One of the clear signs of India’s emerging status as a knowledge economy is the fact that today the country has better employment avenues that can prevent an exodus of intellectual capital. Gone are the days, particularly before globalisation, when IIT and IIM graduates sent job applications largely to organisations in the developed West and the country was contending with the problem of brain drain.
“Now with improved monetary prospects and scope for cutting edge work, Indian organisations are a big draw for bright and promising minds,” says Shekhar Sanyal, country head, IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology), India. He elaborates, “A decade back engineering firms in India largely (if not wholly) engaged in testing work for global engineering projects. But today Indian engineering firms provide opportunities for sophisticated R&D, innovation and high-end design.”
Substantiating Sanyal’s observation, Anand Pattani, associate vice president, Black & Veatch, says, “For more than 40 years Black & Veatch has been working in India, undertaking projects like power generation and water and sanitation that enhance quality of life and support economic development. During this period we have seen notable changes. Previously, Indian engineers may have had to seek work overseas to gain experience of things which are at the top of the value chain. However, now we are able to support their career development within our India offices, with the opportunity to work on global projects. In recent years, we have recruited significant numbers of highly skilled Indian engineers and designers to work in our Mumbai and Pune offices. The figure has grown from 245 in 2007 to the current figure of nearly 400. In addition to supporting Black & Veatch’s work for clients across the world, they are supporting critical human infrastructure projects in India.”
There’s a similar story in the domain of management. “In the fast-mushrooming venture capital and private equity funded organisations there is an increasing need for top talent, particularly at the middle and higher echelons of management,” says Himanshu Aggarwal, CEO and director, Aspiring Minds, a Noida-based employability measurement firm. A pronounced emphasis on professionalism, lucrative remuneration and, most importantly, the opportunity to do work at par with the work in developed countries is making India Inc a preferred choice for management graduates from leading Indian b-schools.
While on one hand the relatively newfound emphasis on retaining talent is translating to a slew of training and development initiatives, on the other hand the concept of drawing career roadmaps for high-performing employees in a consultative manner is gaining ground. This is contributing to compound the appeal of India Inc. “This appeal is not just restricted to Indians. There are numerous instances of expats coming to India for internships which speaks volumes about our growing standards both in terms of work and corporate culture,” shares Aggarwal.
And it is not just the employment prospects that are attractive for management graduates. Entrepreneurship is another turf that is brimming with potential. “While there is a dearth of infrastructure — supply chains for instance — one cannot discount the fact that it is a lot easier to establish proof of concept (meaning demonstrated worth of the idea) in India as compared to many other countries simply because the fiscal requirement for setting up enterprises is significantly lesser,” observes Aggarwal. “The existing disadvantages can in themselves translate to individual entrepreneurial opportunities. And people are realising this, which explains the upsurge of start-ups specialising in e-supply chains that are engineered to provide innovative, cost-effective and real time solutions to various business challenges,” he adds.
The employability issue
This story of ‘India Inc shining’ is one part of the assurance that the country is marching towards a knowledge economy. The other side of the assurance lies in the employability quotient of our overall pool of engineers and managers. And here the facts are far from heartening. “Less than 25% of our engineers are not employable,” informs Shekhar Sanyal, country head, IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology), India.
In fact, according to a recently published report by Aspiring Minds, (basis AMCAT, which is one of India’s largest employability tests) more than 25% engineers do not even possess the English comprehension skills required to understand engineering school curriculum and only 57% engineers can write grammatically correct sentences in English. And yes, there is an intrinsic connection between engineers and managers as a considerable number of managers have engineering degrees.
So what is ailing our education system and how can the problem be rectified so that we have a qualified workforce? “The curriculum of an IIT or any other engineering school is pretty much the same. The problem lies in the selection criteria. Many engineering colleges of our country have no commitment to quality when it comes to screening potential students. All that they are interested in is filling their intake capacity,” says Sanyal. He goes on to say that engineering schools have to look beyond textbooks and involve the students in more rigorous practical assignments.
Adding to this, Aggarwal says, “Part of the problem lies in the fact that many engineering colleges are just keen to achieve 100% placement records. In that bid, students do not feel the need to study really hard and develop a knowledge base. Passing exams and securing a job becomes the obvious thing to do. Organisations can step in here and reverse this complacent mindset. For one they can incentivise performance in certain hardcore technical domains that in turn will encourage academic rigour in colleges.”