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The jobs paradox

India Inc says we don?t have enough tech grads. How come we've so many unemployed? Ask Samrat Choudhury and Sushmita Bose.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2006 14:55 IST

There’s one aspect to the reservation debate that begins with a paradox. It’s the paradox of shortage in the midst of plenty.

Amit Garg, 26, is an MBA. The boy from Meerut graduated in chemistry and did his MBA in Marketing from the Babu Banarsi Das National Institute of Technology and Management in Lucknow. After several door-to-door sales jobs, he managed to land a job as an ‘associate’ with a direct marketing firm, Simplex Solutions. He now makes Rs 5,000 a month plus a commission on sales made. The job entails mainly door-to-door sales, but often he is in charge of a promotion stall at a major market in Delhi.

There are many like him — and many who are less fortunate. They are qualified engineers and MBAs, but they have no jobs. India had more than 60,000 unemployed graduate engineers at last count, according to government figures. No official figure for unemployed MBAs has been published yet.

And yet, India also has a shortage of skilled technical manpower. The country will face a shortfall of 1,50,000 IT engineers in 2010, says a Nasscom-McKinsey report released four months ago.

So do we have too many engineers or too few? The answer: both.

“We have a large number of engineers but we also produce many unemployable ones,” says Centre for Policy Research (CPR) president and National Knowledge Commission member Pratap Bhanu Mehta. The issue, he says, is not about the number, but the quality of engineers.

Damodar Acharya, chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the apex body regulating technical education in the country, agrees that unemployment is on the rise because of a problem of ‘employablity’. However, Acharya wants to create “surplus supply (of technical manpower) for the growing demand”. This is despite the existing unemployable surplus.

The AICTE chairman says the problem of ‘unemployable’ engineers and MBAs is because “education has moved away from a totally controlled environment”. Eighty per cent of technical education has now shifted to private institutes, he says. “Of these, some are taking students for a ride, which is why AICTE-approved institutes have to follow mandatory disclosures.”

However, the value of AICTE accreditation in the market is questionable. Ronesh Puri, managing director of Executive Access, which calls itself Asia’s largest headhunting firm, says, “AICTE is more of a hindrance than a help.” He says AICTE accreditation is no help in judging the quality of a graduate. CPR’s Mehta points out: “Many big employers like Infosys are fed up with the unreliability of institutional signals, so they are recruiting youngsters directly and training them.”

The UGC and the AICTE “have no idea how to maintain standards”, says former IIT Madras director PV Indiresan. “Their culture is bureaucratic; they think that national accreditation will do. Even a simple observation of the number of responsible assessors needed to monitor 17,000 odd colleges will show that centralised accreditation is not the answer.”

In a recent survey in Businessworld, 64 per cent of the recruiters surveyed said AICTE accreditation is not important. One of the top business schools in India — the Indian School of Business (ISB) — does not have AICTE accreditation.

Ajit Rangnekar, deputy dean of ISB, says that over the past two decades, the growth of quality institutions in the country has come to a virtual standstill. “What is lacking is adequate educational infrastructure. While the number of people seeking professional qualifications has gone up dramatically, educational institutions have lagged behind,” he says.

This leaves the field to private players like Arindam Chaudhuri, who runs the Indian Institute of Planning and Management. Chaudhuri says the IIMs ought to produce “10,000 graduates a year”. The MBA is not a course for geniuses, but for people of average IQ, he says. “Nuclear physics is much more challenging. Why don’t those students get salaries at par with MBAs?” Chaudhuri reckons this is because of the shortage of skilled MBAs.

Ramping up the number of seats in top colleges is easier said than done. The dearth of quality teachers is a major hindrance. Maharashtra’s director of technical education NB Pasalkar says this is the reason why students are not competent enough to take on the global market. “Teaching as a profession has become the last resort of the unemployed,” he says. Teachers earn less than fresh graduates from the top institutes. It is, therefore, not the most lucrative of career options.

The mess runs deep. Indian industry’s global competitiveness is at stake. Which is why industry leaders and trade bodies are worried about any move that threatens to increase quantity of manpower while doing nothing to improve quality.

The buck stops with the Central government, says Indiresan. “According to the Constitution, the Central government is responsible. It is, instead, irresponsible; at any rate, it has abdicated its responsibility to the states and the education mafia,” he says.

(With inputs from Sumitra Deb Roy in Mumbai and Mayank Tewari in Delhi)