The last 15 years has seen an astronomical rise in the number of students admitting themselves into engineering colleges, from about 5 lakhs in 2005 to about 24 lakhs in 2015-16. However, the number of jobs has largely stagnated or fallen.
The best year for engineers was the pass-out batch of 2006-07 (82% placed) exactly 10 years ago. This was the batch that got into colleges in 2003-2004. At that point, the number of seats offered for engineering was almost on par with aspirants looking for jobs. It was the year when the tech/software companies were flying high. As the engineering institutions tasted success, they started expanding.
Almost every good institution I know has expanded its intake to threefold of its capacity that existed in 2003-04. Add to that, the launch of new institutions. In 15 years, the intake has increased fivefold and jobs have reduced by 10%. Consider the details in the chart below.
The fall in jobs hasn't happened overnight. The steep growth rate of the software/tech industry has come down from the highs of 2006. NASSCOM is happy with 12% to 15% growth rates. The global business environment is uncertain. In fact, NASSCOM's call is to achieve 10% growth at 7% cost. All companies are pushing for greater efficiency. Every company has processes and systems taking over, resulting in the fall of manpower requirement.
On the other hand, reduced employment opportunities have cut down the attrition levels dramatically — from 30% to 14%. Employees of software companies are no longer adventurous. Companies also are pushing the bar and have learnt to retain their best employees. Companies now know about campuses with stable manpower. They recruit only 40% of their annual requirement and don't create 'bench strength'. They are aware that the rest are available as and when they want. So recruitment happens as and when needed. Companies no longer risk a standby workforce, recruited but not adding to the output.
India must look at solving this imbalance immediately. As a forward-thinking nation, we must work on creating research fellows, push academics as a career, encourage a scientific temperament, motivate students to study further and aim higher.
The current system of engineering education is pulling the country lower by the year. We are out to create more engineers who are least likely to use the skills they learnt and have lesser probability of finding employment.
Most engineers look for a placement in a software company after leaving their education in core engineering. In fact, most people who go in for a Master's are those who haven't been placed yet. This has resulted in 'intake quality' issues for all our Master's/Ph.D programmes.
The situation calls for desperate measures to manage the imbalances — employment, further education, capacity building and so on. Here are some recommendations:
- One immediate step could be encouraging recruitment at the Master's level too. Companies will then have better-educated students seeking employed.
- We must bring back SMEs and MSMEs into the recruitment pools, which, as of now, have been sidelined. They will absorb the core engineers. Shift their recruitment to Day Zero so that they get the best students possible. Software companies must be encouraged to recruit only from student pools that chose IT/Computer Sciences as their background before moving to core engineers, only after the SMEs and SMEs finish their recruitment.
- As a country, we must also focus on integrated programmes. We have to educate our youth more. The current engineering education system is producing more job-seekers. If we were to promote and allow more integrated 5-year Master's programmes, the best students will study till they finish post-graduation.
- The minimum standards for setting up engineering colleges must rise further. Institutions set up already must be given a 5-year time-frame to match those standards. Others must be closed down.
- Encourage research, fellowships at the Master's level. Identify the best talent at the undergraduate level and guide them to the right path.
The current situation requires a dramatic overhaul. The last thing India wants is educated but unemployed youth, possibly with student debt on them. Everything else around us will collapse — the demographic dividend, banks and the economy — if such a situation arises. We will begin to have more social unrest and less economic activity, under such circumstances.
We are staring at a 'demographic nightmare' because we haven 'invested' ourselves and have no right to a 'demographic dividend'. Is the government prepared? Are they even thinking of the resultant crisis?
This is the fifth part of a series of articles on the New Education Policy.
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