India File

We don’t need this education

Venkatesh Ganesh Tina Edwin Jinoy Jose P A Srinivas | Updated on June 18, 2018 Published on June 18, 2018

In the first of a two-part series on skills and jobs, BusinessLine examines the angst and aspirations of mofussil India and the systemic challenges faced by them

For final year BE student Alvina Bethel, pursuing engineering was a dream come true. Hailing from Dharwad, an education hub 450 km from Bengaluru, she aspired to buy a home and own a car and felt she was perfectly poised, thanks to engineering. However, the dream has now started to sour.

“I am anxious that the skills will not be relevant when I land a job,” she says with a touch of frustration. Her batchmate Pavankumar Kulkarni quickly chips in, “There is too much focus on theory and we don’t get enough time for practicals.”

There are other niggles faced by students of Vishwanathrao Deshpande Institute of Technology (VDIT), which add to their frustrations such as inadequate internships, quality of teaching and insufficient exposure to technologies such as IoT, AI and Industry 4.0.

Aspirational angle

Why are a remote college’s problems of any relevance in a country that churns out a million-odd engineers every year? The government estimates that over 180 million young people, or 69 per cent of the youth between the age of 18 and 34 years, live in rural areas. There is an overwhelming aspirational urge in this segment to seek sedentary white collar jobs, most of which are to be found in bigger cities.

 

 

Hence, Vivek Divekar, who runs a BPO centre in Sirsi town, says that of the 2,000 students who graduate from the two major colleges there, only 20 per cent get a job in that region, and the rest migrate to Bangalore. Those from a farming background seek a job as their marriage prospects improve, he says. Hence, they leave town and live elsewhere for 20-30 years. “In Sirsi, they seek work as clerical assistants to local NBFCs and insurance companies, or as sales staff in supermarkets or bike showrooms, where they can work in air-conditioned comfort,” he says. Some of them enrol as accounts staff in rural cooperative societies in Dharmasthala.

Despondency in engineering

So, there has been an increase in demand for jobs as accountants, clerks, engineers, BPO centre workers, as opposed to jobs in food processing and construction — a sociological factor that skews the debate on the job crisis. Along with this, there is an additional development: Changes in world trade and technology are rendering many of these job roles, as performed at present, redundant, particularly in the IT/ITeS space. The rapid march of robotics threatens to curtail other low-end white collar jobs in telecom and banking in the next four or five years.

Divekar says: “My US-based data entry work, requiring typing in Excel sheets, has fallen sharply. Five years back, I used to employ 100-125 local people with B.Com, B.Ed or plus-2 background. Now that number has fallen to 20.” The rest of them have taken retail and accounting jobs.

But it’s the engineering students for whom higher education islooking like a failed investment. Shivam Sushil Kaushal, a student at VDIT (who has developed an app called Soccerholics for the 2018 FIFA World Cup), says, “We are faced with inadequate skills and the reluctance of corporates to come to our campuses despite our having reasonably good marks.”

 

 

 

Vadiraj V Katti, Principal, VDIT, disagrees and states that the curriculum designed by the Karnataka government meets all requirements. “There are industry-academia partnerships, internships of four to six weeks and we ready our students to be almost job-ready. I wish they were more patient and believe in the foundational aspects of our training.” he says.

However, the fact is that skills training institutes as well as technical courses need to do a lot to adapt to the demands of the new economy. India Skills Report2018, a survey by Wheelbox, Pearson and the Confederation of Indian Industry of over five lakh students and 1,000 corporates, says that 1.5 million engineers graduate every year, but only 52 per cent are employable.

“Annually, about 3,60,000 MBA students graduate from 4,000 B-schools in India and 61 per cent are unemployable due to skill gaps and less work experience,” the survey observes. The despondency over the quality of engineering education is all too visible. Engineering colleges that BusinessLine spoke to said that on an average, 25-30 per cent of seats are vacant. Karnataka has around 1,13,000 engineering seats in both undergraduate and post-graduate categories, as per AICTE data. It remains to be seen whether this malaise extends to other disciplines.

“Colleges sprang up like wild mushrooms when it was relatively easy-going,” says DK Mohan, Chairman of Cambridge Institute of Technology, adding that while quantity was increasing, quality became an issue. Now, with the BPO boom done, the chickens are coming home to roost.

“The approach so far has been that the 20 per cent cream will get good jobs and the remaining will eventually find their way. Now, it will be a lot tougher and educational institutes need to understand this and make changes with a war footing,” points out Chaitali Mukherjee, Partner and leader, People and Organisation, PwC India.

To be fair, the fault is not of the colleges alone. K N Rajarao, former principal and currently Advisor at RVCE points out many instances when the college has asked the industry to give inputs on what they expect from students. ‘They say we do not have visibility and point to their HR mandates blindly,” he says. Rajarao did not name the companies but said that three of the top five software exporters and some multinationals take this route. Whether this helps keep skilled wages low for the industry is a question many labour market observers informally ask.

Skills ecosystem

Engineering colleges, along with an eco-system of ITIs (which run two year courses), polytechnics and now short-term skilling courses under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) comprise the skilling ecosystem on the supply side.

While the India Skills report points to the poor placement record of 13,000 ITIs (see graphic), there are exceptions. The Central Polytechnic College (CPT) in Tharamani, Chennai, sees a strong influx of students, most of them from the lower-strata of the society. “We have a placement rate of over 70 per cent in mechanical engineering and we maintain healthy placement records in electrical, electronics and engineering domains,” says A Anbarasan, faculty-in-charge, placements. “But there has been a decline in the number of placements in computing and allied sectors,” he admits.

One reason, they say, could be the mushrooming private institutions offering similar courses and the way these are sold to prospective students. The popularity for otherwise less-glamorous courses like mechanical engineering or electrical engineering at CPT indicates how students see them as avenues of job creation.

They could be right in assessing the future. Arvind Shrouti, a Pune-based labour consultant says, “The question is not whether jobs will be lost in the future, but whether workers can adapt to the challenge of mechatronics — a combination of mechanical and electronics engineering. Existing aptitudes may not longer be relevant.”This is a huge skilling challenge. There aren’t enough indications that we are getting there, although some German companies are leading the way in conducting training in Industry 4.0, AI, IO and mechatronics.

The way out

If the demand-supply gap is huge, with a large rural or semi-urban workforce seeking to exit farming and funnel itself into a nebulous service economy, does the answer lie in an alternative approach? One that focuses on skills in the rural economy so that migration is contained. Government officials concede that while the construction sector lacks the aspirational quotient and is a weak link in the PMKVY programme (see Skills Ministry estimates in graphic), efforts are being made with big corporates to restructure the scheme.

“As for rural sectors such as food processing, the PMKVY norms for qualifying as a skills centre are quite stringent. States, which cough up 25 per cent of the Budget, should come up with their local needs, so that a parallel stream can be conceived within the programme,” they said. The Union Budget has allocated ₹3,400 crore for PMKVY in 2018-19, and only small sums are needed to get rural centres going.

Says NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar: “A lot can be done to promote skills required for pre- and post-harvest handling to reduce wastage, for better cropping techniques and better water use. Soil health, better irrigation, better post harvest practices, transport, can be included in this approach.”

With inputs from Vishwanath Kulkarni

Published on June 18, 2018
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