This week I am afraid I will have to raise a niche issue: We are going to talk about Indian engineers.
While I realize that many of you readers—irrespective of whether you are bankers, consultants or executive chefs—have graduate degrees in engineering, some of you don’t.
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So will the six of you non-engineers please move along without creating a scene? Why not try one of our lifestyle stories that don’t have any math or graphs?
Ha. I kid. It is a popular myth that only engineers have mathematical skills while the rest of us can’t tell a Laplace transform from a laparoscope.
In fact, according to a copy of a report I received last evening, engineers aren’t very bright themselves. The National Employment Survey—IT/ITeS conducted by an assessment company called Aspiring Minds, states that around 62% of Indian engineering students need some form of additional education or training to be capable of a job in those sectors.
This is not really new. Every year you have at least one report being brought out by an industry body such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), or a think tank, that highlights the astounding uselessness of our engineering education.
Neither is it a new problem. A 2006 report, about Tamil Nadu students, in The Hindu says, “...as many as 43 per cent of engineering graduates are finding it difficult to find suitable paid jobs even two years after completion of their courses”.
The Aspiring Minds report breaks up employability figures into five sub-sectors: IT product, knowledge process outsourcing, IT service, tech support and business process outsourcing (BPO).
IT product presumably is the one that is most demanding on graduates. To develop complicated IT products you need technical skills, problem-solving aptitude, communication skills and so on. And, if you are responsible in some way for the IT product known as Windows Vista, the strength to bear the many vile diseases and morbid deaths that I have wished upon you and your family.
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BPO jobs come at the other end of the spectrum. This is not to say that BPO jobs are for idiots. Not at all, and no offence meant. Please don’t call me. I know you have my number. But you know what I mean.
The Aspiring Minds report says that a whopping 96% of engineering graduates aren’t good enough to work in IT product companies. And 62% aren’t good enough to work even in a BPO.
I am not surprised. This columnist once went to engineering college himself.
Let me narrate an incident that occurred during placements. A prominent Chennai-based IT services company’s hiring process involved tests and interviews. This was back when IT companies were quite liberal. The idea of the written test was to measure your ability to sit in one place for 40 minutes and occasionally use a pen. If you got eliminated, then you had no option but to settle for a PhD programme in the US, or maybe an Indian Institute of Management.
One such interview took place in an administrative office, and anyone standing in the corridor outside could listen in. A recruiter was interviewing one of the mechanical engineering department’s toppers.
“So do you think a motorcycle has a piston?”
The student quietly began to think.
Note: Motorcycle engines have pistons. It is a fundamental truth. This is like asking if Madhu Koda had an ulterior motive.
After much thought the student nodded. Yes, a motorbike has a piston.
“OK. Fine. Relax. Now does a moped have a piston?”
“Relax. Think. You know this.”
Finally he replied: “No. A moped does not have a piston.”
Note: Epic fail. Even chartered accounts know that mopeds have pistons.
“You are wrong. Let’s do something. Tell me your favourite subject...”
“Thank you sir. My favourite subject is automobile engineering...”
The problem, I think, is that nobody really cares about how bad our engineers are. As long as vast numbers of mediocre companies hire mediocre engineers for mediocre jobs, everyone in the system is thrilled.
And the day after a CII publishes a report on unemployable engineers, they will put out another one: “India’s Demographic And Knowledge Dividend: Graphs And Data That Will Make You Orgasm Instantly!”
This report will tell you why India is at the forefront of the knowledge economy, and how every global company must base research, outsourcing and analysis wings in India, because of the vast numbers of qualified manpower we have.
And the cycle of mediocrity keeps turning. It is an efficient, somewhat shameful status quo. But everyone, from the parents who send their clueless kids to college to the companies that hire them, love it.
But my biggest fear is this: Do you think I have pissed off thousands of BPO employees? Shudder.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com