“The study of the scientific methods and principles underlying the practice of any handicraft, industry or profession; and the application of those methods and principles of the handicraft, industry, or profession in question. The first is the primary or technological aspect of the subject; the second is its subsequent and practical application.”
— 1901, Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India.
India produces over eight lakh graduates and diplomas in professional degrees, from over four thousand approved institutes. Yet, there is an acute shortage of the right manpower across industries. A severe attrition problem exists in many industries other than IT; from the candidate’s side, there is the ever-looming prospect of unemployment and underemployment. Typically, the graduation certificate needs an additional certificate that students get independently of their college education—like in IT or management—to find the right job. With campus interviews—the trend not just in the IIMs and the IITs, but even in other universities—the gap between the industrial HR needs and the qualification of the passouts has come to the fore.
Typically, soft skills are most conspicuous in their absence. The stress now is more and more on the need for emotional quotient rather than just the IQ. R Guhan, Country Manager, JobsDB.com says, “Communication and commitment are problems that most companies face while recruiting. The salary expectations are high. And, employees treat jobs that pay less, a stop-gap arrangement before jumping to greener pastures. In fact, even lecturers and principals are jumping to industrial jobs as they are better paying.”
An HR team confirmed this view in a presentation that it made to its management. The company is a leading automotive components maker in Chennai. Many candidates recruited from leading institutions stay for an year or two, pick up the tricks of the trade and move on to more lucrative jobs.
Picking students from the not-so-top class institutes is a dicey affair as there is the ever-present question raised about the quality of education imparted. The well-known capitation fee structure does nothing to dispel the misgivings.
Down Memory Lane
Technical education in India has a rich history, starting with the first survey school in 1794, near Fort St George in Chennai, with eight students. Now it’s well known as the Guindy Engineering College. A modest beginning, but by no way insignificant, and by independence, there were over 12,000 students admitted to the engineering colleges.
The Technical Education of Central Advisory Board of Education, 1943, envisaged: “The primary function of technical instruction remains, and is likely to remain, that of satisfying the needs of industry and commerce for a) skilled craftsmen, b) intelligent foremen and executives, and c) research workers.” It includes engineering, pharma, applied arts, MBA, MCA and similar professional courses.
Post-independence, the first breakthrough in education happened with the setting up of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), conceived by Prime Minister, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, and set up in 1950 in Calcutta—later shifted to Kharagpur—and called the Eastern Higher Technical Institute. It was called IIT just before the inauguration in 1951. The other IITs were in Bombay (1958), Madras (1959), Kanpur (1960), Delhi (1963) and Guwahati (1995). The first management institute came around this time, in 1954, and was called the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, in Calcutta.
Post liberalisation, education was freed and private institutions started coming up, especially in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Even today, these states easily take the lead in the number of institutions and the number of students graduating each year. While initially the purpose of these institutions was envisaged as charitable, today profit making is recognised as the goal of the private-run institutions, which has also thrown up questions of the quality of education imparted.
Technical Education Administration
One of the problems faced by the industry today is the lack of uniformity in technical education, as different institutions are run differently. There are the institutions run by the central and state governments, the universities, the deemed-to-be-universities and private institutions.
The Central government runs its institutions through the Bureau of Technical Education under the Ministry for Human Resources, the UGC and the AICTE. It is responsible for policy formulation, funding AICTE, University Grants Commission (UGC) and national institutes, partial funding of RECs, training and paying stipends to graduates/diploma holders under the Apprenticeship Act, to teachers for training in industry, linking institutions with foreign agencies for developmental activities, etc.
The UGC allocates funds for maintenance and development to universities.
AICTE, instituted in 1945 as an advisory body, takes care of planning, formulation and maintenance of norms and standards, accreditation, funding of priority areas, monitoring and evaluation of institutions, maintaining parity of certification and awards and ensuring the coordinated and integrated development of technical and management education. AICTE looks at the development needs, coordinates development, allocates and disburses funds for technical education, promotes research, etc. It also accredits colleges through the National Bureau of Accreditation (NBA).
The state government runs its technical institutes through the Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) and State Board of Technical Education. While the DTE is responsible for development of technical education, manpower forecast, curriculum design, starting, new institutions, budgeting and human resource development, the State Board undertakes policy panning, formulations and approval of curriculum, diploma/certificate exams, quality approval and other development activities.
Together, there are the government-run universities, the IITs and IIMs, the RECs that are partly government-funded and the private institutions—all with different management and administration.
The other problem, which has come to the fore with Tamil Nadu’s doing away with the Common Admission Test, is the different selection procedures for each of the institutions or group of institutions—so there is JEE for the IITs, CAT for the RECs, state level exams for the state level colleges, GATE for the MTechs and so on.
“It is a myth that only the premium institutions are producing the best; there are many institutes doing a good job,” asserts Arulmani, Head of HR and Administration, Igarashi Motors. However, there are miles to go before the institutes can rest. Shortage of staff, and high-quality staff at that, is the recurrent theme in the technical education scenario in India. There are not enough qualified teachers. The IITs produce 60 per cent of the MTechs and 75 per cent of the PhDs today. Better pay at the industry and the lure of the industrial experience, in addition to the famed brain drain to the western countries, are a common cause for concern. The other recent development, the boom in the ITeS market and their need for graduates from any stream (employment has grown from 284,000 in 1999-2000 to 1 million in 2004-2005) has led to many bright students being pulled away to work instead of pursuit of education.
The government, too, since the Fourth Five-Year Plan, has shifted its focus away from technical education to elementary and adult education, with a result that only Rs 100 crore has been allocated for technical education.
A weak R&D culture, poor manpower planning, almost negligent linkage with the industry, poor participation of women and slow response to changes threaten to weaken the technical education scenario in the country.
The need of the hour is action. China is a real threat. A professor from Purdue University mentioned at an HR Summit conducted by NASSCOM recently that engineers coming from China are almost as good as those graduating from the IITs. And, unless there is uniformity across all colleges, the English language alone will not help India become a global destination for bagging contracts.
Recognising this, the NBA was created in 1987 to certify the quality of the institutions. Any institute that has functioned for five years can apply for this. The rate of accreditation in the country currently is low, says Nath, with just 200 of the existing 5,000 colleges having been given the status. Infrastructure and manpower limitations at the AICTE themselves are a major concern in this regard. “Of course, students prefer word of mouth and the past performance of the institutions before they apply.” However, what also needs to be addressed, in this context, is the huge capitation fee charged by the institutes and not reported by students.
NASSCOM, recognising the lacunae in the Indian technical education system, has signed up with AICTE for a faculty development program in the IT sector, in partnership with the IT industry. Such initiatives are needed across streams and industries. Says Kiran Karnik, President, NASSCOM, “The industry can play a major role in ensuring that the curriculum is up-to-date and relevant by sharing trends, likely future developments and the requirement of skill-sets.” As part of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two, NASSCOM and AICTE will jointly undertake curriculum review, develop training modules, develop a database of engineering and management colleges across the country and study international models for industry-academia partnership.
Nath also suggests that for improving the communication skills of the students, it would be a good idea to follow the REC model of admitting students from rest of the country also. “A mix of students from different regions will mean more interactions, a broadening of perspectives and better communication skills,” he suggests.
Retention: The Bane
The IT industry’s retention problems are well known. But, this industry itself has added to the retention problem of other industries as the demand for functional experts is growing. With better pays, that is a lure difficult to overcome. But some of the retention tactics applicable to the IT industry are applicable here too: Creating a conducive work atmosphere, providing the scope to innovate, delegating responsibilities, changing personal success symbols from just monetary rewards to roles and responsibilities and retraining and enhancing skill sets.
In the modern world, no job is for life and loyalty to the employer has been replaced by loyalty to the designation or job role. Recognising this is of utmost importance and approaching HR problems in this perspective will be helpful in better attraction and retention of employees.