The number of unemployable engineering graduates could increase, if the Tamil Nadu government goes ahead with its proposal to lower the passing percentage in Class 12 for admission to degree engineering colleges, caution academicians and human resources (HR) firms.
India produces around 750,000 engineers every year. Of these, almost 40 per cent who scout for a job for almost a year, while around 22 per cent take almost two years before bagging a job, according to HR firms.
The fear that employability would take a further hit stems from the fact that Tamil Nadu’s Higher Education Minister K Ponmudy told the state legislative assembly earlier this month that the quantum of reduction (of the percentage required) would be decided in consultation with the state’s chief minister. He added that private engineering colleges wanted a mere ‘pass’ as criterion for admission to engineering courses.
At present, students in the general category have to score 55 per cent marks, while those belonging to backward classes need to have at least 50 per cent. Those from the most backward communities need 45 per cent. However, if the Tamil Nadu government decides to lower the bar, students would be able to seek admission into engineering institutions even with pass marks. This, say industry players, could not only lower the standards of engineering education in the country but also affect the employability of students from these colleges.
The decision also triggers from the fact that most other states in South India, including Kerala, Puducherry (earlier Pondicherry) and Karnataka, have reduced the aggregate marks for admission to engineering courses to anywhere between 45 per cent and 50 per cent. Education, being on the concurrent list of the Constitution, is a state subject.
Academicians calls this a short-sighted view and are worried on the employability factor of the students. “The minimum marks required to enter engineering colleges should be left to the academic board of the institutions and not to the government. If politicians decide, it will not benefit the system,” asserts S Muthukumaran, former vice-chancellor, Bharathidasan University.
“For the past three years, there has been a vacancy of around 30,000 seats in these engineering colleges and this move is taken to help these colleges. Around 20-22 per cent students pass from these engineering colleges holding on to arrears and sometimes multiple arrears. If this is the case with a higher threshold of 55 percentage, what would the condition be if the standards go down to pass percentage. I fear that employers will lose respect for engineering education,” says Pandia Rajan, managing director, Ma Foi, Management Consultants.
Tamil Nadu has a total of 454 engineering colleges, with a student intake capacity of 192,000. These colleges charge anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 10 lakh for various engineering courses.
According to Madan Padaki, co-founder and CEO, MeritTrac Services, if 100 engineering students apply for a job today, only 20 of them are employable. “Impact of this decision could be two-fold. One, you are lowering the standards for engineering education; and, two, you have to make do with even lower quality of analytical and written English skills. This means the employability factor reduces further,” says Padaki.
Merit Trac runs an industry standard assessment and certification programme, NAC Tech (Nasscom assessment of competence for technology professionals), in association with Nasscom. The programme is to ensure the transformation of a trainable workforce into an employable workforce and also to create a robust and continuous pipeline of talent for the IT and engineering industry.
According to a Nasscom’s Perspective 2020 study, industry is already facing a shortage of employable talent and companies are hiring people who lack skills, but are trainable. An average company invests 16 weeks to train one employee in areas such as technical skills, soft skills, company orientation and process-specific domain skills. As a result, the training and recruitment cost of technology services companies has risen steadily in the last few years. Recruiting a trainable pool is not a sustainable option going forward.
The supply of graduates in India is growing at around 5 per cent a year, with the current average employability rate of 26 per cent for engineering graduates and 10-15 per cent for other graduates.
A Nasscom-Evalueserve analysis shows, on an average, IT-BPO companies spend a significant amount on training of new recruits. This is equivalent to 2 per cent of industry revenues. Analysis also indicates that the training spend per employee in the IT-BPO sector is among one of the highest in the organised services sector. For example, the top five Tier-I vendors spent nearly $450 million to train about 130,000 engineers hired in 2008-09.
The training provided to employees includes not only technical courses such as software programming but also those focused on imparting soft skills like leadership, business communication and personality development. A large number of companies have entered into partnerships with colleges to launch industry-specific courses in order to increase the employability of graduates.
Padaki, however, believes the industry can help bridge the employability gap. “Most of the engineering colleges in the country use 50 per cent as the cut-off for admission. But most of the large IT companies put the cut-off mark at 60 per cent for recruitment. The companies can help by relaxing their hiring criteria. Also, employability factor of the candidates can improve by training them on a par with the skill required by the industry,” adds Padaki.