New Delhi: You could call it an epiphany. In 2006, only one-third of the 60 civil engineering students at Bangalore’s BMS College of Engineering chose to work in, well, civil engineering. Almost the same number of them went into information technology (IT).
The statistics weren’t much better in 2007, when only 24 chose the core fields of construction, real estate and infrastructure, and 21 chose IT.
But in the last class that finished in May, a full 49 of the 60 went to work with construction and development companies such as Larsen and Toubro Ltd, Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Ltd and Sobha Developers Ltd that have prospered from a property boom in recent years.
“In this batch,” says 2008 BMS graduate Sendil Kumaran, “people that actually wanted to go to software through civil engineering changed their minds because of the boom.”
As India’s construction companies stall projects valued at crores of rupees because they don’t have enough workers, civil engineering graduates are becoming increasingly sought after. Real estate firms say they’ve started aggressively marketing themselves on campuses and are developing in-house training programmes to keep them in the company.
“Competition becomes much tougher,” says Prestige Construction’s human resources head Sudatta Naik, “and the resource pool is limited.”
And as developers fight to get the best candidates, the students, too, are starting to look at civil engineering as a prestigious option.
“Previously civil was the last priority of the bright students who get selected through JEE,” says M.C. Deo, who heads the civil engineering department at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, and is referring to the Joint Entrance Examination, which screens IIT aspirants.
“We’re unable to catch up with computer science, but now we’re coming close to the priority of chemical engineering, and we have already beaten the priority of metallurgical and aerospace.”
One of the main drivers of interest in civil engineering is, as expected, the rising salaries. “In the past years, most would go for finance or consulting or IT because civil, real estate didn’t pay as much,” says Harsh Shah, a civil engineering placement coordinator at IIT Bombay. “The initial salary hasn’t increased much, but they see that five years down the line, they will get [more.]”
The average starting salary in civil fields can range from Rs2.5 to Rs6 lakh per year depending on the school and the company, according to placement officials, while IT jobs will start at Rs3-7 lakh, and finance positions at Rs8-12 lakh per year.
Developers in Bangalore acknowledge that tech salaries in the city have forced them to offer better packages to recruit engineers. “We compete with IT mostly in terms of salary numbers,” says Total Environment Building Systems Pvt. Ltd director Kamal Sagar.
And foreign infrastructure and engineering firms such as WS Atkins Plc. and Transocean Oil Pte Ltd, which offer many times Indian salaries to fresh civil engineering graduates, are also enticing more students into the field. (Atkins offered Rs60,000-90,000 per month to BMS graduates, and Transocean offered one IIT Bombay grad almost Rs2 lakh.)
Developers, especially those based in Bangalore, still struggle with competition from IT firms for engineering talent. “We can’t do anything,” says Srinivas Shetty, senior manager of human resources at Sobha Developers, which recruited more than 2,000 engineers in the past year. “They go [to campus] one year ahead of us.” In the past few years, Shetty says, Sobha has started visiting colleges armed with Powerpoint presentations and videos.
Another Bangalore-based firm, Brigade Enterprises Ltd, hires trainees still finishing a postgraduate degree and uses them as brand ambassadors on campus to recruit, according to Jagan Mohan, who heads human resources at the company.
Total Environment goes far outside the city to recruit engineers to avoid the rush from technology firms, but faces the inverse problem of new recruits jumping ship soon after they join, according to Sagar. “Many people use us as a stepping stone to get to Bangalore,” he says.
In Mumbai, construction firms face competition, not from IT, but from banks and consulting firms. “The top students still opt for management consulting, followed by insurance and banking, then stock markets, then IT, then core fields,” says IIT Bombay’s Deo, but he estimates that one-third of the last batch went into a civil engineering job, and expects that number to reach one-half next year. In previous years, he says, one-fourth used to be the norm.
Real estate firms are trying to compete in ways other than salary increases. “The issue to actually attract new people is to give them a really good challenge,” says Santosh Martin, chief executive officer of DivyaSree Developers Pvt. Ltd. “The core job is civil, but you give them more in terms of responsibility, other things to do and learn, and an incentive-based salary structure,” he says.
Total Environment uses other perks — serving lunch and offering cabs; it plans to build a swimming pool, tennis courts and an auditorium on its campus.
The interest in civil engineering is a cyclical phenomenon. “In the (19)80s it was the preferred branch,” says BMS’ Jagadeesh, “until (19)86 or (19)87; then it was totally occupied by IT. Even civil was going to IT. Then suddenly a boom, and people are opting for civil engineering again.”