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For want of higher-order skills

NAGESH PRABHU

Engineering students are neither creative nor good at problem solving and hence fail to get jobs in the competitive global market


Curriculum should be designed in such a way that students learn complex issues quickly



have all skills?: Graduating engineers need to have multiple talents

The Common Entrance Test (CET) Cell is all set to commence the counselling process for admissions to engineering courses from July 7. Students should be careful in their choice of college. The quality of teaching staff, lab facilities and other infrastructure vary from college to college and have a bearing on the process of learning and acquiring skills.

A recent research revealed that engineering graduates in the country are falling short of professional, core employability and communication skills. Engineers with such skills are in short supply in IT and infrastructure, power and water, and many other sectors.

The survey conducted by the World Bank — “Employability and Skill Set of Newly Graduated Engineers in India” (2011) — stated a majority of employers in India are not satisfied with the skills of newly hired engineering graduates. Only 64 per cent of employers said they are “somewhat satisfied” with the current engineering graduates. Abut 3.9 per cent of employers rate the skills as “not at all satisfied” while 16.1 per cent are “not very satisfied.”

The higher education system has responded to the increased demand for engineers by massively expanding production of engineers. For example, Karnataka alone provides admissions to 70,000 students in 184 engineering colleges. But the system has not addressed the issue of imparting quality education and the kinds of skills demanded by employers in the global market.


Comparison

The survey report, authored by Andreas Blom and Hiroshi Saeki, found that engineering graduates were not good at problem solving, creativity, use of modern tools, system designing to needs, application of mathematics, science and engineering knowledge and customer service. They lacked knowledge of contemporary issues too. The survey said that “Indian employers are less satisfied with their engineers compared to U.S. employers.” There has been an average decline in the quality of students, said the Bank which surveyed employers in 20 sectors, including IT, power and infrastructure.

Must-learn skills

Half of the respondents were large companies with over 500 employees, with 40 per cent from North India, 27 per cent from the West and 19 per cent from the South. Interestingly, where the employers found the fresh engineering graduates most lacking in is critical thinking and problem solving.

Besides professional skills, the employers look for (a) core employability skills, which cover generic attitudinal and affective skills such as reliability and team work; and (b) communication skills. Employability and communications skills are often referred to as soft skills. Engineers who are in high demand possess these sets.

Employers are likely to perceive soft skills as more important than professional skills. However, engineering graduates with limited and weak professional skills are undesirable for employers.

The report said memorising textbooks for examinations is not a skill appreciated by the employers.

Many experts ask if the Indian engineering education system trains students to memorise science and engineering knowledge, without adequately emphasising the applicability, analysis and out-of-the-box thinking that employers look for.

Engineering firms look for more analytical and creative engineers to compete for value-added IT orders in the global market.

Institutions need to focus on learning rather than memorisation and mere understanding.

The report said the curricula should be designed in a way where students learn complex and practical issues within a limited time.


Collaboration

Employers ask for different professional skills depending upon the economic sectors they are involved in, the firm size and the region. Colleges have to prepare their graduates to meet the demand for skills from different sectors and hence have to increase their interaction with various kinds of employers.

Colleges should customise programme outcomes to meet the specific demand. Further, extra-curriculum activities such as internships and involvement of institutions with community would also help students to deepen the understanding of demanded skills and respond well to the market.

The employers think that graduates are relatively strong in lower-order thinking skills such as knowledge and understanding, use of basic and advanced computers, and applying knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering, but fall short when it comes to the more complex tasks such as application of appropriate tools to solve a problem, and analysis and interpretation.

Another area, considered most important by employers, and where a large gap was found is ‘soft skills' — integrity, teamwork, reliability and willingness to learn.

However, most employers were very satisfied with the English communication skills of the new graduates. “The survey found that colleges are doing very well meeting the demand for English skills, since the graduates are rated in English.”

The reasons for demanding higher-order thinking skills are likely to be a result of increased international and national competition, the focus on increased quality products and innovation.

As skills acquired at school and at the workplace become obsolete more quickly in the globalisation era, higher-order thinking skills and an ability to learn new and more complex skills are indispensible to respond to accelerating technological change.


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