Improve competence to be globally competitive

Improve competence to be globally competitive

Case studies, discussions, essay writing, thesis writing and presentations are necessary to help one improve the level of competence.

There are thousands of engineering institutions in the country. Over 15 lakh students graduate from these institutions every year. Leading global companies seek to hire top talent from the country. 

In engineering colleges, IT industry is the largest recruiter and demand for talent from the core sector is muted. While infrastructure projects are expected to enhance the demand, currently it is low. Hence, top talents from across the spectrum of engineering education prefer the IT industry.

Given the large number of engineers, our country should ideally be developing new generation technologies and lead the way. However, reports suggest that only 7 to 10% of the engineers are employable, that too in the general technology areas. IT companies are struggling to find the right talent. Core reasons identified for the gap in demand and supply are weak foundation in mathematics and science, logical thinking and communication skills.

The impact of these shortcomings is not just on an individual’s employability but affects the business and the country’s competitiveness. While the quantum of workforce available is helping India in IT services segment, our competitiveness in innovation is low. The result is quite evident with regard to Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning etc.

According to a study, of the 750 occupations currently in vogue, 51% of job activities are highly susceptible to automation. This necessitates the redefinition of most occupations and related skills.

Two-pronged approach

We need to look at two key areas when we seek to move towards the right direction. One is competence building and other is the curriculum relevance.

Competence building:

We need to improve our competence to get ready for the future. There is a globally accepted framework for competence building, the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy

The lowest competence levels are remembering followed by understanding. When we closely look at our current education system, other than the leading research-based institutions (which contribute a very small percentage of the total graduating students), most institutes focus on these two levels.

There is very little focus on Applying, Analysing, Evaluating and Creating. This is why the industry does not find the students employable and job-ready even for a generic technology role.

To be competitive in the global arena, there is a need for a graduate, particularly an  engineering graduate, to focus on Evaluation and Creation. Earlier, the entry tests for IITs and other premier institutions used to push aspirants to move up to higher level of Analysing. However, the exam prep business which helps one prepare for these exams have enabled aspirants clear such exams by cramming and memorising.

People generally work towards improving what they are being measured on. From institutional perspective, remembering is easy to assess and to automate assessment. Simple multiple choice questions are used to assess students.

This reflects that the assessment process favours competence level of remembering and hence that level of competence is achieved.  

The current assessment process, however, needs to evolve to higher levels. Competitions like Hackathons help one move up to Apply and Analyse levels. Case studies, discussions, essay writing, thesis writing and presentations (which are not scalable and automatable for assessment) are necessary to help one go up the level of competence.

Unless we move to such assessment methods in colleges, we will continue to generate competencies at lower levels only.

Curriculum relevance: 

Another area of focus is curriculum. There is not much focus on updating the curriculum. Industrial processes change at a far higher pace than what academic institutions can cope with. Framework for making the industry and academia work together is not strong. Hence, the industry-academia gap continues to exist.

There have been a lot of discussions on revising the curriculum in line with global new trends and the breakneck speed at which innovation and disruptions happen in the market.

There is a lot of merit in updating curriculum to include new age courses on machine learning, blockchain and other emerging technologies.

Generally, there is little difference between the curriculum of top engineering schools in the world and a tier 3 institution in India. But, the real difference is how the curriculum is delivered and what level of competency is built. This requires a very strong focus on the basic building blocks: Mathematics, Science, Analytical Skills and Communication Skills.

Ideally all engineering schools ought to churn out high competence graduates. This can happen only when the evaluation system pushes one towards achieving higher levels of competence. 

(The author is with TalentSprint, Bengaluru)