How industry-academia partnership can help increase employability in IT

SKILLING FOR JOBS IN IT INDUSTRY

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Pic: Shree D N

This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship.

In our previous article, we saw how talent coming out of IT engineering colleges do not have the skill sets the IT industry needs. In this article, we look at what the solutions could be.

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Though the hiring scene for fresh IT graduates looks bleak, there is still some hope. There are options if one has the willingness to put in extra effort and learn while working. “Experienced talent is tough to come by and it is getting more and more expensive. Hence more companies, both large ones and startups, are turning towards hiring graduates. That is the trend, specifically in the startup world,” says Sudev Das, co-founder of Vyre.co, a Bengaluru-based talent discovery platform.

In startups, it is baptism by fire for the new recruits. Basically a new graduate is picked up by startups for the right attitude and willingness to work hard. Then they are thrown into the grind of hands-on work as a result of which the learning is intense, and there is no coaching, only self-learning and practice, with some guidance from the team leader. Sudev says students prefer startups initially today, because it gets them diverse experience, the capability to create something and the freedom to make some mistakes and learn.

“However the risk is higher in startups, for a new graduate. If the startup works out, it’s great, otherwise you’ll have to look for your next job,” he adds.

An evolving trend in the startup world is the concept of third parties that build prototypes and products, where a lot of youngsters and college students join to gain experience. These employers work on multiple products for multiple companies, and recruit students to work on different products. From the students’ perspective, working with different technologies and products helps them gain a lot of experience and the learning there is significantly higher than what they learn in colleges.

Who’s bridging the gaps?

In the IT and Financial Sector, NASSCOM has become the go-to platform for reskilling. Along with a variety of third parties – training institutes and universities – NASSCOM is offering courses in AI, Machine Learning, Analytics and Big Data; for a fee of course. These courses will be offered online, in partnership with businesses. There are other companies offering the courses too.

NASSCOM keeps conducting workshops to build bridges between corporates, start ups and the government. Pic courtesy: NASSCOM

Top-down initiatives under the leadership of the NSDC (National Skills Development Corporation) have begun to fast-track public-private capabilities. NASSCOM has a separate section for skill development in IT in collaboration with NSDC, and has been working with institutes trying to bridge the demand and supply gap in the skillsets. NASSCOM also works with state IT departments, the industry and colleges.

The emergence of private organisations, like Uttara Infosolutions mentioned before, that offer skilling or employability solutions acts as a perfect marker for the rising problem of unemployability. These organisations work with both corporate and industry – offering classes covering all issue areas, from technical knowledge and skills to soft skills such as language, communication, integration and analytical skill. Many of these organisations also work alongside the NSDC in order to cater to every industry.

How is the government dealing with unemployability in IT?

However, accountability and regulation are some of the repetitive issues plaguing collaboration and upskilling initiatives. Without competent authorities, comprehensive policies and contingencies in place to ensure that upskilling initiatives are running smoothly and achieving their targets, we may see a situation where there is no actual progress being made.

Sudev feels upgrading of curricula in colleges and industry collaboration is not enough: “Theoretically there are corporates like Honeywell partnering with multiple colleges to run specific courses, engagements and more. There are new courses introduced. But there is no significant difference in terms of how things are being taught, what is being taught.”

What then will help? Sudev says state-level decisions on the method of teaching or what to include in the syllabus will be helpful. For example, a decision to make artificial intelligence a mandatory course in IT engineering courses will immensely benefit students, as AI is going to be the future in every field.

Salaries at the entry level IT jobs are also not competitive. They have stagnated at the level of Rs 1.8 lakhs per annum to Rs 3.3 LPA, depending on how big the organisation is. This is the scene for the last five to six years, says Anish Singh, Co-founder of Tempbridge Networks Pvt Ltd.

Since startups are where more people get absorbed, the government needs to make it easy to set up startups, with good policies and funding access, to help them hire more people. The government can also outsource the IT tasks to start ups and thus help provide employment, says Vikram Shastry, founder of Uttara Infosolution, based in Rajajinagar, Bengaluru.

India has – since the early 2000s – become the youngest country on Earth, with an average age of 29 years. As such, the issues of employability and skilling will become worse if they are not taken seriously and dealt with effectively. India spends only 3.84% of its GDP on education (much lower compared to countries like Malaysia and Brazil).

The issue is not limited to finances, but also revolves around the courses on offer. While some structural changes are being made to each educational board, the syllabi, the standard for educators etc, it is important to have a long-term strategy, maintain guidelines, and ensure a constantly evolving syllabus etc, eventually making the education system competitive to suit the evolving scenarios.

There is a lot of scope for the government to make the necessary policy decisions here and implement them. Sooner than later.

What can colleges and parents do?

A lot of changes are required in the academic scene, says Vikram Shastry. “There are 55 subjects to study in four years. Students are unnecessarily going through too many subjects. For the first two years you go through some fundamental subjects, it’s fine. But the third year and the fourth years should be specifically dedicated to very few subjects, and focus more on practicals,” he says.

“In small colleges there is not really much focus on skilling programs. They just go through whatever curriculum has been given to them, just try and complete the curriculum,” says Anish Singh. Self learning needs to start at the college itself, but lack of focus from the colleges on skilling the students results in students inculcating the same old habits of rote learning and writing examinations for the sake of marks.

Attitudinal change of working hard and thinking independently is a major requirement which is missing in students from many colleges. In the fourth year, in some colleges, students actually go and buy projects, which the colleges accept blindly. This makes the students lazy, says Shastry. Students need some motivation from parents to go out and learn on their own, he adds. In smaller cities, the problem is a bit different – projects are difficult to find, and students often end up working in their own college labs and pass out output off as an industry project.

Sudev says the number of students opting for engineering will reduce because of the increasing knowledge and awareness of the field and job opportunities. Schools and parents also need to wake up to the opportunities in other areas and skill the students accordingly. Rationalisation of seats in courses will be driven by the market, he feels.

Another trend is the non-IT engineering graduates getting into IT-related jobs after completing specific courses. This, when the IT course intake is much higher than market requirement, doesn’t make sense. Therefore colleges need to train all engineering graduates in programming compulsorily, as every branch of engineering will need it some time or the other, says Vikram Shastry.

While some autonomous colleges have upgraded their syllabus to some extent to meet a few of the industry’s needs, there are hardly any competent teachers available to teach. There is no point having pure academicians who are completely cut off from the industry and haven’t practised new subjects, teach those to the students – experienced professionals from the industry need to be accommodated in colleges by paying well, he says.

Sudev feels this need for experienced professionals as teachers for college students will help the freelance economy develop. “A lot of institutions are deploying freelancers who are experts in terms of educating or teaching or engaging with some of the colleges or institutions. Subject matter experts in areas such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will be taken as a guest faculty or concept of mentors on campus. People who have worked in Corporates freelancing to teach students on campuses will be significantly high,” he says.

Amid the doomsday predictions in the industry and media about lack of employment in coming days, it makes sense for the governments to introspect and tweak policies to suit a larger purpose of livelihood for all.

Siddharth Anil Nair contributed to this article.

This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship. The Insights into Bengaluru series on ‘Employability’ includes:


Shree D N
About Shree D N 84 Articles
Shree D N is an Associate Editor with Citizen Matters. She tweets at @chilipili

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