Going beyond the curriculum

The Indian information technology and business process outsourcing industries have been witnessing a galloping growth of 25 per cent a year and boast a $17.2 billion export revenue for 2004-05.  The National Association of Software Service Companies (NASSCOM), the apex body of the IT industry,  expects exports to go up to $ 22.3 billion, or  by 30 per cent, in the current financial year. A large and talented work force and the relatively low wages have enabled the country to corner a sizable share of a booming global IT and related services business. The country has a 28 per cent share of the combined talent pool of 28 low-cost countries. But demand appears to far outstrip the steady supply of quality workforce if the latest report from NASSCOM is to go by.  The report has brought to light the plight of the industry — only 25 per cent of technical graduates and 10-15 per cent of general graduates have been found suitable for employment in offshore IT and BPO sectors. The shortfall in employable workforce by 2010 is expected to be half a million against a requirement of 2.3 million and this is a cause for concern.  With other countries fast catching up, India can retain its global dominance and IT can continue to be a major driver of economic growth in the coming years only if this issue of manpower is addressed in the near term.

Even as the curriculum is being tailored to equip students with reasonably good hard skills, there is a dearth of quality teachers in many private engineering colleges.  While students graduating from top institutions with a good faculty are well equipped to become immediately employable, the situation is not the same with students churned out from many private engineering colleges.  More than hard skills, what these students are often found lacking would be the soft skills — communication skills, ability to articulate ideas, ability to work as a team and build relationships.  The lack of soft skills comes to the fore when working on outsourcing projects.  The in-house training programmes provided by many companies are often tailor made to address hard skill requirements; identifying and teaching soft skills take a longer time.  Academic institutions have an important role to play here.  Simple measurers such as making students work as a team on projects and imparting acceptable communications and other soft skills will go a long way.  With work places fast getting globalised, acquiring such soft skills will help students to become employable across industries anywhere.  Starting such initiatives early in school will prove ideal. Academia-industry collaborations can help students acquire hard as well as soft skills.  While some companies have such initiatives already in place, a great deal more of collaborative efforts would be needed. The time has come for the rash of companies that came up in the 1980s and 1990s to impart software programming skills as well as others to see this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves and focus on imparting the skills needed to make the graduates employable

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