whole it can be said that skill development has become the need of the hour and curriculum changes are needed for engineering institutes to stay relevant. Hence, this study aims to show how university education in collaboration with the industry can provide a solution to address these skill-deficit issues to fully prepare the engineering graduates for workforce as by no means it’s practical for industry to expect from institute to deliver a made-to-order engineer graduate.
Thus it can be said that all the main stakeholders (graduates, academics/university, employers and the government) must have to work together to improve engineering graduates’ employability. Universities cannot guarantee employment to their graduates without their collaboration with the employers. Certainly, the students themselves have to make efforts to learn and acquire the knowledge and skills within an enabling environment and government input is required to ensure the policy structure.
It is also required that the students should not depend entirely on the university and the formal education system for their personal development. They have to be more proactive and take the initiative to acquire essential skills. Involvement in extracurricular activities is an excellent outlet for building self confidence and developing soft skills. Starting a business, instead of waiting for the job offers, is an attractive option, supported by many examples of successful and enterprising young entrepreneurs in the industry. Following are some of the main suggestions to overcome the problem of skills mismatch:
Effective Labour Policies: In order to strengthen the academic output, effective labour policies are needed as they can be of great help for market development. It will also help mobilise the country’s labour force, university graduates, secondary school drop outs.
Increased Academic Autonomy of Institutions: In order to enhance the academic output in terms of soft skills enhancement there is also the need of increased academic autonomy of institutions, which will allow the institutions to focus on the substantial professional development of their students.
Concerted Efforts: Concerted efforts among all the stakeholders (academia, industry, and students themselves) are the need of the hour to fully nurture and develop the essential job skills among the graduates to make them competent enough for the ever-changing labour market.
Reformation of Engineering curriculum and Reshaping of Assessment Methods: Reformation of engineering curriculum is the need of the hour. This reformed curriculum should include and focus more on practical implementation of the theoretical knowledge, like problem identification and experimentation, using engineering knowledge and methodologies. Along with this reformation of engineering curriculum, reshaping of the assessment methods are also required especially to assess the higher-order thinking skills instead of mere memorised knowledge.
Analysis of the Employment Market: The establishment of the government team to analyse the real labour needs of the employment market will go a long way to benefit both academia and industry in preparing and getting the industry ready talent.
Professional Consulting Network: Establishment of the professional consulting network for students to organise as well as disseminate the job market information and information about training programmes will help them a lot to get ready as per the industry requirements.
Promotion of Teaching-Learning Sessions: The engineering curriculum should focus more on the promotion of teaching-learning sessions by making it more and more interactive to engage students in active learning. These interactive sessions will help them to develop their analytical and evaluating skills as compared to simply listing and taking notes.
External Lectures: Forming a team of full-time professors and external lecturers by the academia from different backgrounds (engineering, business, law, and other professional trainers) will help the graduates to gain more practical insights into industry requirements.
Career Fairs: Organisation of career fairs through industry academia collaboration will help the undergraduates understand the real business environment. It will also provide them a practical insight into the organisational culture.
Expended Academic-Industry Cooperation: Expended industry-academia collaboration by organizing guest lectures from experienced personnel from different industries to share their experience with undergraduates on the type of personal qualities required for different positions will also strengthen the academic output as per the industry requirements.
Incorporation of Case Studies: Incorporation of case studies based on real-life examples in lectures and tutorials by means of classroom simulations and group work assignments will enable the undergraduates to have a hands-on experience in tackling job task in their areas of studies at the real working world environment.
These are some of the measures through which skills enhancement is quite possible. It is also clear from the above discussion that there is a need to have a clearer understanding of essential generic and professional attributes of engineering graduates to ensure quality in engineering education. Universities also have to work hand in hand with industry to ensure job acquisition and job sustainability of the engineering graduates as concerted effort is needed to produce readily- employable technical man power in the country. The improvement of infrastructure, redesign of curriculum improvement of teaching-learning methods and attracting well qualified teachers are only a few steps that could be initiated by individual institutions. The main challenges are to create an academic environment and education system that promote and ensure learning. However, there are many external and societal factors that need to be addressed as graduate employment and graduate employability do not depend only on one party, but involves the government, engineering institutes, industries and students. On the whole it can be said that working together to develop viable strategies and solutions is the only way forward to overcome the problem of unemployability. The process is quite challenging, but not impossible to achieve with honest efforts.
Draft Proposal of NSDA for Prime Minister’s Skill Development Fellows. PMSDF. 2014, www.nsda.gov.in/resources/PMDSF.pdf. Accessed 21 Nov. 2015.
“Employability of Engineering Graduates Alarming.” PurpleLeap, IBNS, Bangalore, 26 July 2012, www.sify.com/news/employability-of-engineering-graduates-alarming-survey-news-default-mh0pniedibjsi.html.
Mehra, Lokesh. “Bridging the Skills Gap with Industry: Academia Partnerships.” South Asia, Cisco Systems, 2009, www.cisco.com/web/IN/about/network/academia_partner ships.html. Accessed 11 Oct. 2015.
Sarkar A. K. and S.K. Choudhury. “Reasons for Low Employability of Engineering Graduates.” Business Today, 10 April, 2014. www.businesstoday.in/opinion/deep-dive/a.-k.-sarkar-s.k.-choudhury-on-engineering-studentsemployment/story/205041.html. Accessed: 1 Feb.