IntroductionPicture 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 of experience. Guess what was the answer? The candidate looked up the ceiling and was 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 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. It was established that the students were not taught what is going on in the industry. 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 commonplace 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 organizations. However, much depends on what the Management thinks and wants at different points in time.
In the real world, modifying syllabuses to reflect industry needs, will be centered around a) Obtaining feedback about the latest concepts and their implementation from the industry b) Introducing value-added courses with job-orientation c) Continuous training of Faculty Members d) Enlarging the scope of classroom discussions through special classes and e) Giving maximum importance to placement training.
Obtaining feedback about the latest concepts and their implementation from the industryOne fact that came out loud and clear when I contacted several organizations for the present series of articles of mine on the Leading Branded Colleges of Anna University in Chennai, was that the feedback from the industry formed an integral part of the existence of the leading colleges like the SSN College of Engineering, Panimalar Engineering College, Sri Sairam Engineering College, and so on. They stand out for being able to tap the right kind of information at the right time and then going far beyond the syllabus in their courses.
The world-famous Loyola College Chennai does this as a routine in its various courses and its prestigious Economics and Commerce under-graduate courses.
Some fabulous deemed Universities like the Vellore Institute of Technology and the SRM Institute of Science and Technology, have gone far beyond the syllabus. They have international faculty who visit their campuses as a routine. They also have experts from the industry giving the students inputs on the latest concepts and their application and the numerous international conferences held on the campuses make all the difference in terms of the students being prepared to take on the challenges of the real world.
Introducing value-added courses with job-orientationThe autonomous colleges are already doing a fabulous job and it is for the other colleges to understand what should be done, and how. For example, the same Loyola College quoted above has been able to introduce several job-oriented courses on its campus, and the students who study these courses are always ready for the challenges from the industry. Furthermore, the discussions on an everyday basis, are not centered around what is there in the syllabus. There are group discussions, role-plays, case studies, project work assignments, and what have you. Since these tasks demand focused attention and engage the attention of students in many creative ways, the trick of playing around the syllabus or far beyond it is easily achieved.
The Amity University and the Symbiosis International University, have several such courses, like the Master's Degree in Human Resources Management. If the students get the best exposure through the internship and placement training, the value of such courses, in catering to the needs of the industry, can be easily ensured.
Continuous training of Faculty MembersThe best institutions do a lot of things very differently. For example, there is a continuous effort to train the Faculty Members on whatever is the latest in terms of whatever is the latest in the particular field. Students of commerce and economics, need to know, for example, how the entire world coped with the pandemic. They also need to know how the economies of Europe were able to cope with the crisis and come back to near normal. They need to know what reached the hands of the industrialists and the employees, directly. Students can then think aloud about what could have or must have been done differently, in India. Everything should be researched and taught to the students.
Continuous training of the Faculty members only means that they are finetuned to emerging bundles of knowledge and their application in the real world. In engineering and medicine, this is important. The best teachers are those who are always trained on the latest and stay relevant at all times.
Enlarging the scope of classroom discussions through special classesThere are at least thirty B Schools, across the country, that aim to increase their standards and be on par with the IIMs. What do their teachers and students do? It is sheer hard work, with a very high number of case studies being discussed and dissected every day. Every single development in the global external world is discussed in the case studies itself. It is not that every case-study is Western in scope or application. The case-study of the Indian Dubba wallahs of Mumbai, who do a superb job in getting red hot food served to millions of people every day in their offices. is a case study at Harvard Business School. The Arvind Eye Hospital's unique experiment of following the McDonald's example to reach high-quality eye care to millions of patients is a case study at the University of Michigan. Such examples abound. This is exactly how it should be, in every college in India.
Giving maximum importance to internship and placement training.It is extremely important to give maximum importance to internship and placement training. Every weekend, the students should be made to compulsorily assemble and share their ideas and experiences on the internship process. Students must learn from each other. They can always see some spark emerging from some of their peers and this will make their internship a unique experience. It is gratifying to note that several colleges are making very honest and dedicated attempts to provide placement training, with a dedicated placement team and this team also offers counselling services to the students. This should be replicated across the country. The UGC and the AICTE should organize regular conferences to enable the sharing of knowledge among placement officers. Continuous interaction with the industry professionals will enable the institutions to zero in on actual industry needs and then make appropriate changes in the training methodologies. There are several colleges where external professionals provide the best of training on "how to face an interview", with several mock interviews being conducted on the campuses. Every sincere attempt should be made to understand such good practices and emulate them. More of this is exactly what is needed in the present context.
ConclusionThere is no free lunch anywhere and in any part of the world. There are challenges galore in making students ready for the challenges that they need to face in the industry. The scope of learning from the existing good practices of many colleges is extremely high. This is an urgent priority. There should also be an honest intent on making the best use of scarce resources and if the Faculty Members take a personal interest in organizing the best of training for the students, there is no reason why the best of results cannot be achieved. That this is no more a choice but an imperative, needs to properly understood by everyone.
A very good article from the author and this is the biggest problem the Indian industry is facing. We all say there are no jobs. Many industries are not able to identify a person who will exactly fit in the vacancy. So they have to take somebody available and train him. But the unfortunate issue is that the candidate who gets the skill through the on-job training will leave the organisation for a better placement, That is why the educational institutes and the industry should coordinate and decide on the syllabus so that the students coming out from the institutions will be useful to the industry.
Generally, the syllabus for each course will be decided by the Board of Studies ( BOS). If the institutes nominate some persons from industry also in this in addition to the members from teaching faculty there will be a chance to modify the syllabus keeping the needs of the industry in mind.
I think the new education policy may be giving more thrust on these aspects. As mentioned by the author Internships and Apprenticeships will give a good chance to the students to develop these skills and improve their chances of securing a job.