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Talent Crunch, Or Jobs Crisis?

India churns out more engineers than most countries around the world, yet Indian industry complains of a talent crunch. BW Education explores this tragic paradox.

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India churns out more engineers than most countries around the world from as many as 3,500 engineering colleges. The number of engineering colleges has tripled in the last decade and the multitude who leave their portals every year have grown in numbers too. Yet corporate India complains of a talent crunch – and thereby hangs a tale!

The growth in the number of engineering colleges has been particularly astounding among institutions that qualify as tier-2 (top-ranked private institutions and state-sponsored government colleges) and tier-3 (private institutions, not categorised specifically). The number of tier-1 (or premium central colleges like the Indian Institutes of Technology - IITs and National Institute of Technology - NITs) have grown too, but not quite at the same pace. 

A survey conducted by Aspiring Minds found engineering graduates from the tier-2 and more particularly tier-3 colleges wanting in “industry readiness”. Corporate India finds most of these engineering graduates “unemployable” either because they lack skills relevant for a job, or are unable to adapt to new-age technologies. Of the 1.5 million engineering graduates turned out by the bourgeoning institutions around the country, only seven per cent qualify as ‘employable’, according to the survey. 

The upshot of the situation is a “talent crunch” in the job market. Of the millions of engineers who graduate every year, the industry considers only a handful immediately employable. The rest have to be trained in various skills so they may fit into job roles. Employability hinges on some primary skills that a graduate requires to acquire and retain a job and perform efficiently in it. Most companies find that job aspirant either do not have the qualifications that match the requirements of the companies or do, but are still not quite ‘job-ready’. The companies then have to invest time and money to train the candidates. 

“Hiring high-quality engineers to meet our requirements is a typical problem of ‘Paradox of Plenty’. We tend to get a large number of applications, but for laterals, approximately five per cent actually get selected”, says Mukund Nair, Director HR, Nagarro. “While at the fresher level, the selection ratio is less than 0.5 per cent”, he says. “Engineering has become a de-facto graduate degree for a large chunk of students today. However, along with improving education standards, it is essential that we evolve our undergraduate programmes to make them more job centric,” says Varun Aggarwal, CTO Aspiring Minds. The Aspiring Minds survey says 80 per cent of Indian engineers are not fit for any job in the knowledge economy and only 25 per cent have the relevant technology or industry skills.   

“Professionals face mammoth challenges in hiring talent who stick to the organisation for a reasonable duration, assessing technical and behavioural competencies, validating the hiring process with PMS, understanding and meeting the demands of young hires and lack of employable talent pool in many core areas,” says Vikas Vats, President, HR Association India.

The tragic dichotomy is believed to be the fallout of flawed curricula of engineering courses. Today engineering students are compelled to study subjects that are often of little use to industry. Moreover, the curricula of engineering courses have remained unrevised for decades and their syllabus remain focussed on theoretical learning instead of hands-on knowledge. There is, therefore, a disconnect between what current and potential employees think employers want and what employers really want.

Not all agree with this viewpoint, though. “If you make any programme completely centred on what industry requires today, then students will be unemployable tomorrow,” says V. Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi. “The IITs always produce graduates who can learn new things with time, giving them a strong foundation in various areas and fields so they may pick up skills whenever they need to change their expertise. Thus, we focus on the learning aspects rather than specific aspects required by the industry,” says Rao. 

Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, Vice President and HR Head, IBM - India and South Asia, acknowledges the mismatch between academic curricula and skills required for a job, but says that these skills could be picked up on the job too. “To bridge this skill gap, IBM has embarked on a new curriculum campaign across universities in India. We are building strong relations with leading universities, government agencies and professional organisations to help academia keep pace with the rapid advancements in technology, relevant to the industry,” says he. 

Industrial revolution 4.0

The fourth industrial revolution and evolving technologies have created their own demands. The industry now needs engineering graduates equipped with both professional skills and abilities and technical knowledge. The need of the hour is a skilled workforce capable of adapting to changing trends and needs of the industry. To be able to cope with the jobs crunch, engineering colleges need to churn out graduates with the requisite skills.

According to the Aspiring Minds survey, only 40 per cent students go for internships, 36 per cent students undertake projects beyond course work and 47 per cent students attend industry talks. The survey also points out that students who have industry exposure when studying are more tuned to the requirements of the industry. 

“Passing out students may possess knowledge but may not have skills as per the needs of the industry. To make the youth job-ready, we have to provide them with an opportunity to learn more practical i.e. application-oriented knowledge by providing compulsory internship and revising our curriculum to remove outdated content of the syllabus and include content as per the need of Industry 4.0,” says A. M. Rawani, Director, NIT Raipur

A severe shortage of qualified faculty is another blight that threatens engineering institutions. The galloping pace at which institutions have bourgeoned has far outpaced the rate at which they have filled up faculty vacancies, resulting in a paucity of qualified teachers. Rao says IIT Delhi helps tier-2 and tier-3 colleges develop curricula, improve quality and train teachers.

If placement is a criteria for engineering colleges, they will have to equip their students with key job skills and empower them to tackle technological challenges.

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