Employability of fresh engineers and 10,000 hours of practice – part 3

In the first two posts, we have discussed fundamental reasons leading to lack of employability in Engineering students and how massive employment drives by companies disincentivise good study behavior.

Now, let us see some approaches taken by some colleges and where they fall short.

Industry visit is one of the most popular approach. “May we visit your company?” is a common question I encounter. While such a request makes sense for traditional engineering where plants, material and scale are visible and thought provoking, it absolutely doesn’t make sense for a software company. By definition, there is no raw material in this industry. All one can see is one gray cubicle after another. The real engineering process happens during meetings and in editor programs. This process is very subtle and requires actually working.

Yet another approach is the industry interaction seminars. Typically an active college invites a bunch of speakers from various industries and makes students sit down and listen to them. The guests are then toured in the campus and the placement office typically takes the opportunity to make a case for pitching the host campus to the guests as a venue for the next campus recruitment drive.

Major problem with such an approach is that students typically return to the classroom soon after the lecture to address more pressing worries. Guests aren’t Discovery Channel narrators either. So the message, even if delivered properly and received earnestly, is quickly forgotten.

The college’s interest is no different than Mrs. Bennet of “Pride and Prejudice” – quantity of placement over quality of placement. So they end up inviting HR representatives from the biggest names possible. Such HR typically holds key to arrangement of campus interviews in administratively heavy big companies. Interestingly, while HR may start the process, it is typically technical managers who finally have to agree to hire. HR managers rightfully have their limits in understanding and more so communicating what would make a mass of engineers more appealing to a technical manager.

Third approach is now taken by some colleges. This is the co-certification approach. Realizing that the UGC dictated syllabi are terribly off-sync with industry, the colleges have set their eyes on industry certifications like CCNA, OCJP, MCSP, RHCE etc. The logic is very powerful. Certifications enhance the resume of an employed person – so it should enhance that of a fresh engineer.

This is one approach I tend to agree with. My stand on this approach is that such an approach will fulfill the necessary skills but won’t be sufficient. Here is why.

First, you need to understand that the first level of such certification is often at the level of “general knowledge” about the subject. So an entry level certificate is hardly any indicator of employability. Being in networking world, I have rejected innumerable BE+CCNA resumes at entry, junior and mid-level. [That is not to say CCNA doesn’t add value. It is a good course. I say CCNA may not be sufficient for many requirements.]

So, carrying the same logic forward, one should pursue higher specialization – the second or third level of certification, right? Not exactly. One has to understand that a fresh engineer is seldom hired for a specific skill. Breadth of knowledge and awareness are often more important than specific skills. Certificates can’t substitute for experience – and that is where increasing specialization typically fails. If a student at undergraduate level focuses too much on a skill (say a VLSI development tool from a particular vendor) s/he typically misses out on broader aspect of learning (like Electromagnetics). There is a reason why the *second* degree is called Master’s and is called “specialization”.

There is also a possibility of mistaking the tool certifications for the knowledge of technology. An RHCE is not a substitute for sound knowledge in OS. A Java programming certificate doesn’t indicate excellent grasp of OOPS concept and so on. A certificate course taken by a person sound in understanding will add to employability. Enforcing certification on the student community in lieu of a good teacher, teaching material, lack of commitment from anyone in the system or administratively hampered syllabus is a bad idea.

And the last argument against certificates is, engineering education is not only commoditized, it is also corrupted. Just like in INR 5,000/- one can buy a final year degree project, one can also buy some of such certifications. Once a person pays sufficient money, a totally different person actually writes the exam for him/her in some shoddy centers. While the campus is struggling to uphold the sanctity of the exam, so far as malpractices continue outside, students are bench-marked against eroding standards. Not very different from the current education system, I’d say.

Then there was the good old, time-tested internship. I never understood why universities shot that idea down. If I understand it correctly, number of research papers from Indian universities don’t match with American universities. By forcing students more “in-house”, professors wanted to increase “documented in-house research”. So they made it compulsory for students to attend the college in the final semester. This made the whole internship so unfriendly to time-starved industry, most programs just stopped.

There are a number of fallacies in the “captive-labor-publishing-papers” approach. First of all, research driven industry approach was a Nehruvian dream that should have been dead long back. Nothing technologically world-class has ever came out of the so-called top academic institutions of India. Face it, Indian society is innovation phobic and Indian industry is still a relic of license Raj, with no pressing need to innovate. Capital is still expensive and risk averse. Labor is still too cheap. Markets are still too undeveloped and too un-competitive if not anti-competitive. We need skilled workers more than skilled researchers – probably 1,000,000:1.

Also, not every paper turns into Google. Disinterested students and mediocre professors just increase noise.

Roots of engineering are in apprenticeship. It perhaps started when one caveman copied the other caveman making the flint axe. He was trying to learn how make an axe, not racing to out-publish the other caveman. Internship should not only survive, it must flourish.

As a bottom line, out of visits to industry, seminar by industry experts, certifications and internship, first two don’t make much sense. The third one makes less sense but has higher chances of survival. The fourth makes most sense but probably is already done to death.

In the next post, I will examine the question whether there could be any fine tuning of these approaches or could there be yet another approach.



One comment on “Employability of fresh engineers and 10,000 hours of practice – part 3

  1. Employability of Fresh Engineers & the urgent need to revamp the Technical Education in India
    Nowadays we hear on various platforms appeals to bring Engineering Institutions & Industries together– in other words ,Theory and Practice together & Design & Manufacturability together .I have taken this as my Mission through honest attempts to serve as a Catalyst for bringing together Design & Manufacturability & by bringing Practice to Institutions by Mentoring Engineering Students by Co-creation of Reliable Engineering Products. And by bringing Design For Manufacturability-DFM into Engineering Institutions & Industries .
    I took the opportunity of attending a valuable ‘Conference on Higher Education ‘ recently organized by CII @ Chennai . Prominent personalities from the domains were expressing their views on the current challenges & opportunities in Higher Education especially on Technical Education .I also shared my workable solutions in my own approach in that forum .I would like to share more with the outer word through my blogs and FB Pages.

    In my personal experience I have not come across any need to discuss on the need to bring Theory & Practice together in Medical Education . We cannot find a forum between Medical Hospitals & Colleges to bring Theory and Practices together .In practice most of the fresh Doctors are found employable only .The only reason is that during Medical Education it is mandatory & our Medical Council has put a strong clause for starting a Medical College, it is mandatory to have a linked Hospital nearby or owned by the same organization. Theory and practice are taught together as a real Sandwich Course in Medical Institutions and a year as Intern is also mandatory
    As on date there is no sort of compulsion to have tie-up with Industries for giving practice training when someone starts an Engineering College for bringing practice together .

    There is real resource constraint and geographical and accessibility problems to bring practice @ Engineering Colleges just simulating the Medical Education. And we are struggling to bring a worth-while Engineering Council of India through proper Parliamentary regulations : but allowed huge mushroom growth of self –financing colleges through AICTE – which had become another white elephant extending sanctity to these Business Enterprises with no taxation but with mostly free land from the state governments .In TN as on date there are about 600 Engineering Colleges .Is the Medical Council of India willing to allow 100s of Medical Colleges in TN ? We have created new crore-pathis out of self –financing type Engineering Colleges and not Engineers with employability .

    In one angle Teaching Medicine may seem to be very simple since we deal with only one kind of ‘product’ namely Man or Woman and only confined to the basics of structure / working of the human machine . The sub- parts are only similar like hearts . kidneys etc .But Engineering is so vast a subject to learn and the list is endless and expanding like the entire cosmos .

    Then how to bring theory and practice together while teaching in Engineering Colleges ? We have to re-invent our old Gurukulams applying re-engineering .

    India had good old traditions with our ancestors having the Gurukulams where the real gurus were imparting Theory & Practice from early ages . We can find from Ramayana & Mahabharatha that the great princes or ordinary persons were taught both theory and practice together .Our tradition had been to neglect the women folks w.r.t. education & practice mostly . And when we came under British rule and the so-called organized way – Macaulay’s way, we lost the nice Gurukulam way, the true integrated way of bringing theory and practice together . And the fight between caste groups killed our Gurukulam way of teaching theory and practice And after the advent of printing and now Computer ,Internet & Search Engines our youngsters started to neglect the importance of parents & teachers which we call as the human evolutions/scientific revolutions due to the impact of our Seventh Sense – the Computers /Software.

    In one way the good paying jobs under IT has diminished the importance of core engineering and Design & Manufacturing under various domains of Engineering are the casualties .Without much highly qualified and experienced Technical Teachers , our present day Engineering Colleges have more of physical bricks – the real estate gold- only and not the souls for worthy teaching .And thanks to liberal economic policies we have no control on which to be concentrated and which to be curtailed .All have been left to market dynamics and education is now traded as commodities .The basic theory of survival of the fittest has embarked on the Business of Private Engineering Colleges .In one way the younger Indians have become slaves to Computers , Mobiles & TV Media- the casualty being the media with souls .
    Right from the IT Companies to other companies there is huge cry that fresh engineers are not employable and they expect the fresh engineers to be directly put on engagements so that they can ‘milk’ Rs or $s on per hour basis .

    My viable solutions are by two important processes –

    A : To arm the Technical Teachers with Practice & Practicing Engineers with Higher Learning on a continued basis

    As a first step to encourage our Engineering College Teachers to learn Practice periodically –say every five years deputing them for 3 to 5 years to related Industries through forums like CII .This can apply also to encourage Working Engineers from Industries to educational Institutions for 3 to 5 years for higher Learning as well as Teaching exposures .Over a period of time there will be really blended Solid Engineers & Teachers who can improve performance of Educational Institutions & Industries as well for their own benefits and benefits of Students ,Institutions & Industries .This has to be done by close coordination between the Associations of Industries , Professional Bodies & Educational Institutions . Awarding a separate recognition to these Classic Professional Engineers by whatever unique identities will attract more Engineers under these categories to serve both Industries and Institutions where upgrading of the individuals form part and parcel of a system.

    Without additionally imparting practice updates to our Technical Teachers we cannot expect practice knowledge/skills from students .

    B- To impart practices after just finishing Engineering Degree with two to three years of sandwich coaching with close co-operation between Industries & Institutions and giving an unique identity like BE – Honors or else.

    After this extra learning to enable Industries and Institutions to pick up these Engineers for direct on to the Track of result delivering personnel . This needs lot of networking between Institutions & Industries .It may be feasible only in a few locations ,Institutions & Industries .Partially this system is being adopted in few Institutions . It is worth trying by other pragmatic Autonomous Institutions /Universities in full-fledged manners with wide publicity .More Institutions and Industries can think or modify on similar lines to prepare the Fresh Indian Engineers employable like Fresh Doctors from Medical Colleges .

    Let the Institutions & Industries start dancing not only with mere arms to arms but also cheek to cheek on a continuous basis so as to reduce the GAPs between Theory & Practice for the mutual growth of Theory & Practice / Institutions & Industries and develop our HR Strength which is going to be the only selling point of Indians in days to come internationally with our huge population of the workable age groups in the world .

    Where there is a will, there is a way !!


    Er Ramalingam K S DFM & Innovation Consultant

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