Manpower planning: Identify talent and nurture excellence

Manpower planning: Identify talent and nurture excellence

While there is nothing wrong in students opting for courses that promise lucrative careers, there is something terribly wrong with our manpower planning vis-à-vis higher education. We are already faced with gross imbalances in medicine and engineering.
Unless we re-structure the system properly, our universities will produce more doctors than nurses; or, more engineers than technicians. We may even end up with high level professionals doing the work of middle level personnel.

The indiscriminate expansion of professional colleges in the country will aggravate the situation further by totally upsetting the doctor-nurse or engineer-technician ratio. Besides, professions like those of doctors and engineers cannot exist in limbo. Doctors cannot function in isolation without pathologists, radiologists, physiotherapists and other supporting para medical staff.

They need them as much as engineers need qualified technicians, without whom they cannot deliver the goods. It is therefore essential that higher education go hand in hand with manpower planning to maintain the right balance in such professions. The symbiotic relationship between education and work cannot be ignored.

Public perception of these issues also needs a sea change. PUC toppers in biology dream of coveted disciplines like orthopaedics or cardiology. If they fail to get into a medical college, they turn to courses like anaesthesiology/physiotherapy or, as a last resort, to nursing.

Little do they realise that the most
eminent surgeon cannot function
without an anaesthetist or a trained
nurse. Similarly, others have dreams of
becoming a software engineer — but
not a hardware technician who can
set an instrument right in minutes.
Not surprising when there is such grotesque discrepancy in salaries for jobs that require skills of the same calibre. That, added to a desire for white collar jobs, has caused a grotesque imbalance in higher education where students are aimlessly admitted into professional courses, with or without aptitude.

Of course, no amount of manpower planning can achieve results unless the other anomalies are corrected. Education planning involves strategies to attract students to a variety of courses and disciplines. Strategies which enthuse high school leavers to join undergraduate courses in the arts and sciences, instead of blindly vying for a professional degree. They should be educated on the advantages of getting a basic degree that may eventually lead on to teaching careers and research programmes in science.

No competent teachers

The present devaluation of a basic degree in science and humanities has robbed educational institutions of competent teachers and scientific institutions of  capable scientists. After all, many streams of educational preparation are needed for different manpower requirements which are all equally important and should be equally rewarded.
We need manpower in varied fields like agriculture, banking, industry and administration. Don’t we need bankers, lawyers, teachers, designers and a whole lot of other qualified personnel to run the country in addition to doctors and engineers? They range from clerks to administrative managers. From technicians to high level experts in all these areas. If the educational system has to train such professionals, we also need teachers in every one of these disciplines.

One of the chief reasons for the low calibre of students emerging from schools everywhere is the scarcity of inspiring teachers. This year’s dismal PUC results in Karnataka, where a mere 43 percent passed out of over six lakh students who took the examination, reflect, not on the calibre of the students, but on the competence and teaching skills of their mentors.

Unless this anomaly is corrected, mere expansion in higher education becomes meaningless. Lakhs of students may pass out of Indian schools and colleges every year. But, a fraction succeed in getting even meaningful employment, let alone a satisfying career. This exposes the shallowness of our higher education system which churns out ineffective graduates and substandard professionals who may have excelled in other fields, if only they were given proper educational opportunities. We may have lost an efficient banker or brilliant lawyer only to gain an incompetent doctor or unskilled engineer.

The best American universities, a favourite destination for Indian undergrads, insist on a statement of purpose from aspiring students, which must explain why he or she has chosen that particular course of study, what are their academic goals and what special skills do they possess to fulfil those goals.

What a marvellous method of identifying talents and aptitudes. If our Indian universities want to become meaningful institutions, they should set such benchmarks for students at the time of admission and graduation, in addition to providing various courses of study keeping in mind the manpower requirements of the country. Only then can they become places which nurture excellence in different areas of  work and employment.