Making India globally competitive
K Sridhar

India has over ten thousand engineering institutions and over fifteen lakh students graduating from these institutions every year. Factually, a large number and a lion’s share of global engineering talent. Leading global companies seek to hire top talent from India. Indians in top management roles of tech giants and most IT product development teams have a good proportion of Indian engineers. The largest recruiter from the engineering colleges is the IT industry. Demand for talent from the core sector is muted. While focus on Make in India and infrastructure projects are expected to enhance the demand, currently it is well below the supply generated from the colleges. Hence, top talent from across the spectrum of engineering education prefer the IT industry.

IT Industry

These facts should typically mean great news for the Indian IT Industry. We should be the home for new generation technologies and lead the way towards the future. However, facts are different. Reports suggest that only 7-10 per cent of engineers are employable that too in the general technology areas. IT companies are struggling to find the right talent. Core reasons identified for the gap is lack of basic foundation in maths and science, logical thinking and communication skills. The impact of these shortcomings is not just on employability at the individual level. They have a major impact on business and India’s competitiveness itself. While the quantum of workforce available is helping India in the IT services segment, our competitiveness in the product side is low.

Current technology products are automating coding and need for solutions. The result is quite evident with regard to new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. India is well behind the curve and the US and China are leading the pack. This is getting further complicated by the fact that of the 750 occupations currently in vogue and identified by the McKinsey Global Institute, 51 per cent of job activities are highly susceptible to automation.

Two  pronged approach

We need to look at two key areas when we seek to move in the right direction. One is competence building and other is the curriculum relevance.

Competence level plays a wider impact including getting ready for the future and more so creating the future. This step will have an impact across industries. Hence, let us look at competence first. There is a globally accepted framework for competence building, the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. The figure below clearly articulates the levels of competence and what is expected from each of them. As you will notice, the lowest competence level is remembering followed by understanding. When we closely look at our current education system, other than the leading research based institutions (which contribute a very small percentage of the total graduating students), most of the focus goes on to these two levels.

For India to be competitive in the global arena, there is a need for a graduate in general and engineering graduate in particular to move up the competence levels to the level of evaluating and creating. The entry tests into IITs and other premier institutions earlier pushed aspirants to move up to a higher level of analysing. However, the exam prep business which helps one prepare for these exams have reverse engineered to enable aspirants clear such exams by cramming up and remembering.

This brings out the question on how should assessments be done. Clearly people work towards what they are being measured on. From the institutional perspective, remembering is easy to assess and to automate assessment. Simple multiple choice questions will do the trick. This reflects that the assessment process favour competence level of remembering in most situations and hence that level of competence is achieved.

Curriculum relevance

Another area of focus is curriculum. There is not much focus on keeping the curriculum current. Industry is moving at a far higher pace than what the academic institutions can cope with. Framework for making the industry and academia work together is not strong. Hence, the industry-academia gap continues to exist. There is a lot of merit in bringing in curriculum to include New Age courses on machine learning, blockchain and other emerging technologies.

Having said that, generally there is a very little difference between the curriculum of top globally leading engineering school and a tier 3 institution in India. But, the real difference is how is the curriculum delivered and what level of competency is built. This requires a very strong focus on the building blocks: mathematics, science, analytical skills and communication skills. The primary focus has to be to ensure that engineering education churns out high competence graduates on a wider scale as against the current status of very few institutions who enable that. Even at the cost of quantity (which is currently in far higher supply than need) if this can be achieved, the engineering education system will churn out far more globally competitive, high-end engineers and make a mark for India in the global hi-tech marketplace.
(The writer is chief business officer, TalentSprint)