Engineering students must prepare for innovation-driven growth

Engineering students must prepare for innovation-driven growth

India's rapid growth over the last two decades has been more due to innovation than mere business value creation. "Innovation driven growth in India," a report by PwC, foresees India's GDP touching $10 trillion. The road to it passes through research and innovation.  

Over the next five years, India will have about 900 million people in the 'emerging middle and middle class' segment. To cater to this segment, Indian enterprise will need a swift strategy which will focus on a business paradigm that goes beyond revenue-driven growth. The key will be innovative business technologies. This seems to be the only way out for India to grow -- in terms of the market as well as its socialist pledge of inclusive growth for all sections, especially for poorest sections.  

What does this mean to an engineering student, who will be running an enterprise in a couple of years?

To survive and grow in the new business environment, a student of technology or engineering will need to have a passion for his or her field and ensure that the passion is contagious so it becomes the means to growth, not just an educational end in itself. The student will need to have the expertise to convert theory to practice - and in ways that may be considered unconventional. So, this will not just be thinking outside the box, this will be thinking with no box at all.

One of the critical skills will be the ability to connect the unconnected, with the Internet of Things (IoT) because that's how enterprises will grow, adding billions and trillions of nodes, devices and units to the internet. That's also how the increased telemetry, along with data analysis tools, will drive absolute efficiency improvements in enterprise processes like production, distribution, and service.

The CEO of a major global financial institution is quoted as having said, "We are no longer a bank, but a technology company in the financial services industry." It's no surprise, digital transformation is the way forward and any student not up to the mark will lag.

The strong sense of urgency that's pushing the industry to get on the digital bandwagon will demand deep domain and agile skills to drive this transformation, the student of today will need to feed this appetite tomorrow. In fact, very early tomorrow.

A recent IDC report predicts that in the near future, the focus will be migration from mass-market operating models to consumer-centric models. The expertise demanded will be of the tools and technology that runs IoT - acquiring, analysing, and activating data, so data analytics skills are a must-have. Most institutions understand that. But there is more to it than mere technology.

So, while the Indian economy is being driven fast by innovation more than production, students need to be trained in some very radical, yet holistic, skills.

Role of universities?

The future needs an urgent re-engineering of the engineering curriculum. Compulsory internships and greater induction programmes in the industry will hone their practical skills more than ever before. To make them employable - and yes, we are talking of Aspiring Minds' abysmal report on Unemployability of a vast majority of Indian students, putting that figure at about 95.33 % - there need to be radical changes in the process of imparting skills - including IoT, data analytics skills and improving the ability to apply these skills. That is the curriculum part.

The biggest talent will be 'systems thinking' - the ability to understand holistically how seemingly unconnected things and systems can influence each other, and how this influence can be leveraged for the growth
of the company. In the same vein, they will need high levels of collaboration and communication skills - to reap the benefits of a connected environment that allows huge growth through seamless processes. And finally, they foster complete and absolute adaptability to change (because that will be the only constant, even more so in the future). Many institutions are already doing it, many more need to follow.

Moreover, many universities in India are today providing students with fertile training grounds by setting up centres of excellence and innovation hubs that create unique opportunities and environments for students to think independently and hence, differently.

Some of the leading institutions in India are actively leveraging industry expertise for their students by hiring industry professionals to share their experiences, strategies and insights that ensure that students get exposure through close collaborative training.

But there may be opportunities beyond jobs, and in a social sense, it is our responsibility to support those initiatives as well. Some of the leading universities in the country now provide Business Incubators that help to nurture and develop innovation and entrepreneurial skills among its faculty and students, to support them in leveraging bigger emerging opportunities.

To turn their entrepreneurship dreams into concrete reality, these incubators offer much-needed infrastructure support and critical mentoring. They will provide an eco-system for knowledge and wealth creation, while also creating invaluable networking among academic and R&D institutions, industries and financial institutions.

The abilities to communicate, collaborate, work as a team, understand market dynamics, be completely flexible on the skills front, and have the entrepreneurial spark - these are what the students of today need to be successful professionals  tomorrow. These are the skills that will not only get them jobs but also create entrepreneurs, who will provide more jobs for similarly skilled young students.

So, the focus of universities today has to be nurturing and mentoring students to become capable of working in an organisation, but with the thinking of an entrepreneur that ensures the ability to create enterprises as well as run them.

(The writer is Pro-Vice Chancellor and Director, Manipal Institute of Technology)

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