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Enhancing employability through industry-academia partnership

Ganesh Natarajan | Updated on March 23, 2011

To shop-floor via classroom

The Chairman, CII Task Force on Higher Education, and Vice-Chairman and CEO, Zensar Technologies Ltd, Dr Ganesh Natarajan, reflects on making the engineering and technical graduates readily employable, marrying skill development and formal education, and more. Excerpts:

When the Task Force on Higher Education was set up under Mr Naushad Forbes, the problem we faced was that the industry and academia were blaming each other. The industry said that the academia was not doing enough and that the curriculum was outdated. The academia held the view that the industry did not care and did not give academia a chance.

We said that if we have to make the industry-academia partnership work, we need to productise services. So we created various formats: faculty development programmes, internships, summer projects and other research projects, besides finishing schools for final year students.

Student assessment

The next big question was how we should assess students from different courses, and thereby their suitability for certain partnerships and projects. The second thing we did was to create an assessment programme for courses offered at technology and engineering colleges.

We started with institutions in Maharashtra, and went on to Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. More recently, we initiated work in Goa. So far, 120 programmes have been assessed. A lot of effort goes into this, with each assessment taking up to three days.

Also in the works is the agenda of creating the role model for partnerships. Forbes Marshall has partnered four programmes and we at Zensar will adopt two institutions. We expect that more companies will come forward and partner educational institutions to make the pass-outs more suitable and better prepared for employment.

What is of concern is that of the 7 lakh engineering graduates who will pass out this year, less than 15 per cent will be employable. Top-end institutes like the IITs know what to do, while those at the bottom with inadequate infrastructure do not provide scope for improvement through partnerships.

So we decided to focus on the institutes in between (about 70 per cent), which have good infrastructure, teaching staff and other requirements, and can do with some help in terms of training students to be job-ready.

If we can improve the employability of at least 10 per cent of the students, it means at least 60,000 more engineering graduates and another 50,000 more technology graduates would be industry-ready. What we see happening now is that companies have to invest weeks in training fresh engineering graduates they hire — the intent is to enable training as part of their course, so that they can start work on day one.

A bigger issue that we need to address is the other graduates. What will they do? We need to focus on skill development.

disconnect

There has always been a disconnect between the formal education system and skill development programmes. My belief is that a dual model needs to be adopted. We have seen it being adopted in countries like Germany successfully. That is really the future.

There are some management schools which have approached us too, wanting us to help better prepare budding managers for the industry. There is some thinking on those lines, but I think we would venture in that area in a year's time.

Eventually, there is also scope possibly for an assessment model, for educational institutions. There exists an NAC which accredits institutions, and we don't want to create a parallel grading on the same lines. We think in about two years or so there is scope for creating an ‘employee stamp', which would tell us the extent to which students from certain institutions are industry-ready.

(As told to Gokul Krishnamurthy)

Published on March 23, 2011

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