Introduction Picture this situation. I was the HR representative in the interview panel and the selection was for junior engineers in the mechanical engineering disciple. The senior-most member of the panel was the Executive Director of the particular Strategic Business Unit of the giant auto-component group organization. This group is also the largest industrial group in South India.
After the initial checking of certificates and also the experience certificate, the first candidate was asked the first basic question: What is thermodynamics? This candidate was an engineer from one of the fairly good engineering colleges with two years experience. Guess what was the answer? The candidate looked up at the ceiling and was as confused as only he could be. He then reluctantly replied that he did not know the answer. The four other candidates who were then interviewed were asked basic questions on Total Productive Maintenance(TOM), Total Quality Management, Six Sigma and the PDCA cycle. It should be noted that these are normal questions that are always asked in lateral recruitment interviews and, more so, if the organization is one that has actually implemented these practices. Though there were two vacancies, only one was selected and the candidate was the one who not only explained the Total Quality Management(TQM) concept, but also went on to explain how it was implemented in his organization, in some small way.
The most important point that emerged from the interview concerns the syllabus for the B.E(Mechanical) course. I have had several such learning experiences and have given the relevant feedback to several engineering colleges. In one college, there was an active Alumni network that had two What s up groups and the free exchange of views and ideas about each experience is actively shared. They also meet at some common place at least twice a year. This has helped the college to acquire a good name among employers, who always look for candidates with experience. Taking Graduate Engineer Trainees and grooming them is also done in some organization's. However, much depends on what the Management's think and want at different points in time.
Given certain realities such as the one explained above, it becomes imperative to a) Involve industry experts to revise syllabuses every six months b) Make the learning of new IT courses compulsory c) Forge new relationships between professional associations and the colleges d) Develop R&D collaborations extensively and e) Enable the training of teachers on a continuous basis.
Involve industry experts to revise syllabuses every six months Experts in the industry are those who have actually implemented the new developments in one way or the other. They combine conceptual knowledge with the most advanced practical knowledge and are hence the best experts to chip in with the required inputs.
Very unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening. How about including dynamics of the stock markets as an elective in the first year of the Bachelor of Commerce Course in all Universities? How about teaching the chemistry students what is meant by sustainable agriculture? After all, the extensive use of chemical-based fertilizers is now known to be the cause of decline in agricultural productivity in the long-term, though there are dramatic improvements in the short-term. Inter-disciplinary knowledge of this kind is vital and the students should be exposed to the various events and technologies that they see happening around them.
Make learning of new IT courses compulsory There is an urgent need to introduce compulsory training in machine learning and artificial intelligence; in SAP and in digital marketing, for all engineering students and even those who major in economics and commerce. The reach of IT is world-wide and those without the required skill-sets will become rapidly outdated. Hence, the need for practical training all around. There could be collaborations between Deemed Universities and colleges to institute certificate programs as needed.
Forge new relationships between professional associations and colleges For HR professionals, there is the National Institute of Personnel Management(NIPM), and this is a professional body, duly recognized by the Government of India. The professions such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and even civil engineering, have their own professional associations and the industry experts regularly share their knowledge in such places. It has now become imperative to make deep inroads into forging new relationships between such professional associations and the colleges at all levels and make it a pan-India experience to make it a more viable experience.
Develop R&D collaborations extensively There are several examples of meaningful collaboration in several colleges and deemed Universities, but the scope is very wide. The urgent need for a more meaningful and fruitful association in terms of R&D collaborations is now felt like never before. Hence, the urgent need for the colleges and Universities to really take up the Research and Development collaborations approaches on a priority basis. This is not only socially relevant.. It is the only way in which the Universities and the colleges can stay relevant in the modern times.
Enable the training of teachers on a continuous basis No meaningful reform can ever happen in the educational institutions if the teachers, who are the actual delivery partners, are not motivated and do not deliver results. The academic schedules have already gone for a toss during the Covid-19 period and the so-called online classes has only added to the already confused scenario.
The need for more pragmatic approaches to make things happen is the need of the hour. Hence, a combination of both the industry experts and those from the academic world are required to regularly conduct refresher courses. These courses should be set up as a time-table and there is no escape from this reality. Unless we have fully trained teachers, nothing much can happen.
The trick is to make deep inroads into what can be done in this respect and the urgent need for innovation is also called for. However, in every field, there are benchmarks available in the form of IITs and the NITs and the IIMs and the ISB, for instance. Their resources have to be compulsorily tapped to bring about the needed reform.
Conclusion The massive changes going on in the external world have deep significance for the entire society as a whole and since the educational institutions are part and parcel of the wider society, nothing is going to happen, if they are left far behind in the rat race. Artificial intelligence is a big case in point. The need is to embrace it, and not feel threatened by it. The syllabuses need to be modified to a big extent and taken forward. This is a big imperative of our times.